Free Bones of Faerie short story

Happy holidays! “Invasive Species,” a short story set in my Bones of Faerie universe, is now online. It’s also FREE this month wherever ebooks are sold.

You can download a copy now from Amazon Apple Barnes and Noble Kobo or Smashwords.

[Invasive Species: Book Cover]

The Bones of Faerie trilogy is set in the aftermath of a catastrophic war between the human and faerie realms, one that has left behind a world filled with deadly magic: stones that glow with deadly light, trees that seek blood and bone to root in, dark forests that can swallow a person whole.

While the main trilogy is set in the Midwest, “Invasive Species” is my look at what the war with Faerie might have looked like here in the Arizona, where even without magic, the plants know how to bite. Here’s an excerpt.


I held tight to my little cousin’s hand as we walked the road through Summerhaven, scanning the broken asphalt for weeds. Alex tugged at a stray thread on his faded Cookie Monster T-shirt and scuffed his sneakers against the ground. He’d been fidgety all day, like his skin felt too tight. Maybe it was the heavy gray clouds, promising rain, but giving us only another sticky summer day.

Maybe it was that for five years—since before Alex was born—our entire lives had been lived within a couple miles of this road. Thinking about it made me want to crawl out of my skin, too.

Alex spotted a fuzzy pink thistle poking through a crack in the pavement. He reached for it. I pulled him back. “Gloves on?” I asked.

Alex looked down at his bare hands, as if he had to think about that. He pulled leather gloves out of his jean pockets, tried to put them on, and got his thumbs stuck in the finger holes. I helped him straighten them out.

“Gloves on,” he said, as if it had been his idea.

“Go for it, then.”

Alex grabbed the thistle and pulled, throwing all his four-year-old strength into the job. The stem came up in his arms, wriggling like a thorny green snake, while the fluffy bloom at the end thrashed wildly, trying to break free. I opened my leather weed-gathering bag, and Alex threw the thistle in. Once it was dead, we’d feed it to the goats and rabbits, just like all the other weeds.

“Take that, stupid plant.” Alex laughed, as if hunting down killer weeds was all in a day’s work. He’d never known a plant that was safe. He’d never known a world more than a few miles wide, either.

I knelt beside him and dug the thistle’s roots out with my knife, ignoring the strap of my quiver as it dug into my shoulder.

Sweat plastered my I Love Mount Lemmon T-shirt to my back. “Never forget the roots,” I said.

Never forget the roots.” Alex threw them into my bag, too, grinning like a preschooler learning his ABCs. Except Alex hadn’t been to preschool, either, hadn’t learned his letters and numbers anywhere but by the fireplace with Aunt Anna and Uncle Doug.

I sighed and stood, looking at the familiar cabins that dotted the hillsides east and west of us, the snags of burned trees punctuating the earth between them. Beyond the houses, terraced fields of beans, squash, and corn moaned as they reached for the sky. Most of the town was up in those fields today, reinforcing the scorched rings of earth that surrounded the crops and kept them from marching down the hillside into town.

Five years ago, if someone had told me plants could march, I’d have told them they’d been streaming too many bad movies …


Read more! Download “Invasive Species” from Amazon Apple Barnes and Noble Kobo or Smashwords.

Infecting an Entire Elementary School with Covid Is My Personal Choice

Hey, it’s me, the brave local mom who went viral for defying the city’s mask mandate last year. As you know, I suffered lots of persecution for that, including dirty looks from my fellow shoppers at the Grab and Go and that one cashier who snapped, “Lady, just take your Diet Coke and Twinkies and go!”

But when it comes to personal choice, I don’t compromise. I only have one face, and I choose what does and doesn’t go on it, even when that face is shedding airborne particles of a potentially lethal virus. I declined the Covid19 vaccine for much the same reason — I choose not to inject unknown substances into my body. Except for Diet Coke, Twinkies, and the cheese sauce on the fries at my favorite poorly ventilated dining establishment, of course …

Read the rest at Frazzled.

Kids React to FDA Vaccine Approval: It’s About F*cking Time

The FDA approved a lower dose of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for five to eleven-year-olds today. How do area kids feel about getting the jab?

“It’s about f*cking time,” said Ava Phillips, age nine, speaking from the bedroom where she was waiting for the health department to lift the quarantine on her fourth-grade class

Read More at Frazzled.

