What are we talking about today?

I'll get back to theme days once I find a groove of posting regularly. In the meantime, most of my posts are about some variation of books, bikes, buses, or Broadway. Plus bits about writing, nonprofits, and grief from time to time.

This blog is mostly lighthearted and pretty silly. It's not about the terrible things happening in the world, but please know that I'm not ignoring those things. I just generally don't write about them here.

18 February 2021

Apparently We Still Need to Do This Every Couple of Years

Every time I do one of these posts with suggestions for appropriate (and inappropriate) things to say in times of grief, someone gets mad. So if you're rage-reading this to tell me I'm wrong, welcome! I hope you learn something before storming away in disgust.

Here's the TL;DR if you don't want to read this whole thing: It's awful to see a friend or loved one in pain. It's only natural to want to do what you can to fix it. And it's human nature to try to make it better--but this one time, just for a little while, don't try to make it better. Please. Offer hugs, run errands, bring food, let them know you're available--those are good things to do. If you don't have any words, it's okay to sit quietly. Please don't try to make it better. It's okay to just be.

If you came here to see if I've posted anything for Chadwick's deathiversary, here's the play-by-play post I wrote some time ago. I'm not writing all that down again.

We're back here again for the usual reason--because I saw some folks struggling in the wild with finding the right words, and I'm able to help with that a little bit. My friend Michael made an excellent suggestion the last time this came up:

Alas, in the absence of such technology, we'll make do with what we have.

For the times that you don't manage to stop yourself in time from saying things you didn't intend, shake it off and do better the next time. Whether we like it or not, the wrong words will pour out of our very human mouths when faced with other peoples' grief. Also, it's good to remember that while most of these things that I suggest you not say are pulled from the consensus of widows groups and similar sources (yes, I did more research than just living through it), grief is idiosyncratic. It's possible you'll run across someone who's okay with these statements. But it's safest not to count on people in grief hearing what you mean and not what you say, not when there are other options.

A long and empty road ahead. With clouds gathering. Yeah, that seems like an appropriate metaphor.

So! Time to make some folks angry:

Part 1: Things That Are Better Left Unsaid


1. For the love of everything, please don't race to be the first post your condolences on Facebook. 

If you don't know for sure that all family and friends who should hear the news firsthand have been informed, find something else to do with your fingers while you wait for the closest relative to post first. I recommend a good cup of tea and perhaps a crossword puzzle. Honestly, the deceased is not going to get any less dead if you don't say something right away. Even if your intentions are good, please wait. Go ahead and send a text to the widow(er) if you like--but again, don't expect an immediate response, or indeed any response at all. It's not a grief-off.

Also, if you think you should have been among the first to get a phone call and weren't, or you read it from someone on Facebook before you got the call, take any aggravation/resentment you may feel and find a healthy way of dealing with it that doesn't involve airing your grievances to the bereaved. Ever. This does not have a statute of limitations. Give the family some slack--there are only so many times anyone can say, "My [family member] died this morning" before it gets to be too much.

2. "Did you know he was sick?" or "Was this a surprise?" 

I cannot stress this enough: if you don't already know, it's none of your business right now. Full stop, no exceptions, especially in the first few weeks when the bereaved probably don't want to share what happened hundreds of times. Other people have almost certainly asked before you, so please restrain yourself. Ask a more distant relative, if you must, but not the people sitting in the front row at the funeral.

I got asked this so many times that I started telling people that a pulmonary embolism is an acute condition that can happen to anyone at any time, which is not 100% true, but usually gave the questioner reason to ponder his or her own mortality, preferably somewhere else. If you don't want this treatment, it's best not to ask.

Caveat: after a while, people started to phrase it as, "Can I ask what happened?" which at least gives the bereaved a chance to say "I'd rather not talk about it" if that's how they feel. (And if that is the answer you get, back off immediately.) If some time has gone by and you've still never heard what it was, this is probably the way to do it. Just please don't assume that every dead person was harboring a secret fatal illness.

