Having a great time with Suivez la Piste!

Because I'm spending way more time at home (interspersed with times of working alone in an office or with very few people elsewhere), I've had a lot more time to study languages, and it's really helped me not feel frustrated or hopeless during this virus time. When I wake up, I might initially wonder what's the point of the day other than just getting work done, but then I think about all the language possibilities awaiting me, and then I feel great.

Well thanks to this extra time (which may not happen again once a vaccine is created or the virus is eliminated), I ended up getting a copy of the very rare, but previously common, Suivez La Piste, which I used many years ago in a school French class. I don't remember exactly when I took that class, but I remember the teacher seeming to not enjoy teaching all that much, and I think he was annoyed with the apathetic/immature students. Little did I know back then that I would want to study languages on my own, and that I would want to use this book again. 

Suivez la Piste
Suivez la Piste: love this book!

The book is a French detective thriller that was created as a radio program on the BBC in the 60s and was published in the early 70s in the US, and it is now very hard to find. I thought it would be available online, but the person who posted the text on a blog had deleted it, and all that remained was the audio. I ended up purchasing the book on Amazon through the IHM Sisters, who raise money to support their community and elderly care in Michigan. The book was labeled "used" but is in excellent shape, just like new, and they packaged it thoroughly so that it arrived in perfect condition. I think I bought the last copy they had, but if you want other books by them, go to their Amazon storefront. 

I'm so used to looking up words in a dictionary or online, at first that's what I did when I didn't understand a word in the book. Then I saw that they had all the words in the back (of course...it's a school textbook), so I don't have to go far to find out what something means. The book also has grammar exercises and explanations for each chapter, and has more extensive dialog than what is in the audio; the book has a line down the side of the dialog that corresponds to the audio, and the extra dialog and description are on the page without a line. 

Suivez la Piste page
Page inside Suivez la Piste: the line next to the dialog is included in the audio; dialog with no line is only in the book.

Surprisingly, I think I understand a lot of it, though if I just listen to the story it's hard to catch everything. A person who[m] I contacted online to find out if they had the book (before I ordered it from the Sisters) kindly and unexpectedly gave me some extra exercises and words to look at before I listen to the audio. I couldn't believe they did that--I'd never met them before, but they were very helpful and positive about my pursuit!

Many years ago I'd taken the book for granted because I had to use it in school. Now I see how it's an excellent resource to learn French and be entertained along the way, with references to technology and items that no longer exist, or are barely a part of contemporary culture. It's like a retro radio play, and the acting/voicing is really good as well.

So what seemed like a weird, sort of creepy time (because I don't want to/can't go wherever I want or see or talk with whomever I want [which is very difficult for extroverts/fake introverts like me]) has become a time of opportunity to rediscover language resources from yore and discover new outlets as well.


Social distancing has caused me to study languages more

When I started this blog, it was very language-oriented, but as the years passed, I did posts about other topics and got involved in non-language pursuits elsewhere, so I didn't post much about language, if at all. Sadly, some important people removed me from their lists and I sort of went off in various non-language directions, though I've been copy editing and proofreading for years. 

Now that I've decided to socially distance through 2021 (though I didn't really have a robust social life anyway), I've really gotten back into language. I'm following German, French, and Japanese sources on Twitter, and really should be following Spanish and Portuguese as well, because Twitter is a great way to learn. If I don't know a word (which is often), I look it up. I think Japanese is my most-studied language because there are a lot of really cool accounts that I follow, and some of my retweets are retweeted and liked by Japanese sources, which is really cool. Trying to understand the kanji is very challenging, and is sort of stressful, but I keep trying and it's very fun. There are times when I'll take a work break to read Japanese tweets, then I'll go down a rabbit hole looking up a word, how it's used, etc. Even while writing this post, I took a break to look at some Japanese posts and wow, it is so interesting! 

I've even been reading a 1980s French textbook called "En Route" that I got when I was cleaning out a family member's room (I think...I don't remember how I acquired it, but it was in our previous house). I don't know if the textbook still exists, but it's good, even though I'm sure the readings are outdated. 