Welcome to CityFest, a totally Covid-free celebration of fried food and the arts

Welcome to CityFest, our annual celebration of the art, music, and fried foods that make this city great! After last year’s Covid hiatus we’re thrilled to announce CityFest will return in person this fall. 

No, our Covid numbers aren’t any lower than last year. But the community needs this festival, and we need this community. We especially need the money this community spends on parking, downtown dining, and festive souvenir travel mugs.

Your belief that we care about your safety remains our number one priority, however. With that in mind, we proudly present this year’s 10-step Covid mitigation plan.

Step 1: Hand sanitizer. There will be so much hand sanitizer at the festival this year. You won’t be able to take a half dozen steps in any direction without bumping into a CityFest branded bottle of the stuff. Sure, Covid is airborne and not actually spread by touching things, but we won’t let that stop us from implementing this cost-effective, tremendously visible, and utterly useless safety measure.

[woman with bottle of hand sanitizer]
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Step 2: Advanced porta potty protection. We’ll clean the bathrooms. A lot. Paying people to scrub toilets 24/7 is way cheaper than losing another year’s worth of vendor fees.

Step 3: Masks. Masks are required. Of course they are! We don’t plan to enforce this requirement, but that’s okay, because asking people to wear masks is mean and might start a fight. CityFest is all about community, not about protecting one another from a highly contagious, potentially lethal virus.

Step 4: Vaccination requirements. Everyone attending CityFest must be fully vaccinated. Since this is a huge, open-air event spread across multiple venues, we have no way of checking on this, but you vaccinated people all know who you are, right? Everyone else can just stay home. Especially the immune compromised, because culture and community are only for healthy people anyway.

Step 5: Outdoor venues. All of our events will be outdoors, except the ones that aren’t. Science says you can’t catch Covid outside, not even when crammed so tightly together in front of a rickety music stage with poor acoustics that you can taste the powdered sugar from that funnel cake your neighbor had for lunch.

[outdoor crowd clapping and raising fists]
Photo by Tim Toomey on Unsplash

Step 6: Social distancing. Thanks to the crowds, you won’t be able to see the pavement markers telling attendees to stand six feet apart, but we assure you they’ll be there.

Step 7: Food trucks. If a food can be deep fried, there’ll be a food truck deep frying it. This is important because everyone knows you can’t catch Covid while eating. If you could, our city leaders would be morally culpable for not shutting down all restaurant dining, and who wants to believe that? Nobody, that’s who. So just keep some cheesy fries or a turkey leg with you at all times and you’ll be fine.

[Food truck labeled "Rainbow grilled cheese experience"]
Photo by Shari Sirotnak on Unsplash

Step 8: Children’s craft area. We’ve expanded our children’s activities this year. We’re not sure why, since kids can’t be vaccinated yet and so according to our own guidelines shouldn’t even be here.

Step 9: Virtual options. We’ll livestream video of all our events, so that those uncomfortable attending in person can be utterly horrified by those who aren’t uncomfortable at all.

Step 10: Signs. We’re printing thousands and thousands of signs, and every one of them will contain a complete list of these mitigation steps. Does it get any safer than that? We certainly don’t think so.

So there you have it. With these measures in place, we’re confident everyone will have a fun, safe CityFest while buying out our entire supply of souvenir flash drives, LED keychains, and sandstone coasters. But even should everything go horribly wrong, rest assured that there’s no way to contact trace events like this anyway, so our lawyers assure us that we—we mean you—will be just fine.

Doing the “you” things—honoring our (highly individual) writing processes

I’m a messy writer. I jump in, with little more than a character or an idea, a few sentences or a scrap of voice, and I just start writing.

I don’t know where the story is going. I don’t know where it will end. Or maybe I think I know these things now, but I’ll find out later that I’m wrong. Either way I dive in, doing the story equivalent of throwing word-clay on the wheel and letting that clay splatter all over my hands and clothes, creating a rough draft that will ultimately bear only a ghost of a resemblance to my final one. I keep writing and rewriting over the course of five or more drafts, shaping the story, layering things in.

I love my writing process. There’s energy and joy in it, and in the end, I wind up with stories I’m proud of. If there’s angst along the way, a fear that this time, unlike all the other times, the story won’t happen, well, some part of me knows that’s part of my process, too.

My process.

For some reason we seat-of-the-pants, outline-eschewing writers are an insecure bunch. I hear new — and not-so-new — writers stressing about how they “need” to learn to outline, because not outlining is too slow or too inefficient or too … something.

