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Posts published in “Life”

Happy birthday, ladies!

Today is the first birthday of my wonderful, screaming monsters. Sarah made them a confetti cake and they got a visit from Grandma Bev and Grandpa Redge. Snow fell. Diapers were changed. They made a huge mess. Photos were taken. Bath time was torture. Getting dressed and having their hair brushed was an unbearable misery. Overall, a perfect first birthday.

Today is also a day tinged with sadness as we remember our lost Olive. Milestones come fast during a child’s first few years. First teeth. First steps. First words. First Christmas. First lawsuit. You get the idea. And, as we see Penny and Beanut make all these steps growing up, we can’t help but be reminded that Livvy didn’t get a chance for any of them. I miss that little baby and I miss the person she could have been.

When the sadness of the situation is overwhelming, I feel comforted in the two girls we do get to see grow, learn about the world, and chase the ever-patient Noodle, and knowing that Livvy’s essence has gone back to the universe that made her. In the end, we are all just stardust and she has gone back to the stars earlier than we would have liked.

Happy birthday, girls. I love you all very much.

Enjoy some photos of babies with a bunch of cake on their sweet, little faces.

Go to bed, Penny

Penny. It’s almost midnight. Why have you been laying in bed with your eyes open for nearly 30 minutes? PenPen, it’s night-night time. Go to sleep, Penny. Stop staring at the ghosts. They know you can see them. But you’re a growing girl and there will be time for spirits.

Get some sleep.

A Brief List of Goals for 2022

While I’ve gone over my primary goal of staying away from social media for the year previously, I’ve also been thinking about some things I’d like to accomplish for the year. It’s not a bad idea to add a positive thread to a year about avoiding things, even if the things I’m avoiding are crazy-making.

These aren’t just personal or professional goals, but a mix of the two. In this era of working from home in the midst of being a stay-at-home parent, the lines between the two types of goals are often hazy, so why not mix them together in this list and let it fly? They’re already mixed together in my head. Besides, work is essentially personal since, for me at least, I work to support my life rather than live to work.

I share these with you as a commitment device. If you, faceless reader, know that I am striving to accomplish these things, then I will more easily be able to pressure myself out of slacking.

In no particular order, here we go.

  • Record some TBLR episodes: I dabbled with The Black Laser Reads many years ago and then sort of let it drop. However, I’ve been thinking about The Black Laser Reads non-stop since then. A dig through the post archive reveals that only two episodes were released, both in the in summer of 2011. That means it’s been bouncing around in my head for ten and a half years with little public action. I’ve finally got an acceptably imperfect VO booth set up here in my office and an ever-deepening list of public domain works that I am interested in. It’s just a matter now of doing the recording.
  • Make more photos: Sarah and I have this crazy idea of owning a photo studio one day, but, as a photographer, I feel like I still need lots of practice. I’m getting the dust out and I shoot and process very deliberately, but there are so many aspects I need to improve on before I’d be comfortable charging for the work. Practice practice!
  • Improve my photo compositing skills: I am like a B-minus level photo compositor. The problem is that I don’t really know what I need to do to improve. I enjoy the work, definitely, but I am at a bit of an impasse where I need some structured education in the matter. I really just want our holiday cards to be better than everyone else’s. Simple.
  • Write more on The Black Laser: I’ve already started doing this. I’d like to keep it up. At the beginning, I wrote here all the time about anything that interested me. A lot of it is very bad, but that is the price we pay to get better at a skill. Then, for many years—let’s call them “The Quiet Years”—I worried that no one cared at all about what I wrote here. That is the result of my skill and taste levels increasing at different rates. Significantly better taste with moderately better skill. Many ideas were hatched and all were killed by the “Why bother?”s. Much silence ensued. Now, while I am still unconvinced that people are too interested in what I have to write, the whole purpose is the bother. That is, the work is the reason to do the work. And I’m enjoying it again!
  • Write some more stories: During the class at Cabrillo I was on a streak. Sure, it was for the class, but I was in the mindset and the barrier to the work was low. Then we had COVID hit the world, the cross-country move, the triplets pregnancy, the temporary move to Maryland, the birth of the girls, the unending hospital misery, the loss of Olive, the move back to Delaware, and the struggle to figure out how to be parents who work. Somewhere along the way, the needle just sort of popped out of the groove. I’d like to flip it over and start the B side.
  • Make a local friend: It’s crazy what social distancing and two little girls who can’t walk yet will do to prevent you from making friends. No one’s fault, of course. As much of an introvert as I am, having a friend within driving distance would probably not be such a bad idea. How to make that friend is a totally different proposition.
  • Continue to practice my penmanship: My handwriting is not bad, by any means, but it is a funny mix of half-remembered cursive and printing. You will often see both a cursive S and a printing S in the same word. I purchased the Spencerian Penmanship book set a few months ago and was steadily practicing while doing overnights just after we brought Penelope and Beatrice home. After the move back to Delaware, I have not been keeping up with it so well. There’s something about not having 8 hours of forced quiet time every single night to make you lose sight of the learning you were doing. Of course, my penmanship doesn’t matter at all, but it’s something I’d like to improve so I am going to.