3. "S/He's in a better place."

This may be true, but you shouldn't say it out loud in the presence of family members who are struggling just to stay upright and survive the next minute. Hawaii is also a better place, but I wouldn't want him going there and leaving me behind, either. If this is comforting to you, say it to yourself. Don't say it to the family.

And the next is like unto it:

3. "It's comforting to know that s/he's with Jesus."

You don't know whether this is comforting or not. (Spoiler alert: For me, it's not, even though I believe that it's true.) So also keep this one to yourself, if it helps you.

And the next is like unto it again:

5. "God needed him/her more that you did."

This is the worst possible thing I can can think of to hear. If you have said it before, please take it OUT of your vocabulary right now and never even think it again. I'm serious.

No, God bloody well did not. I don't understand why people of faith have so many awful platitudes we've cooked up for times of crisis, but it's time for us all to forget them. If this is the best you can do, just sign the guest register and take a seat with your mouth closed. This is a terrible thing to say, not only because it's not at all helpful, but also because it turns God into some kind of weirdo body-snatching alien from a bad horror movie. Just don't.

I generally think of these three as the Trinity of I Don't Know What to Say. Don't worry; I've got you covered in the second half. You're almost there.

6. "How are you, really?"

I know, I know. It seems like a well-intentioned, innocent enough question. This question is okay if you stop at "How are you?" But when you stick that "really" on the end, you're asking to be let in on a deeper level than the bereaved may want to go to right now. And trust me, they have already heard this exact question plenty.

Asking "How are you?" without any weird emphases and being open to an honest answer, or to no answer at all, is not bad. If nothing else, "How are you?" is how we open a lot of conversations, so it's at least a common convention and is less likely to be misunderstood. However, know in advance that the answer may well be an exasperated, "How do you think I am?" So tread carefully.

7. "Were you close?"

Okay, I pulled this one from my personal archives from when extended family members have passed. Obviously, this isn't something people ask widows. (At least, I hope not!) And while it's not a bad thing to ask, not like some of the other things on this list; the bereaved will probably tell you without you asking, anyway.

8. Anything that might be trying to get the person to look on the bright side.

We're not going to get to the bright side any faster just because someone is trying to "help" get us there, no matter how good your intentions are. This is, in fact, one of those times when looking on the dark side is totally appropriate. There's a road out, but in no universe does someone come out of the darkness faster if you forcibly shine a Maglite into their eyes.

I've probably missed some important ones, but this should be enough to get you started. Above and beyond all else, think before you speak. Always. That's the best way to save everyone some aggravation, embarrassment, and heartache. And of course, I'm not leaving you hanging without some replacement ideas. Here we go:


Part 2: Things that are good to say

1. "Please text/call/Facebook me, even if it's the middle of the night."

This is not for casual acquaintances. You should only say this to someone with whom you already have a text/call/Facebook relationship. You should also edit it to fit your own boundaries--if you have small children in the house, 2 AM phone calls may not be how you can help, for example. Only say this if you are able and willing for the person to take you up on it.

2. "What can I bring you?"

This one works for anyone, unless the bereaved has some sort of restraining order against you. Be prepared with suggestions if the person says "I don't know." Be prepared with non-food ideas if the person says "My fridge is full." Be prepared to get a gift card if the person says, "No, thank you," but gift-giving is still one of your love languages. Stick it in a card and drop it in the mail--they'll appreciate it later. Promise.

Caveat: Don't bring or give anything if you will be in a huff later if you didn't get a thank-you card. It's possible that the family will run out of steam for writing all the thank-you notes they intended, or will never conjure the energy in the first place. Give with no strings or expectations, or don't give at all.

3. "Can I go to the bank/supermarket/library/etc. for you?"

Yes. Yes, you can. Again, maybe this isn't something you'd say to someone you've only said hello to twice. If you don't know them well enough to know if they're too private to accept this offer, skip straight to a nice sympathy card with some kind words inside.