Meanwhile, the Internet is filled with posts about how to map out our stories ahead of time. In one-on-one conversations with planning writers, I hear things like, “I don’t have the time not to outline” and “It’d be lovely to jump in, but I don’t have that luxury.”

As if it’s a luxury to write in the way that gives you the absolute best story possible.

I’m all for experimenting, for testing new processes, for trying new things. None of us should be hobbled by assuming that the way we do things now is the only way we can do things, ever. But there also comes a point when, no matter what our best process and best writing practices, we really do know what works for us.

When that point comes, I believe in accepting it — not with anxiety or fear, but with joy.

How much word clay you get on your skin and clothes doesn’t matter. Only the story you come away with in the end matters.

As for time, that thing none of us has enough us — well, nothing wastes time like fighting the way your story wants to be written, and along the way, the writing itself is usually much less fun.

Two stories:

One. A writer friend called me one day, wanting to know how I “organized” the work for my research-intensive novel Thief Eyes, because she was working on a research-intensive project of her own. After some hollow laughter at that word, organized, I allowed as how I didn’t write Thief Eyes with an up-front organized plan. Instead, I jumped in, and wrote, and let the story tell me what I needed to know. Only once I had words on the wheel did I begin researching and revising in earnest.

There was a moment’s silence, and then my friend asked, “So what did you do, then? Use notecards?”

Fortunately this was a voice call. When I banged my head against the wall, there was no one there to see.

When I say I don’t plan or outline, I mean I don’t plan or outline, not that I plan and outline differently. I think this process is sometimes alien to those who do follow a more outwardly organized process that they can’t imagine it working at all.

But it does.

Two. A while back, I had a book I wanted to write whose shape was already clear in my head, much more so than most of my books are. I could have honored that gift and made use of it by taking it with me into a messy first draft, but instead I thought, “Oh! Maybe this book is one that I actually can outline. Maybe I can finally speed everything up after all!”

That should have been my warning right there, that voice in my head looking, not for a new technique that would make my story better, but for a shortcut instead.

I now have that book outlined in a file, and no desire to work on it, because the story feels dead to me.

I put all the bright shining first-draft energy of discovery into an outline that in the end was nothing like a first draft for me, and now instead of joyous momentum and something I can revise into a second draft, I have lifeless words on the page.

Fortunately, this was a spec project, so I set my outline aside in the hopes that, with enough time and forgetfulness, that outline will fade from memory and the first draft energy will return. Which is fine, but also pretty much the opposite of saving time.

For another writer it might have been different, which is actually the point. We all have our own glorious processes, messy or otherwise. We need to honor them, not fight them.

Some years ago, writer Leah Bobet was talking about honoring her processes, and also about, just once, trying to fight them for a difficult project. “Everything just worked again when I just did Me Things,” Bobet said.

That strikes me as excellent of summarizing the most important thing I’ve learned in a decades-long career.

Learn your processes, challenge them even, and push yourself as hard as you can to write better. But in the end?

Just do the you things. It’s the best writing advice I know.


A version of this post originally appeared on my blog here, because some things really don’t change. Except that now, of course, I’d have to make sure I didn’t have video turned on when I banged my head against that wall.

Meet Bob, our pandemic spider

We first noticed the spider sometime in summer of 2020. He was long-legged, but not long-legged enough to be a daddy longlegs. Fuzzy, but not fuzzy enough to be a wolf spider. Startling, but clearly not one of the poisonous varieties that need to be removed from the premises immediately.

[Spider on the ceiling]
Just a spider hanging out.

He wasn’t doing any harm, hanging out there on the ceiling of the family room. He might even be doing some good—spiders eat bugs, after all. So we let him stay.

For about three weeks the spider alternately hung out on the ceiling and walls or else hid somewhere in the cracks of the house. Then, at some point, he just disappeared. My husband, daughter, and I assumed he’d either moved on to better habitats or made his way to the great cobweb in the sky (though he didn’t seem to be a web-spinning sort of spider), and we mostly forgot about him.

That fall he was back again, though, or else a spider that looked very much like him and that had also grown slightly bigger was back, hanging out on the ceiling again, eating more (we assumed) bugs, and slipping in and out of view. Again he stayed for a few weeks, then disappeared until spring.

