Expanding Outwards

I went out yesterday for the first time since March 13th.

It was terrifying. It was also necessary,

I’ve now read a couple of articles from experts — one from CNN, one from PBS — about creating quarantine pods or “quaranteams,” expanded social circles during the time of quarantine. Essentially, if everyone is amenable, you all have about the same level of casual exposure, you all agree to socially interact with only the selected members of your “pod,” it might be time to expand your social circle to include a small group (under ten individuals total) outside your immediate family.

I’m still not sure I’m a hundred percent on that, though I want to be. My parents and the people in their house total seven, and all of them have about the same risk level as us (one person working less than 40 hours a week outside the house in a fairly isolated environment, with mask; grocery runs at supermarkets enforcing COVID restrictions; no other social contact), and experts say that’s a pretty low risk situation.

But it’s not a “no risk” situation.

But literally going outside is, at this point, not a “no risk” situation. So what do I do?

We went to visit my folks. All of us wore masks and maintained social distance (only exceptions are when my mom handed me a bag of stuff I left at her house, and once or twice when Bear reached out to hand her a flower he had just picked from her yard). It was nice; we all sat outside and the weather was absolutely gorgeous (65 and sunny), and seeing them in person, even though we couldn’t sit together, was a lot different than talking to them via Facebook video or on the phone. It was a good hour or so, and we got to talk and take in some air.

When it was time to go, it hurt my son to not be able to hug my mom, but he’s heard enough about quarantine and COVID lately that he got it, even though he wasn’t happy.

I want to expand our pod to include my family, I really do. I want my son to be able to hug his grandparents, I want to sit with my mom while we watch true crime shows, I want to unbox a brand new Hunt a Killer box face-to-face with my brother. I want my son to be able to spend a night at grandma’s while his dad and I get some chores done and have a quiet evening. I have been trying to listen and adhere to everything the experts say — I always wear a mask; we only shop every two weeks and we literally wash and/or unbox all our groceries as soon as Andy brings them home; whenever Andy comes home from work or shopping, he strips in the basement, and immediately showers — and now, experts are saying this might be a viable step. This might be something we can do while still staying safe, and it could do worlds of good for everyone’s mental health, to finally have some social interaction after months of isolation.

So why can’t I do it? Why am I so, so afraid?

(I know why I’m afraid. It’s a pandemic, and I have an anxiety disorder. But I have a lot of friends with anxiety, and several of them have already taken this step. I want to. I want to so, so badly).

This isn’t a now or never situation, I know. Maybe I’ll feel different in a week or two, or a month. But for now, as much as I want to, I still have to keep my distance.

But we’ll visit again next week, at the very least. Seeing them was good. Being in the air was good.

And I know someday things will be good again.

Busy Hands

I think I’m going to recommit to learning American Sign Language this week.  It’s been ages (I don’t even know how long, honestly) since I’ve gotten any practice in.  I stalled out at Lesson 13 sometimes in probably February and just haven’t gotten back to it.

I know a lot has been said, including by me personally, about not feeling pressured to be “productive” or to emerge from quarantine with a bevy of new skills in tow.  But my anxiety has been hovering around baseline (with a lot of restrictions on social media consumption), and if I’m in a headspace conducive to pursuing an interest, I might as well — I certainly have the time to fill.

Even though it’s been a while since I’ve pursued any ASL studies, I remember feeling about it the way I feel about drawing now: how strange and unfortunate it was that I put off practicing it for so long under the baseless assumption that I would be no good at it.  And not just “no good” to start — everyone starts out not being good — but never any good.  I had somehow convinced myself that I would never get any better at either skill, because I had this perception of myself as being uncoordinated.  Which, to be fair, I am; but there are different kinds of coordination, and coordination can be improved with practice.  Within a couple of weeks of starting sign practice, I was remembering and recalling signs, able to show some dialectical variations; I was actually learning.  I was getting better.

So I’m going to start setting an alarm for 2:00 pm each day, and take an hour or so to work on ASL.  My work is done for the day by then, and any chores I do with any regularity should certainly be out of the way by then.  Let’s get back on track.


Speaking of improvements, I recently unearthed the mini-sketchbook I bought from Dollar Tree back in 2018 when I decided I was going to try my hand at Inktober, and oh my God, is that sketchbook a revelation, let me tell you.  Again, I know I have a long way to go, but it’s amazing how, even with sporadic practice (it’s really only since December/January that I’ve made art/drawing a regular part of my routine) my art has grown in leaps and bounds.

