that doesn’t seem right

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that doesn’t seem right

I’ve been aware lately of a few wonderful paradoxes, and I thought I’d share them here because it’s been a while. I’ve been doing nanowrimo (writing. A lot. That is all.) and now that’s done, so I’m back in the world of the living, just in time to put up the Christmas decorations.

Leo says,

What’s a paradox? some might ask. A seeming contradiction. Two things that don’t go together, but SO DO.

For instance: happily listening to an Adele song.

Now, that’s a bit mean. There is a happy song on her new album. The last track. I know this because I went out and bought it (so strange for me) and I’ve been listening to it on loop, obsessively (less strange). And very happily. So there you have it.

adele is awesome
Another example of paradox: you want something done, ask a busy person.

So you get it. Paradoxes everywhere actually. The one I’m most aware of at the moment is less pithy. It’s about being certain of uncertainty, about being happy but not entirely content. I’ve been looking for part time teaching work and, at the same time, looking at my writing – my nine complete manuscripts, a couple of which are pretty close to being finished, so far as I can tell – and where to take it next, how to publish and publish well.

writing and tea

In both cases, there are things I can do to improve my chances and then there’s just a tonne of stuff beyond my control. I’m impatient to be in the classroom again, and I’m impatient to be published, but at the same time, I’m loving writing, and I know what I need to be working on, and I’ve enjoyed relief teaching much more than I expected. In some ways relief is a good fit with writing. And if I do suddenly get a big break and have to do a world book tour, I won’t have to take time off and mess anyone around…

But seriously, that’s only slightly less likely than finding a teaching job in Christchurch.

Maybe. Hard to say for sure.

Louis started school a couple of weeks ago and he’s so happy there. Elena’s still loving kindy and they’re both becoming more independent.

starting school

They’re happy, healthy, adorable, and relatively low-maintenance kids. I’m not dreading the summer holidays the way I was dreading school hols earlier in the year. I’ll still be able to write and find some time by myself.

happy kids boating

What I’m saying is, life is good – it’s great. But I’m still wanting more, wanting things to change.

Here’s another paradox for you: holidays. Is it just me who’s always tired at the end of them? I really am so much better at work, in my routine. I can write in a quiet house, by myself, for hours and at the end feel energised and rested.

nanowrimoing

Maybe I’m weird.

Okay, definitely.

Here’s another one: if you want to do something really well, you have to make it a priority, focus… get going toward those 10k hours we supposedly need to put in if we want to be brilliant at a thing. Any thing. But, that said, if you reduce yourself to one thing, one defining interest, especially in the arts, then you can’t do it in a way that’s relevant to the world around you. I recently started playing basketball. Now, I’m no sportswoman. I mean, I have zero interest in sport-watching, and it’s fun to play, but I’m not very committed to winning. I won’t push myself so hard that I get injured or asthmatic. If I’m stuffed, I sub-off. If someone shoves me, I back-off. But I’ve been LOVING basketball. I did not see that coming. Now, if I’m not open to trying new things, then I’ll quickly run out of things to write about. If I limit my characters to my experiences and interests and point-of-view then my stories will be so narrow.

Plus, life is more fun if you try new things.

such fun

And the next one isn’t so much a paradox, as just an unfortunate truth that I’m grappling with: you can’t do everything. You have to choose what matters and what matters less and what doesn’t matter. But there are too many wonderful things, and too many important things. You can’t even do the majority of them, to be frank. If you try to do all the wonderful and important things then you’ll be miserable: there’s simply too much to do and not enough time. And so there are some hard decisions to be made. Finish writing on deadline or go to the climate march, for instance. Both are important, but doing both would be stressful and unnecessary. I think I might come back to this in a future blog: the saying ‘no’ to things subject. It’s a big one. Tricky and important.

Here’s a tricky paradox: missing a place and being glad to be somewhere else. Ah, Paris, how you mess me around. Paris is EVERYWHERE, can I just say? I mean even when it’s not being shot up by nut-jobs, it is everywhere. I’ve been supervising NCEA exams and we confiscated a pencil case so it was sitting up the front, and it’s got the Eiffel Tower on it – of course! Paris is a hard place to leave behind anyway but seriously enough with papering the world in Eiffel Towers.