He was braver by spring, hanging out in not just the family room but also the kitchen and my daughter’s bedroom. We’re a bug-friendly family, so we were happy to have him back. Though it was startling to one day open my child’s underwear drawer—and see a spider crawling out.

We were all briefly more wary of him after the underwear incident. But we didn’t want to evict him, so instead we did what any sensible family would do. We let our daughter give the spider a name.

[Spider on the wall]
Hi, Bob.

Meet Bob, our pandemic spider. We admitted when we named him that he might well be female, but still, Bob seemed like the right name, so Bob he was.

Bob wasn’t disconcerting at all, once he had a name. He was a known entity, a member of the family, almost, even, a pet. We all smiled when we saw him after that.

One day, Bob got brave and moved down from the walls to the family room floor. We realized he’d moved from the walls to the floor when our cats suddenly became very, very interested in something moving on that floor. “Bob!” we all shouted and, with the help of a stiff piece of cardboard, helped him skitter out the front door, away from curious teeth and claws.

We figured once he’d seen the outside world, Bob would move on to the nearest viable outdoor habitat, but only a couple of days later we found him cheerfully hanging out on the wall of our daughter’s bedroom again. The world is a large place, if you’re a spider, and we hadn’t even really expected him to be able to find his way back inside, especially after the stress of having so recently fled for his life—but there he was. He might be an indoor-outdoor spider, but apparently this was his home, and not just some place he’d conveniently landed.

I finally sent Bob’s picture on to a friend who works with insects at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and she identified him as Olios giganteus—a giant crab spider, also known as a huntsman spider. She also identified him as definitively male, something the other Olios giganteus pictures I turned up on the web also made clear.

[Missing spider poster]
Have you seen Bob?

Bob spent another few weeks in our house and then, in his Bob way, disappeared again.

My daughter posted a Missing Spider poster on the front door. But male spiders don’t live all that long. In the giant crab spider world, even females usually only last two to three years. Weeks went by, and we took the poster down. At some point in this story, after all, Bob will disappear for good.

But this is not that day. Because this day, more than two months after he last disappeared, Bob showed up again, calmly chilling on the kitchen ceiling, once again a little bigger than the last time we saw him, but otherwise the same old spider we now knew.

Welcome back, Bob. We’re all glad to see you again.

[Giant crab spider closeup]
Oh, there you are, Bob.

Rain and darkness. Darkness and light.

It rained yesterday.

It’s been raining a lot this summer, here in my corner of the desert Southwest, drenching rains that make doors swell and stick shut, that cause foot-tall weeds to spring up seemingly overnight, that turn dry washes into temporary raging rivers as water struggles to soak into soil baked hard by decades of drought. We tell one another how grateful we are, to see water in this land defined by its lack, hoping our gratitude will encourage the rain to keep coming.

But until yesterday I didn’t feel grateful, as the rain fell with startling regularity, filling our blue skies with clouds for hours, even days, on end and shrinking our usually distant horizons. Instead I felt like those skies: dull and soggy and gray. I felt like surely it would rain forever.

It’s been a rough couple of years. There’s nothing particularly special about my pandemic story—my family and I are as safe as anyone can be, safe and sheltered, and I’m keenly aware of how many people can’t say as much. Yet I’ve been slogging through these Covid says, feeling alone as so many of the ways I used to escape isolation—sharing a meal, going to a movie, catching a plane someplace else to visit far-flung friends—have turned from everyday luxuries to foolish, even dangerous acts. Watching others happily continue to engage in these activities, often without even basic safety measures, only deepens the sense of isolation, prolonging the pandemic and making it feel like these days are never going to end.

Like this rain is never going to end.

There are new stresses this fall, too, as I send my child back to school in a state that’s actively fighting to deny districts those safety measures, putting classrooms full of unvaccinated children like mine at risk. Yet keeping children at home carries risks, too, leaving families without any good choices, but only bad choices and slightly less bad choices.

Loneliness. Depression. Stress. These days have been gray since long before the summer rains began.

I’ve been working to pull my feet out of the soggy mud of where-we-are for what feels like a very long time. Working on sleep, working on exercise, working through therapy, working, finally, with medication. Working to accept the up days and the down days, working to understand why my instinctive “fight” response has gone into stress overdrive, working to remember that, deep down, I’ve always believed that light shines through the darkness, rather than the other way around—a belief that’s informed nearly everything I’ve written.

I’ve not been writing much, during these pandemic days and months and years.

Yet yesterday, something shifted. Just a little. For just a bit.