4. "Do you want to go to [fun thing you've always done together]?"

Give this one a little while before asking the first time, and keep in mind that the answer will likely be 'no' the first few times you ask. (Make sure you're spacing out your invites appropriately. This is also idiosyncratic--weekly? Monthly? Maybe next year? Pay attention to your friend's response to decide when to ask again.) Please, please don't give up on your friend. One day, the answer will be 'yes.'

5. Sharing a favourite memory or something you liked or appreciated about the departed person is nearly always welcome.

This means other kinds of stories, like "most embarrassing moment" or "something horrible he did to me when we were kids," are not the ones to bring out just yet. Don't be the weird cousin who tells awkward stories at the wake.

Also, don't hold back on telling stories even if it's been weeks or months or years since the deceased passed. The idea of not wanting to remind the bereaved about his/her loss is silly; it's not like we're going to forget. If someone says they don't want to hear a memory right then, accept that in the moment, but that doesn't mean that they'll feel that way forever. In fact, there's a good chance they may reach out to you to hear that story once they're in a better frame of mind.

6. Go to the funeral.

This is not one of mine; it comes from a wise friend (who came to Chadwick's funeral, btw), and she is 100% correct. It's the best chance to show that you care. (This does not apply during pandemics, obviously. Until it's safe to gather again, please stick with sending a card.) You don't even have to say anything. I'd be lying if I said I have instant recall of every person who was at Chadwick's funeral, but I do know that every person who stepped through the door made my heart swell a bit more. Especially those who travelled long distances and were a surprise. You never know how much your presence will bless someone.

7. "I care about you."

Just don't be creepy. If you don't know the person well enough to be non-creepy, there's always the standard-issue and perfectly acceptable:

8. "I'm so sorry to hear of your loss."

Cliched? Sure. Appreciated? Oh, yes. Even in those dark moments, we all know that there are no words. Better to say a few and let your presence speak for you than to try to "fix" it.

So if you've read all this and you're mad at me now or think I don't know what I'm talking about, congratulations! You are my target audience. Leave an angry comment if you must, but also, re-read this through a few times. Print it off and hang it up, if you need to. Take it along to the next funeral as a cheat sheet.

Above all, thank you for trying to lighten the load for someone else. That's my point for writing this again--to help you help your nearest and dearest through an awful time. Keep in mind that your words have power and you'll do just fine.

14 February 2021

New Every Morning

Every time I think there's no reason for me to do an updated version of an old post, I get new inspiration. It's like clockwork. This year, that clockwork comes via the usual place: Evangelical friends who've decided that maybe they might like to try out the Lent thing, just once, to see if they like it. But they aren't sure where to begin. Indeed, we've come a long way since the days when I had to hide from everyone I knew that I was observing Lent. I'm like a Lenten hipster.

What I am not, however, is any kind of an expert, which is why it baffles me that people keep asking me questions. All I have to offer is long experience as a once-Evangelical (these days I think of myself as a boring Protestant, nothing more) who spent many years treating Lent like a cafeteria line before finally settling upon my own observance. If my experience is of any help to you, come on in. If you already come from a high church tradition, or if you're horrified that your Evangelical friends would even think of doing Lent, this post is not really for you. (If you aren't interested in Christianity at all, it's extra-really not for you. Sorry; it's part of who I am, but if it doesn't work for you, maybe my next post will be more your speed.)

You know what my neighborhood has a lot of? Churches. I went out in the pre-winter-storm chill to take pics of a few.

With those disclaimers firmly in mind, here's my FAQ:

1) Lent? But why? Isn't that a Catholic thing?
It's not an exclusively Catholic practice, and as your friend I urge you to Google a bit. As for 'why,' it's a practice that I find helpful and comforting. As always, YMMV.

2) Are you judging me for not doing Lent?
Fortunately, this question has gotten less frequent over time, and thank goodness, because it's awfully silly. No. You do you.