And then there’s an awful act of terrorism, so you have my permission again (not that you need it), and these past few weeks people keep saying to me, ‘you must be glad not to be there’, and I am. We were there in January for all the Charlie Hebdo palaver, and I am glad to miss out on all that stress and chaos and merde.

me and invalides

(Elena took this photo on the day that the Charlie Hebdo situation was shut down. We had an appointment in Paris and arrived early. We were waiting and she was playing with my phone. That’s Invalides in the background. I think it captures how tired, stressed, and overwhelmed I was feeling.)

But I also really want to be there. I want to hug my friends so, SO tight. Especially, but not limited to, those who lost friends at the Bataclan. I’m heartsick for them. One friend, a poet, has been posting little details of her day on facebook – about getting her bag checked at every shop, and not minding, but thinking the cursory glance in her purse wouldn’t likely catch anything dangerous if it were hidden in among the flotsam; about saying bonjour and merci to the guards outside the mosque – people she walks past every day and has never spoken to before. This is the stuff that makes me want to be there, and also so glad to be here.

But Christmas is coming, and being here in the sun wins.

summer wins

I am glad to be home and for summer coming, and pohutakawa blossoming up the road.

pohutakawa

Brandy snaps and pavlova and lots of bubbly and long evenings on the deck, with the barbecue and Adele crooning away in the background (probably just in my head because everyone else will be sick of her and her album will be banned in our house… it’s only a matter of time.)

in my head

Oh, I won’t.


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credit where credit’s due

I have a pretty good life. It would be easy to sit back and say, ‘look how well I’ve done.’ No one would like me any more and things would go downhill a little from there, but it would be easy to think that way.

It would be easy to jump from that train of thought to another which says that people who are doing it rough have done that to themselves.

I want to be honest – give credit where it’s due. I can take a tiny percentage of the blame for how good my life is. TINY.

I have done some good things, yes, but through no virtue of my own…

– I was born to a stable home, never went hungry, was not abused, did not even witness addiction until well into adulthood.

– I was always expected to get an education. People believed I was capable of learning, of looking after myself, of becoming a contributing member of society.

– I was taught how to save and spend money wisely. I was taught how to cook healthy and cheap meals. I was taught how to read and write and think for myself, to question authority. To not be a sucker. To not go into debt on a car.

– I went to excellent state schools. I had friends from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, boys and girls, and several with severe disabilities.

– The personalities in my family meant that there were lots of engaged (cough-enraged) discussions and debates over the dinner table.

– I lived overseas. I saw that whole societies operated differently to the way I thought was ‘normal’. I realised ‘normal’ was a myth.

This was all before puberty. I was given a damn good start in life. And through no virtue of my own, I do not struggle with anxiety, depression, addiction or severe health problems.

Wouldn’t it be IGNORANT and ARROGANT to assume that other people should be able to have a life as sweet and comfy as mine, if they just set their minds to it? If they just believed in themselves, and got to work, and quit making stupid decisions?

Someone whose home life was unstable, who was not infused with security and confidence from the word ‘go’.

Someone who was emotionally and/or physically abused by the very people meant to care for and love them.

Someone surrounded by addiction.

Someone who was not taught how to spend money wisely. Who doesn’t understand that a pair of sneakers or a car are never an ‘investment’. That $10 can buy one take-away meal or a whole day’s worth of groceries.

Someone who never learned how to cook healthy, yummy food.

Someone not confident in their ability to read and understand, to communicate effectively.

Someone who was punished for questioning authority, or who only ever saw adults believing every bit of spin going. Every advertisement promising to peel 30 years off your age. And perhaps they live in a neighbourhood with a bunch of loan sharks.

Someone who only ever had friends who looked and talked and lived the same way they do.

I could go on.

Well, I just got lucky, didn’t I? Some would say ‘blessed’. Whoever gets credit, it’s not really me, is it? My parents get some credit, but they can’t take all the credit for their nice lives either. So, my grandparents get some credit, and indeed some of them came from some pretty dire situations.

I think it’s time to stop the blame game. Be thankful, and humble, and treat others with compassion and grace.