The rain had been slowing down, dousing us every few days instead of every single day. The Sonoran Desert is moving toward autumn, slowly, inevitably. There are more blue days than gray ones now.

But yesterday the clouds got up a full head of steam early, and by mid-afternoon our weekend family gaming and reading and web-surfing were interrupted by first a rumble, then a crash. And because it was mid-afternoon and not night, my husband, my daughter and I all spontaneously ran out beneath our carport as the rain began to fall.

It was a wild rain—full of wind blowing trees, full of water that whooshed beneath our feet as the carport turned into a puddle, full of lightning flashes and bright bolts that bridged the gap between earth and sky.

And for once, something in me leapt up to meet that wildness. To enjoy it. To revel in it.

[Video of rain storm]
During the rain.

I stood outside getting splashed by cold gusts of rain, and for the first time in what I only then realized was a long time, I felt something that wasn’t anger or exhaustion or fear, something that was, tentatively, inching toward joy.

I splashed with my daughter in the growing puddle at our feet. I watched the mesquite tree in our yard whip back and forth in the wind. I laughed when the storm rumbles gave way to a series of loud cracks. 

It was a just-wild-enough storm, fierce but not dangerous if one had shelter nearby. It was a storm that could be enjoyed, and so I enjoyed it, as I hadn’t enjoyed the summer’s other storms, for no better reason than that when this storm came, something inside me was, at last, ready for it.

As I splashed and laughed I thought about the last time I was recovering from a depression this deep. There came a point, as I fought that depression, when I saw a full moon rising over the mountains, and looked at it, and felt the brilliance of its silver light someplace deep inside me, where for countless months before I’d appreciated the moon and everything else with only a distant sort of intellectual knowledge.

That startling moonlit moment wasn’t the end of the tunnel I’d found myself in. But it was a start—a reminder of Before, a first hint of a way out.

Here in the desert, as in the rest of the country, Covid cases are still rising, and a great many people are still ignoring or denying the fact, and all of us are paying the price. There remains cause enough for fear and despair.

But it rained yesterday. If I can hang on to the feeling of a wet, cold storm just wild enough to wake me up a little, maybe I can find a way out of my own personal tunnel this time, too. Maybe I can chart a course through those parts of the current darkness that come from within, rather than from without.

And maybe, just maybe, I can find once again the brilliant silver light that knows how to shine through the dark after all.

[Clouds reflected in rain puddle]
After the rain.

For parents, the pandemic’s lesson is clear. We’re on our own.

As a new mother, I struggled with isolation and loneliness, as many new parents do.

I was an older mom, and most of my friends were childless or had older kids. My new-parent schedule didn’t leave much time for seeing anyone whose day wasn’t structured around naptime and bedtime, and that was hard enough. Harder still, though, was the way everyone, even those who’d once had babies at home, seemed to have forgotten just how hard caring for an infant or toddler really was.

How else to explain the way they told me I should enjoy these precious years, when I wasn’t yet sure how I’d survive them? How else to explain how they kept saying everything would go by far too fast, when all I wanted was a break from days that never seemed to end?

How else to make sense of the way they insisted motherhood looked so good on me, that they could see the happiness shining through on my face, when I was exhausted and drowning?

From the very start, I loved my daughter. But I didn’t love the loneliness and the disconnect that seemed an inescapable part of early parenting. I didn’t love how many people outright refused to remember just how rough the early days of this journey could be.

With time, things got better. I caught up on sleep. I met new friends who had littles of their own and so hadn’t had a chance to forget yet. My schedule became more flexible, letting old friends back in. By elementary school, surrounded by an entire cohort of parents in the exact same place I was, the memory of isolation had faded into the background.

Until the pandemic hit.

Until schools closed, cities went on lockdown, and my family and I were once again on our own.

All of us parents did our best to support each other, in the beginning, through that first impossible spring of remote learning — while our kids had screaming fits during Zoom sessions; while the spark left their eyes as they stared, glazed over and depressed, at computer screens all day; while we fought our own depression and fear as we tried to get our own work done and support our children at the exact same time.

By the end of the school year our cheerful text threads fell silent, though, as we all focused on the same single critical question: Would schools reopen in the fall? Schools had to reopen, didn’t they? None of us could imagine doing this again.