En Route French textbook
A great French textbook from the 1980s.
I recently used the book to study the difference between passé composé and l'imparfait because I'm trying to understand Bruno Crémer's memoir, which seems to be written in tenses I don't always recognize. Trying to get through that book is like trudging through wind and snow...i.e., very hard :( 

Amazingly, in my French-learning pursuit, a very generous person who I've never met but emailed about another obsolete French schoolbook sent me some helpful study materials (I'm being vague because they really did me a huge favor even though I didn't ask for the stuff...they were just very kind and helpful). I can't wait until I do the first lesson. Thus I've discovered a bright spot during this social distancing/lockdown situation!


Before I was situationally socially distanced; now it's a choice

As I've suggested and even explicitly stated previously throughout the years, I've not had the most exciting social life, which matters to socially motivated and more extroverted people such as me [I/myself/whatever is correct in 21st century English]. As I've said many times before, I like doing work such as editing, translating, writing, reading, and other brain-stimulating activities that are not socially oriented, but I am not an introvert who is fine with being alone in front of a screen all day. While it may not be draining for an introvert, it's draining for me. My face feels like it's flattening and I feel cut off from society, and would love for someone to talk to me, even to ask me for a pen or something, anything to break up the Screen Stare. That's why I really enjoy teaching (I teach at two higher ed institutions, and they're both great); I really like the students, coworkers, and bosses, and it's like my isolating language world becomes technicolor when I go there.

I could easily write a long explanation of how my situational-decreased social interaction has developed over the years, but basically, I preferred working independently over office politics, and I spent many years helping my parents (at one point admittedly becoming a caregiver), in addition to losing connections (most not by choice) and being married to an introvert.

At the end of last year, when I felt like I'd finally adjusted to no longer being a caregiver, in addition to overcoming the grief from losing my parents and sister and no longer holding on to nostalgia for what I used to have (a very different lifestyle than now), I felt free. I started to proceed to create a new kind of social life, and tried not to feel upset when it didn't match memories of my more robust social history.

Then the virus hit, and we had to stay inside as much as possible. While I was still going to a physical workplace a few times a week, I was still inside a lot of the time, barely talking to people, and I felt like I was back where I started. However, we all had to be inside (even though lots of people have been ignoring social distancing), so for the first time, I wasn't alone in my situational social detachment. Now that the limitations are easing, we will be able to go to more places. But I have decided to continue to social distance for a long time, which weirdly doesn't make me frustrated or sad.

When I was thinking about how my decision hasn't upset me (unlike the past several years full of disappointment and frustration with inadvertent social distancing), I realized why I have a much better attitude about it now: it's a choice I am making, instead of a situation I don't want to be in. There is power in choice. Many times we don't have a choice, or we try to choose a path, but it ends up being destroyed or diverted to something we don't want. For instance, we could have a job we really enjoy and then get laid off. We didn't choose to get laid off so it's depressing. Or we could choose to be friends or work somewhere with people who are toxic. Or we could choose to try to connect with folks who end up rejecting or ostracizing us. Other times, our choices pay off and we're not disillusioned. But either way, it's very hard to feel strong when we really aren't in a position to choose our destiny. Maybe there are people out there who are able to feel strong through the choices they make, but I think it's difficult for a lot of people. But we can choose to have a kind of attitude in the midst of a weird situation such as a killer virus making its way through the world.

So ironically, I am choosing what I haven't wanted all these years and have struggled with, but this time it's to protect myself and those around me. Maybe all those years were to prepare me for this moment, because to stay safe, I need to now consciously distance and avoid people, and deliberately watch from the sidelines, a kind of health-oriented outsider rather than a societal one.