Some people need a lot more help than I do. That’s not because I am better than them. NOT AT ALL. I do not DESERVE a happier, healthier existence. I am not entitled to more.

We will probably go on disagreeing (we being society) about just how to best lift people out of the cycle of poverty, but can we please discuss THAT rather than all the eye rolling, finger-pointing, ‘not my problem’ B.S.?

*deep breath*

That said, let’s actually have these discussions. Let’s get involved and speak up. Let’s tell the politicians that we do care and we expect them to do something about it. We’re stuck with them for the next god-knows-how-long. AND THEY’RE STUCK WITH US.

 


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who wants to be a princess?

Not me. No thank you! Even the modern day ones (sans corsets and impractical dresses) have lives that I just could not ever possibly want. Forget wandering down to the market for a nice block of cheese and some tomatoes, and eating picnics in the park with your family.

If you put on a bit of weight you’re gonna be hounded by the media, and you’d better watch every word that passes your lips for fear of it becoming a headline and/or a foreign-affairs disaster.

People say that little girls want to be princesses, as if they’re hard-wired that way.elena's favourite jacket

Elena’s favourite coat is not the pink one. Shock horror.

That’s just rubbish. Little girls (and little boys) want to be loved and accepted by their peers and their parents and whoever else they know and love. Part of this includes wanting to look a particular way – and in most societies girls who look like princesses are more likely to be loved and accepted.

Which is just awful. But there it is. No one’s surprised. The trick to love and acceptance, if you have a vagina, is to look a particular way. A couple of people might care that you’re kind or talented or whatever, but basically, priority number one is appearance.

Though god knows what a princess looks like. Or should I say, Disney knows what a princess looks like.

disney knows

I haven’t seen frozen and I’m sure it does wonders for the whole pretty-but-useless trend. Well done, but whatever.

Why do girl heroes have to be princesses? Don’t we all agree that democracy is the goal here? It’s problematic, sure. But not as problematic as a monarchy.

I managed to explain this to a bunch of post-lunch-lethargic fourteen year-olds so it can’t be that complicated. Democracy is the goal of governments seeking to protect human rights. Monarchy, while it remains a valued, perhaps important, symbol, is not what we are aiming for.

I saw a great tweet just now:

 


(LOTR = Lord of the Rings. ST:TNG = Star trek: The next generation)

 

Nice, eh? But tea and holograms aside, I think we can all agree that power should not be used by half a dozen royals and no one else. So we can agree than little girls (and boys) probably shouldn’t be aiming to become actual monarchs.

Just powerful.

But really? People who seek power first and foremost, at least in all the stories I can think of, usually turn out to be the villains.

I’m going to get off the soap box now (partly because Elena is wearing disney princess sneakers to nursery), but I can’t be the only one baffled (and angry, yes) about this fixation.

Wearing a dress can be problematic.

 

 


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chipped or not, here I come

For years, I’ve only put nail polish on my toes. In my mid teens, when I might have got into the habit of colourful finger nails, I was painting with oils… turpentine is no manicure’s friend. I also cleaned for a job, on and off, and even gloved, my nails had a pretty rough time of it.

Of course, painted nails chip and mar and break. No reason not to paint ’em in the first place. Well, for me it was enough. I’d do my toes and wear jandals for three or four months of the year, so they weren’t always protected. I’m not generally a perfectionist. I live in bit of a mess. I work, pretty well, surrounded by chaos. But I am (or was?) horribly self conscious.

There is one line in ‘Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination’ (by Helen Fielding of Bridget Jones fame…) which I wish I could well and truly get through my head:

No one is thinking about you. They’re all thinking about themselves, just like you.

fun nailsChipped or not, fingernails are one of those things that no one else will ever notice as much as you do. But, you know what, I’m done. Go ahead and notice. Or not. Whatever. I like having colourful digits. It’s fun and cheap, as far as cosmetics go. It’s playful and pretty and there’s joy to be had, so why the hell not?

Yesterday at the ludotheque, Louis went for the dress-ups. He’s never shown much interest in them before, but yesterday he was a lion (with a dragon’s body, initially), a magician, a princess and a knight.

Elena couldn’t be cajoled into wearing more than (very briefly) a hat, or ears.

the lion-dragon-thing and lame-cat

What’s with that look? Made for the stage.
(Surely too young to be so Judgey McJudgey Face.)