I have three new drawings to upload anyway, so I think I’ll try to find something relatively analogous (in subject matter or composition) for each of those in my Inktober sketchbook to do a side-by-side comparison.  That ought to be good for a laugh.


I spent some time today working from a resource my husband uncovered on Twitter¹ called Croquis Cafe.  They have both a Vimeo and a photo reference gallery of nude models for gesture drawing, anatomy drawing, etc. and it’s really great.  I did a few sketches of their model Tamara and was happy with the results.  (Also, please notice the emphasis — the subject matter is entirely non-sexual, but it is still full nudity, so NSFW, if that’s relevant to you).

Stay busy, safe, and sane everyone.  My husband is picking up reusable face masks for us tomorrow, courtesy of a friend who made them for us for free (two each for Bear and I, five for Andy since he’s an essential worker).  I’m hoping this makes me feel secure and safe enough to leave the house to go for walks and get a little fresh air, since I am actually starting to get a little stir-crazy.


¹ I deleted and recreated my Twitter yet again, because I still don’t know exactly what I want to use it for.  I start doing Twitter writing challenges and amass a following of folks who are very much Twitter Writers, and then I lose interest and start posting about, like, DnD Real Play podcasts, and I just know they’re all going “WTF?” and meanwhile my reading list is just haiku and self-promos (which is an absolutely valid use of Twitter, but I’m definitely not the target audience).  If you use Twitter for a smattering of personal.creative things, hit me up: @milkandkerosene.  I have zero followers and like, two tweets at the moment.

31 Day Challenge: Days 22 – 24

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22.  Best Thing to Happen

The three best things that ever happened to me were all things I stumbled upon: my job, my husband, and my son.  My job was the result of blanket applications to any place I was remotely qualified, and that turned into fifteen years and a decision that this would likely be my life’s work (unless something drastic changed).  My husband was someone I met on a dating site, whose profile amused and intrigued me, but who I never really thought to message until one day he just happened to message me, and just happened to live walking distance away.  My son was not planned (which is not the same as not wanted; kids were on the horizon, we just got there unexpectedly early), but my pregnancy was probably one of the happiest times of my life.  I don’t think I ever conscientiously did something that worked out quite as well as those three things

23.  Dream Job

It used to be “writer,” a no brainer.  Now, honestly, I’m not sure.  I certainly wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to write professionally, but I keep thinking I’d love to work with, like, The Office of Transformative Works preserving fan culture, or doing social/creative/academic studies regarding fan and fandom culture.  Or, hone my drawing skills and be an illustrator and collaborate with people on graphic novels or storybooks.  So I suppose my ambitions haven’t changed much; they’re still creative, but the definition of creative has expanded a bit.

24.  Favorite Childhood Book

Define childhood.  Younger childhood, I was obsessed with the Disney Classic adaptation of The Great Mouse Detective (I still would love to read/intend on someday reading the original Basil of Baker Street series), Charlotte’s Web, and an incredibly obscure book called Felita.  As an older kid, I loved Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon, and basically anything Christopher Pike (which, if you were also a Pike fan, please go listen to Teen Creeps, they have some great episodes about his books).


Oh my God, my head.

This has been simultaneously an unbearably long week and a surprisingly quick one.  I feel like the quarantine is going to be (and should be, honestly) longer than anticipated, and I’m not sure if I’m cool with that (I feel safer at home, and the last nearly week-and-a-half passed way faster than I anticipated) or dreading it (Bear has been awfully restless, and hasn’t listened to a damn word I’ve said except for the two hours or so of formal instruction we do each day.  Outside of that, everything has been a chore.  Getting him to do anything I ask has been like pulling teeth, and despite my best efforts, it’s grating on me).

I have, however, been keeping occupied.  I’m almost ready to post another batch of micron drawings to the gallery (I’ll post them in a blog entry first), and I’ve been playing around with the Copic markers my sibling-in-law gave to me before they went to Sweden (oh my God – I had no idea how pricey they were.  They’re like $5-$10 a marker.  Even at the low end, that’s $120 worth of markers they gave me!!)  I ventured into the shallows of — what do they call it?  ArtTube?  Artist YouTube?  There are some enviously good artists out there, and I’ve been enjoying exploring some of their videos — not just tutorials, but sketchbook “yours,” tips and tricks, motivations, and time-lapse painting/drawing.  It makes me want to get good, fast, ha ha.  I’ll post a list of my favorite when I have more of a chance to dive deeper.