3) Don't you think we've already given up enough in the last year? Why would we want to add another thing?
I absolutely do think that. If you just can't face adding Lent to your life right now, no worries. It's okay if you skip a year, or relax a bit from the things you would normally do, or wait until 2022 to try it for the first time. OTOH, if you think, "here is one thing in my life I can keep unchanged," go right ahead. 
Everything has changed in a hurry; it's okay to make your Lenten observance serve what you need right now. Jesus himself said that the Sabbath was made for people, not the other way around.

4) Do you have any Lenten resources to recommend?
This is an area that's wide open to your own interests. If you're looking to dive into a particular area of your faith more deeply, that's a good place to start. Perhaps you have a daily devotional guide that you opened a couple times the first week of the year but have been neglecting ever since. 
As for me, I will usually pick a book of the Bible and read through it multiple times throughout Lent, and I've never gone looking for other resources beyond that. Maybe that's a new thing I can try for 2021 so I finally have an answer to this question next year.

5) Should I announce my fast on social media?
In my experience, people get a little worked up about this one, which is probably why I've heard a lot of strange reasons in favor of blowing a virtual trumpet on Shrove Tuesday. Here's what I got:
  • Before you decide, please read Matthew 6:16-18 and carefully consider your motivation for announcing your fast.
  • If you're asking me as someone who's done this many times and has some experience of the value of people knowing my fast vs not: no, you shouldn't.
  • If you're asking because you're looking for some accountability: I'd suggest you find an offline human, or if it must be online, that you approach someone you trust via private message.
  • If you're asking because giving up Facebook is your fast and you want to let everyone know where you're going: I'd only do it if you know for sure your absence will upset someone. A social media fast is a good exercise in humility, because you'll realize upon your return just how well that world keeps on spinning without you. (I say this from astonished experience.) If you absolutely need to let someone know you're going, this is probably best done via private message rather than a public announcement.
  • If you're asking for spiritual guidance, I refer you again to Matthew 6:16-18.
5.5) But don't you think that if I announce it on Facebook, it might start a conversation about faith that could lead someone to follow Jesus?
I absolutely do not. If we've learned nothing else from the last decade or so on social media, we've learned that productive conversations rarely happen on Facebook. Facebook is where civil conversation went to die quite a long time ago. It's not going to happen.
If you want to try anyway, then I admire your faith in humanity. Good luck. (Although I would add that if you are into proselytizing, Lent is probably not a great tool to use for that. So... good luck.)
 
6) Do I have to do the food part of fasting, like meatless Fridays?
Are you participating in Lent as part of your faith tradition, and does that faith tradition ask you to go meatless? If so, in order to fully participate with your community: yes. If you're creating your own community or going it alone, then you have a bit more leeway to decide which elements, if any, of the traditional fast you're going to adopt. If you've never done any fasting from food before (and do not have a medical condition that precludes fasting), this could be an opportunity to try it.
 
7) Did you know Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is 46 days, not 40?
Yes. Sundays don't count as part of the 40 days because Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection on those days, and that celebration supersedes the mourning/fasting of Lent.