 

louis roaring at ludotheque

Kid’s got a great roar.
(Sorry to everyone else at the Antony ludotheque…)

I’ve never been much good at costumes. Okay, I’m downright terrible. I’m always more worried about looking good, than looking like something/someone else. I under-dress and over-reach and just look silly, basically. But I think (hope) I’m getting less self-conscious, as I get older. Maybe I’ll do a good costume, yet.

I turn 29 in a couple of days, so it’s the week for thinking about growing up.

And not growing up too much for multi-coloured nails. Or dress-ups.


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ROUSes

pull yourself together

Saturday was a little, how do you say, incroyable. Ridiculous. Pay the damn transport company staff a decent wage already so that we can have the trains run as usual – on time and with enough space to breath.

We didn’t know the strikes were happening until we’d already gone through the ticket gate and saw we had to wait 23 minutes. Usually three or four trains come in that period of time and the platform was already busy. I’m guessing the platform was busy at Massy-Palaiseau as well. We got on the train and then more people managed to squeeze on at nearly every stop between here and Paris. I had a seat, with Elena on my knee, lucky me. And Louis was in the pushchair, thank god, or he’d have been freaking out, if not crushed. Luuk had to stand, but so did a lot of other people – including me on the way back. And then on the way to Paris again. And on the way back again…

We went to Jardin des Plantes which is fantastic, though I saw only a fraction and will have to go again. We went to the menagerie and zoo parc bit:

ROUSes

The Rodents of Unusual Size, from The Princess Bride, are REAL!! The ROUS is not a myth. Who knew? (Luuk tells me that everyone who’s been to Hamilton Zoo in NZ would have known… and probably a few other people. News to me though.)

Admiring the Tortoises

 

 

Louis loved the tortoises  Among other things. Very cool old-style zoo, actually. Not too cage-like depressing. Lots of different animals and obvious modernising efforts (for the sake of natural-ish environs, etc.)

Luuk stayed on longer, bravely on his own with the two kids, because I had to dash off to get my things and get to writers’ group. I was hosting/running/facilitating – whatever you call it – and couldn’t be late! Only, I was late, by about five minutes. I spent 20 minutes waiting for the train, playing scrabble on my tablet (new favourite app), which would have been fine had it not made me late! Anyway, pas grave, as I’m always telling Louis when he panics over little things. Pas grave.

Coming home after writers’ group I nearly didn’t get on the train. I pushed my way on and people made faces, and I said, with a big smile and clunky French  ‘is it possible?’ And they made faces. And I squeezed in as the doors shut, banging into me twice while I literally pulled my body inside. Fortunately none of the later stations stop with the doors on that side, so I could safely lean against the doors all the way home.

Speaking of pulling our selves, Elena is pulling herself up, and I have video proof (primarily for the grandparents and great grandparents back home, but go ahead and enjoy if you like…)

Not sure about this whole playing INSIDE the toy box thing, but as it’s a microwave box, its destruction doesn’t bother me much. Pas grave. 

Now, I’m off to pull my monday-itis self together and get some writing done. No novel to work on, so I’ll have to be motivated and pick something else. Of course there are five novels to work on and none of them really capital-F Finished, but I need a break from novelling and there are so many holidays and interruptions in the next month or six weeks that I think I’d best do smaller projects for this particular period of time.

My shorter project ideas:

– a short play, possibly an adaptation of something I’ve already written as a short story, or something less developed, but not a new idea.

– editing my three short stories, possibly looking to self-publish these..? Not sure. Very uncertain really with regards self-publishing. With good reason, but I’m not going into all that here.

– writing and putting together Elena’s scrapbook for the first year of her life. I did one for Louis and have no intention of keeping up that kind of thorough record for their entire childhood, but I’d like to do a 1-year thing for each of them. That’s not biting off more than I can chew, I think.

– working on the query letters and synopses for each of my nearly-finished and most recent novels.

– new poems. Nothing long-winded. I’m going all commitment-phobic on new writing. Step away from me with your white picket fence. I have enough children already.