How I'm still motivated to write even though no one cares

Like a lot of other people, including those lucky ones who've been published or have an agent or editor waiting for their work, I was having a hard time writing during the initial phase of the lockdown. I could easily use work as an excuse, because in the early days, I was working so much, by the time I got a day off, I stayed in bed for hours and didn't do anything productive. But even after that, when my work stabilized and my days blurred together and I had more free time, I still had a hard time, because unlike work, which has deadlines and concrete expectations, what I write doesn't really matter because no one is waiting for it or asking for it. So if I wanted to, I could go for months without writing anything, and no one would care. Maybe in the early days of this blog, people would wonder where I was, but for fiction? I could write five books and it wouldn't matter. I've already written a horrible one, which I threw out in a recent Kondo-related purge, and I'm on the second draft of another. I've also finished Nanowrimo several times, but that's all rubbish, as the Brits would say. What really matters, at least to me, is the revision that I'm doing of the novel. But from late March to late April, I couldn't settle my mind enough to face it. I think it's because the city was rolling up around me and places were shut down and I was spending so much time in front of screens to get paid work done, it was hard to switch to the other Chicago that I've been writing about. Also, I just couldn't calm down. I was on high alert for a virus that was creeping through the city, as if it was randomly going to show up at my door at any moment. It's really irrational but I kept feeling like I had to be ready. Ready for what? If I continue to social distance and sanitize, I think I'll be fine. But I was too tense to relax my mind to get back into the world that's very different from my own.

Then something clicked. I was so tired of my stark lifestyle that I started to think about my fake blog and this real one, and I ended up writing the grateful post (actually rewriting it because the previous version, written in mid-April, had an edge to it that reminded me of how David Bowie probably felt when he recorded Low at the Hansa Studios near the Berlin Wall; my first version was written in a desolate, quiet downtown and I was too spooked to relax). Then I wrote in my fake blog, and something in my mind was open, and the creativity rushed forth. Then I kept writing, whether it was in my fake blog, my novel, here...I'm back!

But still, no one cares if I finish my novel. I have to summon super-powers to motivate myself to finish the revision of the book, and I even have to be motivated to write here and at the fake blog, especially because I don't have the numbers I had when I started this years ago (since I'm not a social media star and don't know how Google likes me at this point), and because I have no idea if anyone has found my fake blog. No one is saying to me, "Where's your latest post?" But I keep on writing. How? Why?

I've done several searches to find out how people stay motivated to write. I found a post about motivation by someone who's refreshingly honest about her experience in lockdown, and I've been watching writers talk about it on MasterClass (which is not a "class" but just a bunch of videos and worksheets that all add up to a high-end YouTube). But the difference between the rich superstar masters and me is that they have legions of fans waiting, editors that would love to help them polish their blockbusters, agents and movie producers who are ready to set new deals...they have major external motivation, and they can buy another house or plane when their new creations are released. I have none of that, though would perhaps be more motivated if people got me a Starbucks card because they like what I write and appreciate what I have done in podcasting. 

Several months ago, when I wanted to give up writing the novel because no one cared, I contacted Austin Gilkeson, who was in the anthology I did a while ago and has since published stories and has an agent. I asked him how he breaks down the general goal of finishing a novel into smaller, attainable goals, and told him that it seems pointless to me because I have no audience. He said that he has "no real system" and what keeps him "going on a project is an obsession with whatever" he writes about. That is dedication to the craft, and it seems like it didn't take a ton of time to get an agent either, which means he's a good writer. I'm probably not a good fiction writer, but I don't know for sure because I don't have any friends/contacts in the biz to give me feedback or even hope that I'm on the right track. Many people struggle to get a pro to take their work, but there are the superstars/well-connected rich people in New York who get a lot of help from their contacts in the publishing world so that they can craft a successful book. I'm not one of those folks, so I'll just keep writing, as Austin has done, and hope that it will pay off some day.

Even now, sitting in a downtown that has become more lively since some restrictions have been lifted, I am motivated to write with no external motivation. And late last night, after I finished some paid work and favor work, I was very motivated to write for the fake blog. What motivates me is the option to step out of my regular life, where I really am not in control of the work. I have to get work done, but I'm not creating the work; I'm merely meeting requirements that others have established. I'm not complaining because I like work so much that I never want to retire, literally, unless I become too ill to work, and am very motivated to be conscientious and a team player. But having to meet deadlines, do things to specifications, fake introversion, etc. feels like I'm just serving all the time and not generating. But when I write what I want, it's my world, my thoughts, my mind. Even now, I have a lot of work waiting for me at my fancy computer, and writing this isn't going to result in a paycheck in the mail, but it's invigorating and I feel more centered instead of being on the edge wanting to be approved or wanting to get tasks done in succession.