8) Does it matter what I give up?
Yes, it matters, but maybe not in the way you're asking. (And it's okay if you haven't decided yet.) Some things to consider:
  • What are you trying to learn from Lent? What areas of your life need growth? Think about that and let that shape your fast. Also keep in mind that your fast, if it's helping you learn/grow, may not be something you want to stop at Easter. You can absolutely use these six weeks as a starting point for something more permanent.
  • You may feel like giving up chocolate or TV or something small is silly. But if you're a first-timer or you choose something small that will be a genuine challenge, there's no reason to feel less than because you gave up coffee. Growth can come from small things, too.
  • Consider how you will keep yourself in check when your chosen fast starts really tugging on your brain. If you give up coffee and the trade-off is that you're unbearable to your coworkers for six weeks, maybe you're not quite displaying the love of Jesus in the way you'd intended. Have a plan for refocusing yourself when needed.
  • It's not so much what you're giving up; it's what you replace it with. So before you say, "Got it!" take some time to consider what you're adding to your life during Lent.  
8.5) If there's something in your Christian life that's a problem, shouldn't you fix it all the time instead of just six weeks a year?
I didn't realize for a long time indeed that there are folks who believe this is the point of Lent--to temporarily stop doing the things that shouldn't be part of Christian life at all. That's not it. Lent is intended as a time of fasting, which is a different thing than abstaining from vices.
Of course, if this six weeks is a good starting point for making a change you've been wanting to make, great! I hope it goes well for you. But that doesn't mean it *has* to be that, and for many people, it's not. So, if that's your concern about Lent, you can stop worrying.
 
9) What if I don't start on Ash Wednesday or fizzle out by the end?
It happens. It's okay if you're human. The Israelites prayed, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (That's Lamentations 3:22-23.) Make a new beginning as often as you need to; the important thing is that you keep going.

10) What else do I need to know?
Get in there and do it, and be open to what changes in you. Six weeks is a nice length of time to focus specifically on the things you want to give attention to--it's long enough to be a challenge, but short enough to feel doable. Come Easter Sunday, you may be surprised by what you've learned about yourself and your Christian walk in so short a time.
If you have a community to do this with, by all means, embrace that community whole-heartedly and do this together. God has placed you in a community for good reason, and fasting together as a shared experience can multiply your joys and divide your struggles. Do not neglect your community this Lent. Embrace them. And if you have to embrace your community via Zoom this year, so be it!

    06 February 2021

    In an Old Photograph, Torn, Tattered, and Stained

    It was the middle of the workday on Thursday when I remembered that I need to let some coworkers know in a reasonably timely fashion that I will be not be working on the 18th & 19th this month, in case we have any critical deadlines that fall on those days. So I opened my calendar to see how much time I had to give them a heads-up (because knowing either the date or the day of the week is not my strongest suit), and I saw that the 18th was two weeks away. All good.

    Two weeks away.

    Two weeks. 

    ...

    Not all good. Not remotely good. In fact, pretty lousy.

    My paternal grandmother died on February 4, 2015. A date that would have under any other circumstances been emblazoned upon my brain, so that I wouldn't have had to look at a calendar on February 4 this week to know exactly what day it was. But her passing wasn't under normal circumstances, since my Chadwick joined her just two weeks later. If I concentrate, I can remember snippets of the days surrounding her death: how I was in constant touch with my cousins in a way I hadn't been since we were young (and have not been since), how Denise and I had to wait an extra day before we headed home because money for airfare was tight, how Chadwick opted not to go, so we inadvertently spent one of his final two weeks on this earth apart.

    This is, and I imagine shall forever be, my favorite picture of my grandparents, with six of their eventual eight children. I told Grandma once how much I loved it, and she said, "Why??" And then she told me she was laughing at Grandpa's socks right when this was taken.

    How when our plane landed in Denver (I'm pretty sure it was Denver) for a layover, Denise and I turned on our phones to receive the message that we were going to arrive too late to see Grandma alive, that she had passed beyond our reach while we were in the air. And that in the middle of a flurry of family Facebook posts about our loss, someone else (not a relative) happened to have posted this at exactly the right time:

    How at lunch after her funeral, Uncle Buster rose to say that it was good to see everyone in one place, and that we should do this again when someone hadn't just died. He's gone now, too, also taken in a February, in fact taking the slot exactly one week between Grandma and Chadwick. I hate this month so much.

    When I search my memory like this, and can come up with so many details, I like to imagine for a moment that I remember it all clearly. But the truth is that week is covered in smoke in my mind, as is the entire first half of 2015. Everything from that time of my life is hidden by a dense fog, through which I only see glimpses, and every glimpse hurts like hell.