Obviously I need a chocolate or another cup of coffee to get me back in-balance, and then to work! Today, I’m going to look at the scrapbook thing. There’s writing in it because I’ll write a kind of story to go with the pictures, about the pregnancy and what was going on in our family when we were expecting Elena, and after she arrived, and all about her milestones and favourite things… Though I’ll be doing well to finish the pregnancy bit today. The kids are asleep now; must make the most of it.

 


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alarming moments

When asked recently about the madness/wonder/wisdom of having kids and living in Paris, I told a friend that parenting was a series of alarming moments. These moments grow, in the moment, and become huge, terrifying monsters of things. They block out the sun and its easy to forget that most of the time things are lovely. In the moment it is hard to imagine what lovely looks like, and impossible to remember that things will promptly return to normal.

By promptly, of course, I mean within a day or two. Or an hour. Rarely can you be certain which.

My alarming moments are usually in the late afternoon when I am due a cup of coffee, trying to feed Elena, and being used as a climbing frame/trampoline by Louis at the same time.

Luuk had a real classic yesterday at the supermarket with Louis. Louis is toilet training and so far has mastered communicating his need to go, using the potty, and briefly holding-it-in. He likes to press the flush when we dispose of whatever, and he’s a big fan of hand-washing. But sitting on the actual toilet – hell no. Torture.

So Luuk is pushing around the trolley at the supermarket when Louis, perched in the seat up front, declares, ‘poo’. He probably means pee, but nonetheless… Luuk is impressed, apologises and says that this time he’ll just have to do it in his nappy.

Louis insists. Luuk pats his bum and – ALARM! NO NAPPY!

Some doofus (me) dressed the kid without changing up the undies. So Louis’ first nappy-free outing was not a great success. Quick thinking Luuk parked the trolley, grabbed some size 2 trackies from the kids clothing department, a small box of pull-ups, made record time in the self-service checkout and dashed Louis off to the restrooms for a clean-up and quick-change.

Elena and I were at home, out of arms-reach, resting. I’ve been knocked-for-four (not quite a six) by this tummy thing I had earlier in the week. I keep running out of oomph at surprising moments. Yesterday afternoon we trecked the whole 150 meters or so to the library. We took the elevator – because we had Elena in the pushchair – up to the second floor where the kids books are . I sat on the floor and looked through boxes of books, reading a few to Louis toward the end, then took our selection to be issued, and walked home.

I was exhausted. Too exhausted to wait for Louis to climb up and down the stairs outside the lIbrary or any number of other aside-adventures he might discover on the way home. So Elena and I left the boys to it and went home to collapse – she for a nap in her bed, me with a novel on the sofa.

I should spend more time just like that, I’ve decided. Stephen King reckons that if you don’t have time to read then you don’t have time to be a writer.

Question is, if I want to spend more time reading, what slides? Luuk organised loads of meals this week and one of them was care of alloresto.fr – delivered to our door! Much as I like to cook, we might be doing this more often. Especially this coming week, if this lethargy doesn’t shift. This morning I was folding laundry and my arms were aching. C’est ridicule!

 


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Progress Report

I have been behind ever since I started this nanowrimo schtick. And then, just now, I realised my time zone was still set to Wellington, GMT +12.

So I’m ahead! Hurrah! How did that happen? Hard to say for sure. Possibly the thought that I was behind was a good motivator and I did a few fear-induced 2000+ days in a row.

Tips? Anyone want high-productivity tips? As a pro-wrimo (which is bollocks – no one gets paid to wrimo) this is what I reccommend for getting stacks of writing (or other creative projects) done:

1. Have a plan. Stick to it, or not, as you like, but have one to start with.

2. Lower your standards. Whether you’re writing a nanowrimo novel or doing a sketch that might one day hide beneath layers of oil paint, on a canvas, on the walls of the Louvre (aim high, by all means), the thing you’re doing NOW will not be seen by anyone but you. I’m not writing a novel; not really. I’m writing a FIRST DRAFT.

3. Multi task if it helps. But only if it helps.

4. Talk to other writers (or artists of your medium)… but don’t talk about your current work in progress much. Or at all. Very tempting, yes, but if you talk it all out you risk losing your urgency to create it.