It’s Tuesday.  Stay safe, sane, and vigilant.  Get off social media for a while (my WordPress is curated to this doesn’t feel like social media — I don’t get the gloom ‘n doom vibes).  Do something you love, and share it (uh… when you get back on social media, I guess?  Look, curate your social media.  Honestly.  You know how many people I’ve snoozed, muted, or unfollowed?  It’s helped a lot).

Take care of yourselves and each other.

PS: Anyone else feeling totally unprepared for NaPoWriMo/Camp NaNo/A-to-Z Challenge??

31 Day Challenge: Day 14

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14.  If I Won the Lotto…

Hoo, boy, this is a classic question, isn’t it?  It’s a hard one for me, too, because I grew up in relative financial insecurity — I wasn’t poor, per se, but it felt like we were always one disaster away from ruin, you know?  So I grew up with an inate need to sort of hoard money.  I rarely spend, I’m incredibly selective when I do, and I always feel a surge of guilt and regret immediately post-purchase, even if what I’ve bought brings me tremendous joy in the long run.

But if money wasn’t an object, I think the first thing I’d do is buy nicer house outright.  There’s nothing wrong with our house, but I think both Andy and I would rather have a free-standing one-family than the half-duplex we have now.  It wouldn’t be big, but I’d like it to be new — new appliances, new windows, everything up to code.  I’d buy my folks a new house, or — since I honestly think my folks would balk at a gesture quite that big — put first, last, and security on an apartment for them (at nearly 70, they’re thinking of downsizing anyway), and pay for any loss on their house.

I’d buy clothes for my son for the next couple of years, and shoes to grow into.  I’d outfit his room with a dozen bookcases, so we’d never have to donate or give away his favorites, because he hates that.  I’d enroll him in the music lessons he so desperately wants.

I’d feel free to buy myself the expansive, joyously genderqueer wardrobe I want; the mix of femme and mac clothing that I’d ideally curate for myself, and I’d hire a personal trainer — oh, and a maid. I’d take art classes.  I’d take writing workshops.  I’d travel.

I would, honestly, just do a lot of the things I see my friends doing on a regular basis.  There is a stark financial discrepancy between us and most of our friend group, and while I don’t begrudge them what they have, during the rougher moments, it makes it really hard to even log onto Facebook or sit around a table with them while they talk about their European trips or all the couple’s classes their taking together or their theatre excursions.  Aside from the first few purchases and splurges, I think I’d really just allow myself the freedom that a lot my friends already have — the freedom to pursue the passions that matters to me without incurring financial ruin.  That’s basically it.


Day One of semi-lockdown!  I’m still horribly stressed and paranoid about everything, yet strangely also feeling a lot better, again, with the added stress of going to work off my plate, and with knowing all my friends and coworkers are in this together.

It’s later in the day — I took the better part of the day to simply decompress — but I’m about to start some chores, and hopefully having a cleaner house will make me feel better as well.  Spending two weeks locked in with a mess is not the way to go.

Also, I am still 100% on board with doing NaPoWriMo and Blogging A-to-Z.  Either the worst of this will have passed in my area by then, or I’ll still be in lockdown, so I might as well keep busy, and we may as well keep each other company.

It’s Saturday.  Even if you’re on lockdown, please remember — you can still go outside (just remember social distance!)  Ride a bike, take a run, go on a long walk, fly a kite, take a stroll with your dog.  Wave to strangers.  We’re all in this together.

31 Day Challenge: Days 11, 12, & 13

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11.  Five Favorite Things

Difficult!  Tangible things?  Things that I just “love to see?”  Do experiences count?  Abstract concepts?  I’ve been stressed and anxious to the point of depression lately, I’m not going to lie.  The last couple of weeks have been a little dark for me, and I’ve been pretty down.  I’m going to list five things that have been giving me comfort.

  1.  Rewatching my favorite episodes of Queer Eye on Netflix.  This has been a great, emotionally cathartic release.
  2. Old Jim Gaffigan stand-up.  I can put him on even when my son is around, which is not true of many of the comedians I enjoy.
  3. Cuddling with my husband watching Great British Bake Off before bed.
  4. Finally friending some coworkers on Facebook and getting the absolutely most supportive comments from them while I’ve been sick.
  5. Chinese take-out from my favorite place.