    Like this one: a day or two into that Indiana trip, I saw a news article that an unidentified pedestrian had been killed by a driver in our Austin neighborhood. I called Chadwick in an absolute panic, to be met with his reassurances that he was fine. I'm glad we didn't know that was my last time to call him irrationally just to check if he was still alive.

    He was fine.

    I am so not.

    When I checked the calendar on Thursday, and realized what day it was, I was hit by a wave of grief followed by a crushing wave of guilt. It's guilt that I suppose will follow me for the rest of my days, that I can't hold both of those dates in my head. That when it came time to decide which grief was greater, it was no contest. That her passing is but a footnote in my mind, a thing that happened before the bigger Thing That Happened. And while I'm sure that most people would say that I made the correct choice, that in fact it wasn't a choice at all, and that Grandma herself would say that it's right that I grieve my husband taken too soon more than I grieve my grandmother who lived a long and full life: I know all those things to be true. And yet, these emotions will remain, and I'm the one who has to sort through them as best I can.

    Did I mention that I hate February? It's really the worst. 

    Post title is a line from the song "The Green Fields of France," a song that has no relevance to this post whatsoever, but I thought of it while thinking about how difficult it is to pull up any memories from 2015. Torn, tattered, and stained, indeed.

    01 January 2021

    Hello, 2021 (please wipe your feet)

    I thought it would be a good idea to bring in the new year by getting my digital life in order, or at least making a start at it. Now, an entire workday's time later, I'm taking a break from relentless unsubscribing.

    Most years, there are two predictable sets of posts throughout the blogosphere to welcome the new calendar: the resolution posts, and the I-don't-make-resolutions posts. Both kinds are endearing in their own way, I suppose, but this year I would welcome them both as a harbinger of less-interesting times. Alas, our times remain interesting, and are likely to be so for some time to come.

    I searched "goal" on free images, and got this. 1) They're not wrong; and 2) this is exactly the kind of metaphor I was looking for and didn't even know it. Photo by Julie Elliott-Abshire from FreeImages.

    As for me, I am toying with a few goals for the year, but am in no hurry to get them set. (I'm waiting on results from a COVID test, anyway, so there's a chance I have some unexpected non-working days next week to think it over.) I'll probably land on doing monthly goals, which benefit from having a shorter time frame as a built-in anti-procrastination guard. I also like Gretchen Rubin's "21 for 21" idea, and have tossed that one into the hopper to see what comes out.

    I've taken the odd moment over the last couple weeks to think over some things I used to do but don't now, and the reasons why I stopped. Two big life events seem to be the main culprits, and yet not the obvious one: when I went back to university in 2010, and when I dragged myself across 1000+ miles to start a new life in Cincinnati in 2016. Of course, 2020 itself bears some of the blame, since in the past few months it's been pretty easy to justify not doing anything extra. Some of the things I've lost along the way:

    • Watching basketball games on TV. I used to love watching basketball. This one got lost when I went to UT.
    • Watching NCIS and its many spinoffs. Ditto on losing this one to higher education.
    • Training well for half marathons. This one would be easy to blame on going to UT, and that is part of the reason, but the bigger problem lies in me jumping into a marathon too soon and never being able to find the spark since. And that's been a loooooong time. Don't get me wrong, I've continued to run half marathons at least once a year from 2008 up until 2020 shut everything down, but I haven't put in that same level of effort and intention, which I used to enjoy, in about a decade. I'm not sure I know how to fix this one.
    • Reading a lot. This one fizzled after I moved to Cincinnati, and the fizzling was compounded by 2020. Doomscrolling is way too convenient (and while the term is new, for me as for many, the practice is not).
    • Writing a lot. Another Cincinnati casualty, for some reason.

    Is this a starting point for 2021 goals? Perhaps. I'm unlikely to return to watching a lot of TV, my fondness for Timothy McGee notwithstanding, but I can watch one or two Pacers games a week, methinks. Or perhaps it's time to acknowledge that I accidentally had that personality change that I always joke about having not had.