5. Lower your standards. Yes, I already said that, but this time I mean standards about everything else: how regularly the laundry pile renders the basket invisible, how regularly the kids watch two hours together of television, how regularly you eat the same thing for lunch and dinner in the same day… just chill man. It’s not forever. And even if it were, no one is remembered for the terrible laundry habits.

Consider getting some help around the house.

I have a few warnings too:

1. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Don’t take on another big project at the same time.

2. Don’t get lost in another world. Literally, of course, as well as literary (Heh, see what I did there.) I’ve been rereading Jane Austen’s Persuasion. It’s a favourite of mine. It’s similar in genre to what I’m writing for nanowrimo, so it’s helpful – almost like research – but it’s also short. Starting to read some fantastic series of enthralling novels that will keep you up till well past bedtime and utterly absorb you into their world is not going to help you write about your own other world. It’s going to suck up your time and make you feel like your story is totally rubbish. Just for a short time, be wary of great books (especially if they’re also long, and/or inspire fanfiction).

3. Your body needs good fuel to go well. Don’t live on caffeine and candy unless you’re happy writing the same way you did when you were fourteen, period one english, monday morning, after a long weekend of slumber parties. The occasional chocolate and a few cups of coffee a day will not doom you to create rubbish, but if you’re not getting a bit of actual nutrition, some sleep and the occasional foray into the outside world, a tad of exercise, some sun (if they have that in the northern hemisphere this time of year, damn it)… then it’ll take it’s toll.

Don’t let the rain win; go for a walk.

That’s it from me. Back to my other world – late 18th century London, in case you were wondering.

 


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out of focus

Sometimes it’s a real challenge to stay focused – and sometimes staying focused isn’t important.

The usual suspects: my lovely kids are the best, and most frequent, distractions.

My grandmother is sick. And she’s on the other side of the world.

And I’m waiting for my residence visa… meanwhile I can’t travel. Not that I need to. Things are not that serious. But it would be nice to have the option.

I’m struggling to focus on editing my novel. Maybe, right now, it’s not that important.

I have a saying that helps me to keep perspective. I don’t know if someone else said it, or something similar, or if I made it up. It goes something like this –

Every day counts, but every day is just one day.

I work consistently – pretty much every week day – and I’m productive, finishing a couple of new first drafts a year and several later drafts and rewrites. So, if I skip a day, heck, if I skip a week, it’s not a big deal.

But then, there are always excuses if you look for them. I try to work every week day. If it happens, fabulous, if not, it’s just one day. Other things are more important – my kids, my husband, my friends, my health, and of course my family.

A serious event throws priorities into stark relief. Everything else will slide, if that’s what is necessary, when a loved-one is seriously ill. Things that are usually a priority suddenly seem unimportant.

But there’s nothing I can actually do for my Grandma, and other than a phone call there’s not much I can do for anyone else.

I am powerless in this, and that makes me feel powerless in other things. Usually, even when there are distractions and interruptions, I find a way to steal a little time, to focus and work, to make progress, even if it’s slow. But sometimes it’s like I have a bad lens prescription and no matter how much I will myself to focus, I just can’t shake the blur.

I got through the fog today and edited a good twenty plus pages. I had a decent chunk of time without interruption, and no new news about Grandma. I had plenty of coffee, an achievable goal and a time limit.

Perhaps I would have been struggling to focus on editing this week anyway – my focus is starting to wander to my next project. This is the second book in a row that I’ve edited and I’m ready to write something new. It’s not that I don’t like the editing/rewriting part of the process but I don’t want to be doing it too much of the time.

Some of the things that helped today are conditions I can repeat:

– coffee is available, and excellent.

– I can set achievable goals.

– I can give myself time limits, eg. I will edit until the end of next week and then that’s it, time to start planning the new book.

Time without interruption is not something I have full control over, but it does happen. It’s just not always predictable. Sometimes both the kids sleep at once. Sometimes the baby sleeps while the toddler is at nursery. Sometimes Luuk has work to do in the evening and I have a chunk of time to myself. I have to be prepared to work when it does happen, even if it means leaving the washing in the machine for half a day…

But right now, if there’s news about Grandma then that gets priority. And if the fog sets in I should probably just deal with the laundry and hope for clarity and focus later on.

Today – any day – is just one day.