During the endless summer that followed, everything else reopened instead. Bars. Restaurants. Gyms. Disneyworld. In Arizona, where I live, early lockdowns had kept Covid case numbers in check all spring, but now, one reckless reopening at a time, our numbers rose, and rose again, and rose some more. Like most of the US, by fall Arizona’s Covid cases were so high that schools couldn’t reopen. Somehow, we were going to have to get through another season of remote learning after all.

Yet once again I found little empathy from non-parents for the challenges ahead, because once again, adults not actively parenting their own kids had forgotten what parenting was really like. They had to have forgotten, because how else could they sleep at night knowing bars were open but schools were closed? How else could they be good with letting families struggle just so they could go out for dinner, or see a movie, or have a drink with friend?

But they were good with that. More than good with it — far too many people convinced themselves that overwhelmed parents were the selfish ones for wanting it any other way. Friends whose children had left home years ago told me how happily they would have homeschooled during a pandemic. Grandparents who hadn’t seen their grandkids in months insisted those grandkids were totally happy with remote learning so my kid should be too. Strangers on social media insisted parents were self-centered for needing child care, for caring about our children’s mental health, for wanting to hang on to our jobs, for not having the skill to more cheerfully teach our kids, in social isolation, about subjects we didn’t fully understand in a format they weren’t developmentally wired for.

Too many people still seemed to think that parents could, through a simple act of will, choose to be glowing with happiness instead of drowning from exhaustion.

Again, things eventually got better. Covid case numbers dipped enough that schools opened again, with far better Covid mitigation plans than most of the businesses that only briefly had to close. Mine and my child’s mental health — along with the mental health of most families I knew — improved dramatically, and whatever the social media forums said, this was not a trivial thing.

There were ups and downs after that. Covid numbers spiked again in the winter, spiked alarmingly as people bought plane tickets, visited family, traveled for the holidays, and traveled some more just because they really needed a vacation, all while still happily shopping in person and eating out as well.

When Covid numbers finally fell again, it wasn’t thanks to anyone’s good behavior. It was because the winter holidays were over and there was less time for traveling. It was because vaccines had become more widely available, at least in the US.

Even so, for the first time in a long time, I almost felt hopeful. I got vaccinated as soon as I could. I watched as the age for vaccine eligibility kept dropping. I outright cheered when the FDA approved the first vaccine for kids 12 and older. A few more months, a few more trials and approvals, and kids under 12 would be eligible to be vaccinated too. With Covid numbers still dropping, with mask mandates still in place, I began to think that maybe even before then my daughter and I could venture out safely come summer.

I should have known better. I should have remembered that my child — that any child — was the last thing most people cared about.

The CDC decided, reasonably enough, that vaccinated people were safe without masks in most settings. My city decided, not reasonably at all, that this meant it was time to completely lift public masking requirements. In response local businesses put up meaningless signs saying masks were “strongly recommended” for the unvaccinated, made it clear they had no plans to enforce this recommendation, and declared they were good to go. If half the adults in my city remained unvaccinated, if those unvaccinated adults were surely taking off their masks along with everyone else, if all those unmasked unvaccinated adults caused another spike in Covid cases? Not the businesses’ problem.

If my city was suddenly a more dangerous place for everyone under 12 — a huge group of children who couldn’t get vaccinated even if they wanted to be? That wasn’t the business’ problem, either.

And once again, most adults not raising children just didn’t care, maybe because they were too busy celebrating their newfound “right” to take off their own masks.

Try telling them that lifting mask mandates puts kids in danger? They say it doesn’t matter, because they personally are vaccinated so can’t possibly be part of the problem. Try telling them their unmasking encourages the unvaccinated to unmask too? Well, they can’t possibly be responsible for anyone else’s behavior, and besides, by unmasking the unvaccinated are only putting themselves at risk anyway. Try telling them that rising Covid cases, even among the unvaccinated, threatens my child and countless children like her? Again — they’re vaccinated. They’re officially not responsible for anyone but themselves.

Never mind that the first lesson of any contagious disease should be that we’re all responsible for each another, that our actions affect not just ourselves but others too, because that’s how contagious diseases work.

Other local venues are opening here now, too. Public pools, where masking isn’t even possible, opened Memorial Day weekend, while the whole country is talking about getting back to “normal” by the 4th of July. Never mind that kid vaccines aren’t expected until September. Everyone is so, so glad to be moving on.

Everyone except for children and their parents. We don’t get that luxury.