What's also helped is being part of a writing group. I don't show anyone my work, but if they say that we're going to meet at a certain time, then I'm willing to write for a couple of hours before we meet up and give a "report," which is really just saying "I wrote/edited x." At least there's some accountability and a deadline. Even if I had just one person to report to, I would be motivated to write because I would want to report something instead of saying "I tried to write x" or "I had a lot of work, so I did that instead." But the bottom line is that in my life of getting stuff done, toiling in obscurity, and suppressing my personality to survive the introverted world, I've carved out a slot that allows me to be independent of constructs and restrictions, and liberates my mind.


MasterClass isn't a "class"

Towards the end of last year, someone asked if I wanted to be gifted an "all-access" pass to MasterClass. They had a deal where if one person bought a pass they could offer another pass to someone else at a reduced price (I forgot the details, but it seemed affordable). It's not like I was motivated by the names of the "instructors" because I hadn't consumed all their media or read their work; in fact, I'd only read one book out of all the blockbuster writers, and I'd pretty much watched none of the TV shows they'd written. I'd seen one movie that one of them had written, and I didn't like it. So overall, I wasn't buying in because I wanted to know the backstory of their creations that I'd consumed, because I was hardly familiar with their work; I wanted to know how people had done something that brought them incredible wealth and approval, and I'd figure I'd learn something.

Yes, I've learned things after watching several videos, but I feel like I've just been watching professionally produced videos instead of "taking a class." There are downloadable materials with exercises, but I could pretty much access such exercises anywhere; I have access to books, online articles, webinars, etc. that are all free. What I don't have access to are rich, successful, well-connected people who I can talk with, ask advice from, and who can actually give me feedback on my work.

Because I've been teaching for several years and have taken both credit and non-credit classes online, I know what a class is. Even in online classes, we always have access to the teacher if we have questions. Also, in an online class there are lessons (as there are "lessons" in MasterClass), but we submit our work for feedback, and subsequent discussions are with students *and* the teacher. We also have a substantial onlilne textbook or digital, multimedia package that we work with, so the online material is dynamic, as opposed to MasterClass, which is just videos and some PDFs to download.

In MasterClass, there are "discussions," but they're just posts from other students, and people aren't necessarily communicating with each other. They're just comments that people can like, reply to, or ignore, just like at YouTube or other social media. I've even seen questions in the discussions that were asked in MasterClass that went unanswered. So what's the point of discussions if no one is answering the questions? Also, the site expects students to communicate with each other. But they don't necessarily know a topic at the "master" level; that's why we're at the site, to learn from the masters. So while it's nice to see people from all over the world assembling, they aren't necessarily equipped to lead others; the pros should be facilitating instead of letting the students meander. Since the site is calling these "classes," why isn't the "instructor," or at least someone from their company/studio/etc. or even from the MasterClass site itself, interacting?

The only interaction I've seen are livestreams, which are infrequent. Basically, there are like a hundred "classes," but only a handful of "instructors" have bothered to communicate with "students," and they're only answering questions that are pre-approved by the site. When I joined, there were no livestreams, but I think because a lot of the world is at home, the site decided to offer them during this pandemic, so I don't know if they will continue that when people can go out again. After all, they convinced these uber-successful people to teach by paying them a mere six-figure amount, plus a percentage of sales of their classes, so I'm sure they don't want to make them work even more because they can probably make way more money from their real "jobs."

While some videos are very informative and insightful, I haven't been too thrilled with some of the writing ones. I won't name any names, but it seems like their advice isn't concrete. Some of them say they love what they do, rewriting is hard, etc., but it's really information I can get from a general interview or an article about writing, and I don't need a famous person to tell me that. All they're doing is sitting there and talking and reading from their work. What I've been impressed with are some of the non-writing pros: they literally take you through their process, whether it's showing you the software and equipment they use and taking you through their unique steps, or showing you their production meetings. They break it down for you. So even though I'm still critical of the lack of interaction, at least they're showing us instead of just talking at us like any video online.