12.  My Daily Routine

Oh man, this is gonna be ridiculously dry.

5:30 am:  I wake up and put on a podcast, usually one of my “bad books” podcasts, though lately I’ve been listening to Dungeons and Daddies as well.  I lay my clothes out the night before, so I shower and dress, then go downstairs.

5:45 am:  I prep.  Prep what?  My coffee, my breakfast (usually eat at work, 5:45 is often a little too early for me to feel hungry), my lunch, and Bear’s snack (he has breakfast and lunch at school).  For those interested, breakfast for me is generally just Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars, yogurt, or some fruit; lunch is Well Yes drinkable soup, seasoned tuna, and fruit.  Bear’s snacks depend on his mood from week to week, but this week has been sort of a “pick three” of drinkable yogurt, Babybell cheese, pretzel sticks, apples, plantain chips, fig bars, and Mott’s fruit pouches.

6:05 am:  Bear’s alarm goes off.  I get up and make sure he’s got his uniform ready, and then I brush my teeth and pack his bag.  I also make sure I have both my badges and my phone charger.

6:25 am:  Out the door.  Ideally.

6:45-7:20 am:  I get to work at about 6:45, and I check my mailbox, then let myself in our Learning Center to drop off my coat, my laptop, and anything I don’t immediately need.  Then — I walk.  I know it sounds weird, but I try to get in as many steps as possible before I start my day.  It literally gets me moving, which I won’t always get to do once I’m actually in class, and it helps hype me up for the day and relieve/release some anxiety.

7:30-2:20 pm:  My work schedule is, um, interesting.  I work a rotating 7 + H schedule, so the order of my classes, and what classes I teach are different everyday.  This semester, it’s some combination of Algebra I, World Civilizations, Academic Support, Social Skills, Career Studies, and Vocational internships.

2:35:  Leave work and head to my son’s school to pick him up.

3:15:  Bear gets out of school and we head home.

3:25:  Coffee, checking social media, and getting Bear a snack.

3:55:  Emptying/loading dishwasher, picking out tomorrow’s outfit, general upkeep.

4:30-5:15:  I’ll hang out in Bear’s room with him while he builds with Legos or organizes his Pokemon cards.

5:15:  Andy comes home, and I start dinner and put something on the TV.

6:00 pm:  Dinner, generally.

6:40 pm:  Bear’s bathtime!

7:00 pm:  Read a story, watch a Bri Reads video, have Bear brush his teeth, and settle him in bed.

8:00 pm:  Bear is settled in, and I have my free time.  Generally that means checking in on social media, sketching, watching my YouTubers, writing blog posts, showering, reading a book, listening to a podcast, etc.

10:00 pm:  Settle into bed to watch Great British Bake-off with my husband and read him silly articles on Buzzfeed.

11:00 pm:  Lights out.
13.  Favorite Childhood Memory

I don’t know if I have one.  There are huge chunks of my childhood that I have very few memories of — apparently that’s not uncommon in kids with ADHD or anxiety, so that’s kind of a double whammy for me.  I have very fond memories of a lot of Christmas Eves, when my siblings and I all woke in the middle of the night to congregate in the living room, poke and prod at gifts, and watch cheesy late-night holiday programming on TV.  I have equally fond memories of being a young teen and recording dramatic performances of various songs from Les Miserables and other showtunes with my siblings and my cousin and sending those VHS tapes halfway across the country to our penpals.  That was a unique time in my life, and there was never really a time before or since that I had Real Life companions that were so deeply, deeply into the same things I was.  I miss those days.


I hate to bury this at the end of a long and pretty fluffy entry, but I feel like I need to mention: I am out of work (with pay!) for at least the next two weeks in response to the COVID-19 crisis.  My son is home with me as well, and while my husband does not (yet) get time off, he also works in a building where a lot of people seem to be starting work-from-home, he’s not in an office, and doesn’t have a ton of personal contact with anyone (he’s a security guard, and most of his interactions take place on opposite sides of a rather large reception desk).  So, all this to say, this actually take a little bit of stress off of me, not having to worry about work, keeping my son close by, and being able to spend my days chilling out a little.