    Whatever your choice for 2021--lots of resolutions, one or two goals, just hanging on tight to see what comes next--I wish you all the best for a year that goes your way more often than not. Indeed, I think that's the best we can all hope for.

    31 December 2020

    Good-bye, 2020 (don't let the door hit you)

    I may have let an entire year go by since my last post, but I didn't want 2020 to go racing out the door altogether without shoving in at least a few words. Someone asked me earlier today, "How are you celebrating the new year?" and I said, "By going to bed on time and getting up when it's 2021. Oh, and probably by putting something on my blog about it being my anniversary. People love my widow content."

    So, widow content is what you get.

    A drawing of two hands toasting with champagne. Title reads, "Cheers to good health and life 2021."
    I went to Canva looking for a nice New Year image, and this one seemed as likely as any. I thought the one that was a warning to be on the lookout for suspicious activity was too on the nose for 2020's last day.
    It starts every year with Chadwick's birthday on October 4. I get a carrot cake or two to share at work, I post something cutesy on Facebook about how all October 4 calories are on Chadwick, and then the day ends and the earth continues to turn. And while I try not to let it spill on those around me, it's true that as the nights get longer, my days get darker. The holidays whirl by complete with what would have been, tomorrow, our 19th anniversary.

    It's only a few weeks more until the *other* anniversary comes round, and while the seasons have changed and the literal hours of darkness are already shorter than they were earlier in December, my mental darkness will continue to grow. It's a cycle that's set in that I can't seem to shake--not that I've tried that hard, not that I want to shake it. Apart from the occasional inquiry from friends and acquaintances, the only person this darkness affects is me. And I'm fine with it, for now.

    As great as it is when I get to visit with those who knew and loved Chadwick well, it's lovely to daily be surrounded by people who never knew Chadwick. People whose only connection to him is me. It's a gift to have so many friends and coworkers who welcome the stories of a very odd duck who took things as they came and made my life brighter by being in it. And so, if my 2021 starts off dim because I'm still missing the brightest star that ever shone onto my path... so be it.

    It's probably best that such a bright soul didn't have to see 2020, anyway.

    Happy new year, friends! As Colonel Potter says, may she be a damn sight better than the old one.

    02 December 2019

    The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Giving Tuesday

    Tomorrow's the day: you'll get emails all day long from every charity you've ever donated to or signed up for emails from, probably including a few that you forgot you ever connected to. (Unsubscribe if you want, but please think twice before reporting them for spam. Just because you don't remember signing up doesn't mean you didn't, nor is being tired of the email blasts a good reason to overreact. Nonprofit orgs are a lot more likely to be hurt by an email spam report than a nationwide chain store is, so please don't.) (Unless the org you're reporting for spam has done other terrible things, in which case: report away.)

    I love Giving Tuesday. Love it. Ever since the first one back in 2012, it's one of my favorite days of the year. It's a day that I look forward to and strive to extract every drop of joy from. Obviously, this is related to me working for three nonprofits--it's fun to do our outreach on the day, connect with donors on social media, get donations that we can put to immediate good use--there's nothing not to love about this day from the point of view of a communications person at a nonprofit. Even the work leading up to it is fun work (although I will say I'm exhausted from the past few weeks and dancing on the very edge of burnout, so it's possible I went a bit overboard this year).

    I also enjoy seeing what other orgs are doing for Giving Tuesday. Every sigh of "Oh, I wish I'd thought of that!" is an opportunity to learn from others. The nonprofit sector is huge, lots of groups are doing the hard work of making the world a better place, and to take a stroll through the Giving Tuesday hashtag on any network is to be inspired.