I'm not saying my money was wasted, and I'm sure many people have enjoyed the site, but I'm being realistic when I say that I haven't been taking classes there, but rather just watching videos of very successful people who I'll never communicate with, who have created a bunch of handouts that I can read when the videos are over and my membership expires.


Things I'm grateful for during the virus lockdown

This has been a strange time, and for a lot of people, a very difficult time due to job loss, anxiety, taking care of and educating kids, sudden isolation, etc. In the midst of the challenges, I've managed to see some bright spots. As I've told people offline, it's sort of like seeing empty lots on the south side: within the cracks and crumbling concrete you can sometimes see tiny wildflowers popping up, as if they're reassuring people that beauty can exist even in areas where flowers aren't intentionally planted, as they are downtown.

Even though I sometimes feel sort of uneasy or tense, I've had the time to notice that there are things I've taken for granted that I now appreciate, and new developments in my life:

1 - I have been able to speak honestly with some of my coworkers. There is one part-time job where I have to physically work, and some of the people who remain (because most are working at home) have been fantastic. It started a month ago when someone walked in who usually keeps conversation to a work-appropriate superficial level. They asked us if seeing the empty downtown caused us to feel panic/fear (I forgot the word). I was surprised the coworker brought up such feelings, because they usually didn't share them (though we once had a deep conversation about a previous toxic workplace and abusive boss). I told them that I didn't feel any panic, but later, after hearing story after story of virus suffering and death, I started to feel it. I told the person how I felt, and they reassured me, saying that it's normal to go in and out of it. Ever since that day, I decided to share with certain coworkers how I feel, whether it's about what's going on in the country/state/city, or if it's about the challenges I'm facing at the job. The people I've shared with have been wonderful and very tolerant and non-judgmental, which is an amazing quality to have during such a history-making time. I never thought these people would provide so much support, but they have, and I will never forget it.

2 - I've learned new skills. Because work situations have had to change, I've been given new tasks which I would have never been given before. I was thrown into a situation that I had no experience with, and amazingly, I've been able to adapt. I have never learned so intensely or quickly in my life, and I'm pretty proud of that. Also, I've acquired new work that I haven't done before, and the person I'm doing it for is very cool and easy to work with. It's something that might develop into more long-term opportunities.

3 - I've had time to figure out why I have certain issues. I'm not screwed up, but just like anyone, I have some concerns and fears that I need to face. Today I realized why I have certain perceptions, and it was like something was suddenly flicked off my mind when I figured it out. The downtime allowed me to question and explore, instead of getting busy to avoid the unsettling feeling that always seemed to be with me.

4 - One job became remote a year ago, so I already had something solid. When I was told by someone that I wouldn't be working at a physical location anymore (I'm pretty sure they wanted to get rid of me), I thought that was it and the door was closed. But another person from the place said they wanted me to work remotely instead, so I switched to that. Little did I know that it would give me something steady and I wouldn't have to lose work or adjust to working at home; I've been doing it for a while already.

5 - I notice nature more. The lakefront and parks are closed, but I can still walk down Lake Shore Drive and see the lake and can walk to Navy Pier. It's usually packed with people and traffic, but now only a few people walk around there, so I can hear many birds chirping and see them flying around over the placid water. It is so beautiful and the sounds of the birds are so pleasant, I feel relaxed and inspired by the nature that exists beyond the buildings. When I walk south, I can continue to see the empty lake and river, and appreciate the flowers east of Grant Park and Millennium Park undisturbed, with no crowds walking around to break the silence and obscure the view.

6 - I live in a nice area. I live in one of the best areas of the city, where the population density is high. Yet I am very impressed that there aren't crowds of people outside, and the ones who are keep their distance from each other and are being careful. The number of virus cases in the population is low, which is impressive, since more people live closer together than in other areas. Also, I can easily cross streets against the lights because there isn't much traffic, while viewing some of the best architecture in the country.