I hope you all find yourselves safe and comfortable.  I may be on here less (I want to keep Bear to a schedule, and spend a couple of hours every morning doing academic/school stuff, plus getting some stuff done around the house) or more (more “free” time technically, more of a need to occupy my mind with creative/social purusits and endeavors), but either way, I’ll be seeing you.  Take care of yourselves.

Stir crazy

This has been my only creative outlet lately:

Things have been… rough, mentally, for a couple of weeks now.  I’m not sure quite what to do to fix that, since so much of what is causing it is outside my realm of control, but I muddle on.

It’s Thursday.  Give love to those around you, in whatever weird, wacky way you show your love.  Keep together.  Be strong.

Little Slice of Life (Also, 31 Day Challenge: Day 4)

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4.  Most Afraid Of

I feel like this would be a substantially shorter answer if I were to talk about what I wasn’t afraid of.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I didn’t have fear buzzing like low-level static in the back of my brain.

I’ll try to separate these into hierarchical categories to streamline things.

Things I Can’t Control:  the coronoavirus; war; the election; climate change; people’s perception of me/my worth as a human being/my likability; my son getting hurt (physically or emotionally); my son growing up and apart from me; dying; my parents dying; my husband dying; literally anyone and everyone I’m close to dying; losing my job; losing financial stability; car accidents; being robbed; hurricanes; carbon monoxide poisoning; gas explosions

Things I Can Control (But Feel Like I Can’t):  Having a blood-pressure induced stroke; my health; that I’m an inattentive parent; my house falling into disrepair;  my friends losing interest over my lack of social awareness; never following through and completing any of my goals; missing out on opportunities.

Petty phobias:  Dentists, heights, needles, butterflies, moths, birds.

To paraphrase a comic strip (that I really should find):  “Pfft, ‘get out of my comfort zone?’  I don’t even have a comfort zone.  I am literally always uncomfortable.”


I got an email last night from a former student, class of 2017, reporting in on how his life is going and inquiring about mine.  Because of the nature of the program I work, he is technically still in my system, so I have to temper everything I tell him through the lens of, yes, he’s an adult but I’m still technically a teacher (so I can be casual, but not too buddy-buddy), but man, and I thrilled about what he told me.  It sounds like he’s doing so well, and it makes me so happy.

I never kept in contact with any of my teachers from high school; granted, immediately post-high school, it was a little harder, because social media wasn’t a thing and wouldn’t be a thing for several more years, but even since then, I know some of my friends Friended old teachers; I did not.  I just… I never had that kind of relationship with my teachers.  I think about that a lot, actually; my relationships with teachers could be described basically as, “I Really Want to Please Them Because They Are Nice and Say Nice Things About Me,” “I Really Want to Please Them Because They Are Insanely Hot and I am a Horned-Up Teenager,” “I Really Want to Please Them Because They Terrify Me and I Want to Escape Their Wrath,”  and “I Hate Them (But I Really Want to Please Them Anyway Because I am an Insecure Teenager Seeking Constant Validation.”

I was never “close” with them.  We didn’t shoot the shit between classes; I didn’t go to them when I was in an emotional crisis; I didn’t share personal victories with them, or gush about TV shows with them, or share in-jokes.  But I do all of that with my kids, because I wished, so hard, as a kid, that I’d had someone to do that with me.  I would have killed to have one adult give a shit about the crippling anxiety attacks that made me miss days of school, or didn’t roll their eyes behind my back at my dorky interests (and think, somehow, that I didn’t know they were doing it).  I’m not saying my teachers were bad; most of them were kind, and fair.  I’m sure they had close relationships with other students; hell, I know they did.  It was just never me.  I never really had anyone like that.

So I try to be that person now.  For someone else.

I set an alarm for tomorrow, to write him back (because social obligations are hard, and I have zero energy the last two night).  I’m glad that he apparently thinks of my as One of Those People.

Unrelated, but I looked at the calendar today and felt a jolt.  Back when I first started teaching I had what you would call A Hard Kid, who I adored, who I still remember as just… having a special place in the pantheon of students I’ve worked with over the years.  And I realized that today he turned 31 years old.  Jesus Christ.  My husband is 33.

Starting teaching so young messes you up, guys.

It’s Wednesday!!  I’ve got some really cool plans and goals I want to tell you all about really soon, but for tonight, I will be hanging out in chat with my mom and sister, and then it’s tea, some magazines, and bed.  Sprint, guys!  We’re almost at the finish line.