So here I am. Facing down a long, isolated summer where every trip out is a renewed exercise in risk calculation. A summer spent worrying about which public places, if any, are safe for my daughter, all while around me others celebrate the end of the pandemic and look for more restrictions to lift. After all, why should anyone let the existence of a few million children under 12 get in the way of their personal happiness?

I know, I know. It will get better. Probably. Eventually. But until then, the message from my community and my country is painfully clear: this summer, I’m on my own, as surely as any sleep-deprived new parent.

The only difference is that this time, it’s going to be a lot harder to forget how much all those around me refused to see, when one day normal catches up with my family and all the other families like us at last.

Life isn’t a story. That’s probably a good thing.

Life isn’t a story.

This is, for the most part, a good thing. Stories need conflict. Stories need drama. Stories need, more often than not, for the worst possible thing to happen at the worst possible time.

No one wants to live in a well-written story.

The pandemic isn’t a story. But if it were, I think we’d be at the part where it looks like everything is about to wrap up and wind down at last — but it isn’t, quite.

Vaccines are here and widely available, even if not as many people as hoped for are taking them. Covid case numbers are down, at least in our country and at least in certain communities within our country. Some of the time, for some of the people, things are beginning to feel almost … normal.

Which is why this would be the part of the story where readers begin flipping through the pages (physical books) or checking out the status bar (ebooks) to see if we’re really as close to the ending as we think.

It would be the part of the story where we realize that there are so many more pages left to go than we expected — too many for the story to really be winding down, too many for the resolution to be as simple as it seemed.

It would be the part where at least one more unexpected-yet-somehow-inevitable thing needed to happen. One more threat, one more unexpected twist, one more call for our weary characters to find their strength and rise above their weaknesses, to endure the unendurable and overcome one last overwhelming obstacle.

It would be where we realize the pandemic and its consequences aren’t over yet, that we were in too much of a hurry to think they were, that we need to keep reading for a while yet before we reach the satisfying conclusion and cathartic sigh of relief we’re longing for.

I’m glad the pandemic isn’t a story.

I’m glad those of us who hear those pages flipping have as much chance as being wrong as of being right. Maybe the pandemic still is building up to a dramatically satisfying ending. There are certainly enough unresolved plot threads left for one. But maybe, if we’re lucky, it’s instead just staggering to an undramatic, unsatisfying, mostly meaningless, utterly weary end.

Stories need meaning. Life, thankfully, does not.

But life also doesn’t let us skip ahead, doesn’t let us read the ending ahead of time for reassurance before returning to our carefully bookmarked place.

I hope the pandemic isn’t a story.

But if it is a story, I hope it’s a standalone story.

Because as readers know, if the pandemic isn’t a standalone story, then the end of book one is just a lull. A chance for readers to catch their breath — right before all those unresolved plot threads come crashing down, with all the force of a world that extends far beyond our own borders and a tale that was always, always more complicated than it seemed.

Vaccine clinic humor

Today at the vaccine clinic, a newly-vaccinated gentleman asked me:

Why don’t anteaters get sick?

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Because they’re full of anty bodies.

You’re all welcome.


I was volunteering in the clinic’s waiting area, where those who’ve already had their shots hang out for 15 minutes to be sure they aren’t having any severe reactions. (These reactions are extremely rare).

This meant my new friend and I had time to share quite a few more bad awesome jokes before it was time for him to go.

Me
Q: When does a joke become a dad joke?
A: When the punchline becomes apparent.

Him
Q: Why was the scientist’s hair wet?
A: Because he had a brainstorm.

Me
Q: What do they call Darth Vader when he’s nervous?
A: Panickin’ Skywalker.

Him
Q: What do you call fake spaghetti?
A: An impasta.

Me
Q: What did the mama buffalo say to the baby buffalo on the first day of kindergarten?
A: Bye, son.

Him
Q: What did the Atlantic Ocean say to the Pacific Ocean?
A: Nothing. It just waved.

Me
Q: What happened when the red boat crashed into the blue boat?
A: They were marooned.

All in all, a successful shift.


Me during a volunteer shift
Me, doing something.

I’ve been volunteering at this clinic, in a non-medical role, since mid-February. During that time, I’d guesstimate that I played some small role—directing traffic, checking people in, verifying which vaccine they’re receiving, handing out information, telling bad jokes—in 1000 vaccinations, give or take.

So much has been beyond all our control this past year. But this is something concrete I can do, and I’m grateful to be able to do it.