7 - I have met some random, grateful, positive people. One night I was leaving work after midnight, and I saw a Sun-Times truck stop in front of the building. A guy got out and walked in to deliver a stack of papers. I greeted him and he said, "You're an essential worker." I said, "Yup, I am." Then he said, "It's a beautiful thing," and smiled. I will never forget that guy who offered such friendliness and exuberance on a cold, silent, dark night. Another time I was at Walgreens and the cashier started singing to a song that was playing in the store. I told her it was nice to see someone who had a good attitude instead of being uptight and paranoid. She said she was glad to be there and we had to enjoy life with what we had. And there's another guy who I saw a couple times at the front desk of a building, who greeted me in such a way that just his manner and the few words he uttered created a deep human connection in an otherwise empty, cold city.

8 - Bad weather is now good. Usually bad weather is annoying and difficult because traffic becomes snarled and it's hard to drive. Many people are still complaining about the weather (usually suburbanites), but for us downtown folks, when it rains, snows, or is cold outside, that means fewer people will be walking around, which is safer. That's why they closed the lakefront: on sunny days, too many people were crowding the paths, which caused the mayor to respond. Since we don't have backyards, we need to get outside, but we have to do it when the sidewalks aren't crowded, and the bad weather allows for that.

9 - I'm finally watching more MasterClass videos. My friend got me a discount for MasterClass back in December, and before the pandemic, I already watched some "classes" (which are really just videos, but I'll do a separate post about it another time), but didn't have time to watch more. I kept telling myself that I "should" watch them, but didn't make the time until now. Recently, I've been watching lessons by deadmau5, whose music I already liked, but who I now have a huge appreciation for because he works extremely hard and puts a lot of thought into what he's doing. If this virus hadn't come, I would've never made the time to watch all his videos and wouldn't have developed much respect for him either. Now I'm very impressed and have been listening to even more of his music since then, which provides a soundtrack while I'm working at home.

10 - I'm studying more Japanese. When I started this blog, I was translating Japanese (and other languages) and was still making an effort to maintain it. Then I got busy and interested in other things, and I pretty much rarely spent time trying to learn new words or read anything. Thanks to being stuck at home a lot, I have been reading more and have been using Twitter to learn Japanese by following various Japanese accounts. I still feel stressed when I try to read the Tweets, but at least I'm making more of an effort than I have in the past. Before the virus, I would do easier things and read a lot of English books. Now I'm slowly getting through one English book while spending more time on Japanese. I'm also on Twitter more than before; I joined over a decade ago but rarely looked at it and rarely posted. Now I'm on it every day. It's interesting and a good place to learn a language (I also follow German and French news accounts).

11 - I'm lucky to work outside the home a few days a week. Even though I have like five gigs going on right now, one of them is in a physical place, which means I get to actually go to work. Since I'm not an introvert (though I've been faking it for years to survive), working at home alone is not energizing and really zaps me and makes me feel detached from the world. By going to a job, I can talk with my coworkers and do work that involves other people, instead of work that involves churning out stuff alone on a computer. It's way more satisfying to be part of a team than a solitary individual in front of a screen.

12 - My social life wasn't great before we were forced to stay at home, so I haven't had to really adjust to having no social life at this time. I used to feel sort of on the outside looking in, watching other people have dynamic social lives and go out and be part of an ongoing social chain. I'm not even popular on social media, so my life was all-around slow. Yes, I'd sometimes go to a party or go out for a meal with someone or go to a writing group, but I didn't have the full-on group experiences that some lucky folks have. Now we're all stuck at home, and while those people are probably having a hard time adjusting, I really didn't have to clear my social calendar (except cancel a lunch downtown with someone). I'm married to an introvert, so we've never had a web of friends, so really, I just have had to adapt to the physical reality of my conceptual lifestyle anyway.