    And for all that, it's also great for me as a person who donates to nonprofit organizations. I start the day with a dollar amount and usually one or two charities in mind, then I wait to see what happens. Who has a compelling ask? What group have I never heard of that suddenly gets shared into my Instagram feed? Who's been in the back of my mind, but so far back that they were all but forgotten, who might spring into the forefront of my brain today? I love finding new-to-me groups to donate to on Giving Tuesday, and every year, I've gotten to the end of the money I'd planned to donate that day and thought, "Maybe just one more." It's my personal biggest giving day of the year. and it's a delightful way to discover other nonprofits.

    Maybe you don't feel the same way about Giving Tuesday. Frankly, it's hard to imagine anyone who's not in the nonprofit sector having this same level of passion for a day of giving, although I'm sure such folks exist. Maybe you like to give in other ways, or maybe the spark just hasn't caught yet for you. Maybe you're cranky about your inbox filling to the brim after you've only just emptied out all the Black Friday and Cyber Monday blasts.

    But maybe you're ready to wake up tomorrow looking for ways to make the world a better place, and if so, I invite you to join me on the Giving Tuesday hashtag on the social network of your choice. Tweet me and tell me about what org you've found that I shouldn't overlook before the clock strikes midnight on Wednesday!

    Thanks for stopping by Cheekyness! I hope this blog can be a calm/fun/bright space in your day. If you like what you see here, find me on Twitter for more random nonsense, or follow me on Instagram to see what a terrible photographer I am. If you have thoughts, too, share them in the comment box below, but please note that I ignore and remove spammers, jerks, and trolls without remorse.

    18 November 2019

    NaNoWriMo Survival

    Dear readers,

    I am not dead! Okay, see you after NaNoWriMo.

    I kid! I have a few more words than that for you.

    See those people hard at work? Do that.
    Normally, I would credit the photo creator, but I pulled this from
    my blog archives and today's other NaNoWriMo survival
    tip is "Don't look up anything that's not life or death."
    I'll correct this oversight when NaNo is over.
    Yes, I've been gone for a very long time, and that long absence is because the internet sucks. (By "sucks" I don't mean mine is slower than usual; I mean people are awful. If you think I mean you, then you should really spend some time with that thought.) However, it's clearly not going to get any better with me avoiding it, so here I am with a few words for those of us in the throes of NaNoWriMo.

    But if you're not a WriMo, one more thing before you go: I have lots of blogging plans for 2020. And some things for the rest of 2019. Make sure you have me bookmarked.

    So! NaNoWriMo friends, we are in the messy middle. This is the trenchiest that NaNo gets. Initial enthusiasm may have waned, you may be a bit behind, and there are still two weeks to go, or maybe your plot has fizzled and the big twist turned out to be more of a crinkle.

    Friend, you got this. Butt in chair, fingers on keys, and write down everything you can think of. Jump to a fresh page and write some backstory. Skip to that scene that you've been building up to but haven't yet figured out how to connect the dots to. Transcribe the conversations you overhear in the office. Do what it takes to get some words on the page, because your brain won't kick in with ideas if you're too paralyzed to get the fingers moving.

    Having said that, here are a few more survival tips:
    1. Convenience foods are your friends. Pre-cut fruits and veggies are a godsend. For you or for your family; they'll be fine.
    2. Don't host Thanksgiving at your house. (It may be too late for this one for some of you.) If you do, tell your guests to expect dust, because NaNo. If they don't get that, they should not get any of your pumpkin pie.
    3. Minutes matter. In line at the store? Waiting at the school pickup? Ten minutes between meetings? Pull out your phone and get some words down.
    4. BACK. UP. EVERYTHING. Twice!
    5. If social media isn't helping, it's hurting. Turn off Facebook and Instagram for a couple weeks. Everybody will be cool with it.
    6. And finally... keep moving. If you're awake (and please do be getting a reasonable amount of sleep!), you're doing something. That's the way to make it to 50K before November 30.
    That's all I've got! I have to get back to writing now, so let me know your best NaNoWriMo survival strategy. I will happily put them all to good use.