13 - I'm communicating with a couple of relatives I didn't really communicate with before. I have a relative who lives far away, and during this time, I've decided to call them once a week to check in. They have never been judgmental or uptight, and during this time, that's exactly the kind of person I need to communicate with right now. They also understand medical issues, so their professional perspective, combined with their consistent positivity and good outlook, are valuable and refreshing. I'm communicating with another relative about work-related stuff, and they are also very easygoing and positive, and full of energy that I need right now. Before the virus, I wouldn't have recognized their outstanding qualities, but right now, they shine in such a weird and challenging time.

14 - I'm realizing that we have to focus on something to stop the underlying anxious hum. Things are way more peaceful around me because so many people are staying away from my area. I don't even hear the ambulances and police cars that I usually hear on a daily basis. Yet I still feel mildly tense, like I have to be on high alert. It's hard to shake off. But if I am able to concentrate on something, such as writing this post, then it goes away. The bottom line is that my mind can be adaptable, which I hadn't really considered before.

15 - I live near a world-class hospital. If anything goes wrong (which I hope it doesn't), the hospital is so close I can walk there. It's one of the best hospitals in the country, even the world, and they are prepared to handle the virus and a lot more. I'm very lucky to have such resources around me.

16 - Certain stores I avoided before are fantastic now. Before, there were a few stores that I hated going to because they were crowded, or the people working there were apathetic. Now I like them. Even though I live in a highly populated area, for some reason, now they aren't crowded and I can get anything I need. I keep hearing stories of supplies running out, but those few stores that I hadn't liked are replenishing their shelves. Also, the employees are so nice and helpful. They have a good attitude whether they're speaking with each other or customers. It's incredible how some people find the strength within them to thrive in a tough situation.

17 - I still get to interact with people. Before the virus, I was teaching two offline classes. Then we had to move online. While one class was easy to change to digital, the other was more challenging. But the more digitally challenging class has been so fun. The students are very friendly and patient when there are technical issues, and they give me much-needed human interaction in an otherwise isolating experience. Again, I'm lucky I have the wonderful students in addition to the physical job, but then again, when you're not an introvert, a few days a week of human interaction doesn't feel like enough. It's like this: imagine being an introvert and being told you have to speak to a group of at least 30 people every single day, plus work in an open office, plus go to meals with others, plus participate in events. That's an extrovert's dream. But to an introvert, that causes anxiety and energy depletion. Well for people like me, being alone for hours and hours, day after day, is energy-depleting and anxiety-inducing, just as interacting with people all the time is energy-depleting for introverts. But at least something is better than nothing. I don't know what I would do if I had zero human interaction. I would probably panic and suffer.


My uncle died suddenly and this is what I have to say

I just found out a couple of days ago that my uncle died suddenly, and today would have been his birthday. He wasn't a young man, but it doesn't matter how old someone is when they pass away; it's still a shock and is still sad, even if they've been sick for a while. I find it irritating and not comforting when people think it's no big deal when an older person dies. For instance, when my dad died, he was almost 90 and had been sick for a while. It still took a while to get over, and when someone was talking about their dog dying and I mentioned my dad, the person said it was no big deal because my dad was old. Age doesn't matter. So if you're grieving someone whose "time" had come, there's nothing wrong with struggling with it, and it's okay to cry about it and mope, because we all want people to live forever, and it's hard to see them go.

I did the right thing with my parents: I had decided many years ago to help them because they were getting older and initially my mom had serious health issues, and I thought it was the right thing to do. I didn't have kids and didn't have much of a career, and I was willing to stunt that to help them out. Eventually my mom died just when my dad had become very ill, and then in the midst of that, my sister became very ill and died, so I really had to help my dad out. Actually, I could have hired someone more full time to help out, but by that point, I didn't have much to give up; I wasn't on any kind of intense career track and I didn't have anything to lose, so I spent a lot of time with him. I achieved what a lot of the millionaires who live around me haven't: I helped two elderly people live with dignity, and that's worth more than the luxury car and penthouse a lot of the NBA stars who recently descended upon Chicago have. Having no regrets and knowing that I've helped people is priceless, and while I have my own dreams to pursue right now and am older than others who have the same goals, I would absolutely do it all over again.

While I was helping my mom, she didn't want me to talk about her illness, so I didn't say anything for more than a decade. It's really amazing how ignorant and judgmental people can be when they don't know your situation and can't put it in a box. People would tell me to get a full-time job, one person would ask how many hours a week I worked and then add some negative comment, others would think I was rich because I didn't have a typical schedule. However, I was pursuing different things, but because my life didn't look the way other people my age were living, I felt bad when dealing with people's criticism and quizzical comments and demeanor. I internalized their negativity and I regret wasting so many years worried about what others thought. Absolute waste of time...don't do it.

One of the few people who knew about my mom's condition was my uncle, her brother. And she had told him what I was doing for her. I'm pretty sure some other folks knew, but for some reason, he was the only person who went out of his way to thank me. He didn't like to travel so I didn't see him much, but when he came to town, he would pull me aside and tell me emphatically that he was very appreciative of what I was doing. He would even grab my arm to make sure I understood how he felt. I was surprised because he was so intense about it, but it really made a difference. A lot of times when we're on the sidelines on the outside looking in, getting a word of encouragement from others means a lot. And his intense sincerity made it even more special.

Another time when he was in town, I was talking with him about writing and the group and anthology I'd published (thus the initial reason for my business). I also told him about the different places I was working. Instead of getting the usual questions or sarcastic comments that provincial people had thrown my way, he simply said, "You're an entrepreneur!" I had never thought of that, and I wasn't even making much money, but that simple statement was very encouraging. Especially since he was a professional and well-off person, it meant a lot. He had recognized that I was doing things my way, and there was nothing wrong with it.

And it makes sense because he himself had done a lot of different things, and what makes his reaction even more remarkable is that he had become very successful. He went to a good medical school, became a doctor and a professor, he spoke to groups (he was supposed to speak to a physicians group this week) and had written articles, and even wrote a successful novel. He told me that he bought a house from the money he made from that novel, and he also bought gifts for other people. And that was in addition to having a prominent, well-paying job. He was also good at investing, so he was all-around a very talented, smart person. There aren't many people who can do so many different things, plus be successful at it. But he had achieved so much, and I had a lot of respect for him.

He wasn't an easy-going person and had his negative points, and unfortunately, some folks only focused on that. I think that's because some people are so negative and critical, and perhaps envious, that they don't bother to step back to appreciate a person's overall accomplishments and pursuits; they only look at a slice of a person's life. While I knew that he wasn't perfect, I always admired him, and wanted to talk to him more, especially about writing commercial fiction.

In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I told my writing group about him and how I wanted to talk to him about how he got published. I really assumed I'd be able to talk to him, especially since he wasn't ill and was a very lively person who seemed to be destined to live a long time. He liked to talk to different kinds of people, he went out at least a few times a week, walked around his east-coast city, and was interested in what was around him.

Then I got the horrible phone call a couple of days ago. He was gone. I was so shocked, and was walking around my mid-west city when I was talking to other family members about it on the phone. I just couldn't believe it. The uncle who had been so encouraging the few times I'd seen him, and who had done so much, who I'd wanted to get advice from, was totally gone. Just like that. And I absolutely regretted not talking to him. I should have called him. I shouldn't have assumed anything.

So I'm writing this to tell everyone to not assume the people you admire and love will be around. If you have something to say, say it. If you're wasting your time with jerks, stop doing that and get around the good, positive, supportive people in your life. Don't waste your time with people who will pull you down, and don't fill your life with junk just because it's there. Pursue quality and stay in touch with people because you never know if they'll be here tomorrow, or even today. I wish I'd made the effort to communicate more with my interesting, smart, successful uncle, but I didn't, and I have to get over the regret. I also have to focus on good people and experiences, and make sure people know how I feel because I don't want to live through this shock and regret again.

I also have to finish the novel I've been working on, the process I whined about last month. I finished the first draft, and didn't feel very motivated. That's one of the things I wanted to talk to him about...how did he stay motivated? What was his writing process? I don't know because he's gone. But going forward, I'm going to use his memory and success to keep me motivated, and if I get published, I will dedicate the book to him. That should be motivation enough.