That’s kind of a lot of stuff, I guess. But there is kind of a lot of time in a year and it is important to have goals. Keep up with me and see how far I get! Commitment devices!

Also, you might have noticed an audio file embedded in the top of this post. Click it! That’s me reading to you on my website for your enjoyment. I thought that adding audio versions of these posts would be a fun way to add a little value to the site and give me a chance to hone my monologue editing skills. You get all the benefit; I do all the work. Win-win.


Photo by Erfan Afshari on Unsplash

The Theme for 2022: No Social Media

Social media is bad. There’s no denying it’s bad. It’s been a major source of the disinformation which earned us Orange, a prolonged pandemic, and Q supporters. It’s also incredibly distracting, makes people compare their lives to illusions, and can be alienating. The companies that run the social media ecosphere are villainous with little respect for their users, only seeking to commoditize attention. This is no secret. No one doubts this.

And yet, social media used to be fun. When I first signed up for Facebook—which I assume was most people’s first major social media exposure—it was great. It was fun to see what people who I hadn’t seen or spoken with in ages were up to. I enjoyed looking at people’s silly photos and reading about their trips and lives and ups and downs. It was nice to bullshit with people in a way that allowed me not to face my crippling phone anxiety (sorry, everyone, I still love you). It often felt a lot like real connection. Distant, sure, but genuine still.

Then we had Twitter, Instagram, and a whole host of also-rans which worked themselves into our daily lives. And they were pretty fun, too! Each in their own way. Twitter was a fun way to interact as succinctly as possible. Instagram was a fun way to get a photostream of in-the-moment photos of what people were up to. That was pretty cool!

But then things started to change. Slowly. Imperceptibly. Yet change they did.

People started to perform for social media, instead of allowing their social media pages to reflect how they actually behaved. We saw the beginnings of what would come to be called “influencers”, a term nearly as cynical and heartbreaking as “content creator”. Soon after the advertisers came. And with advertisers came real money. And with real money, the platform was doomed.

Users transformed from participants in a network of real people, to click-throughs and eyes for a new generation of internet advertising. Sure, the new ads weren’t the old pop-ups everyone rightfully hated so much, but they were just as intrusive, just as in-your-face. And, worse, it was often harder to tell what was an ad and what was genuine. They learned to dress ads and news and lies in a friendly disguise. Those of us who were savvy understood the difference, but your uncle who grew up in a world without any internet at all didn’t.

Now, my Facebook feed is full of ads, suggested posts, and nonsense. I use an ad blocker and an additional browser plugin that cleans up the feed and it’s still filled with nonsense. Where we once got posts in a chronological order, the algorithm now puts them in some impenetrable order which is decipherable only to its machine intelligence. Why can I not just see what the most recent post is, by default, all the time? My well-curated selection of liked pages means nothing when Zuck & Crew just put whatever the hell they want in front of me any time they please. My eyes are vastly more valuable as a target for ads than I am as a contributor to the platform.

Instagram, now also owned by Facebook, is just as bad. Suggested posts slipped seamlessly into my feed, an unending stream of reels which I didn’t sign up for, ads shoved into ever crevice, and posts presented into the algorithm’s order.

All the old pleasures of the platforms are gone. It has been a death from a thousand cuts, but, finally, now, it has reached a point where it’s just not worth it any more. All social media gives me now is anxiety from yet another political post or someone else asking for me to be outraged about something or some dire click-bait news about something I have no power over shoved in my face. If I have to see one more photo of Mitch McConnell’s wattle in my social media feeds I will lose my mind.

It all just stresses me out. We have a duty as adults not to subject ourselves to things that make us crazy for no reason. Many things in life are unavoidably crazy-making. Why not eliminate the things we can?

With that, my theme for 2022 will be:

The Year Without Social Media

Seems simple, right? It’s not! Stupid social media has become such an easy crutch for me, my most favorite of all time-wasters even if it constantly makes me feel bad. Many of you have had me leave stupid comments on your posts or click through your Instagram stories (without my sound off) or whatever this or whatever that. This year I’ll be having none of that. For me, it’s time poorly spent avoiding doing things that would ultimately make me feel better even if they are more difficult in the short run. Like writing here on The Black Laser.

I won’t be checking my feeds this year. At all. None of them. If I had a way to check to see what my friends are family are posting without being subjected to endless aggravating noise, I would. All day! But I can’t. Clearing out that section of my head will be helpful. If your trash can was full, you’d take the trash out, right? Same thing.

I’m not glassing the earth, however. I still think my accounts will be a good way to direct people here. I still want to share and no one reads blogs anymore without being pointed to them. So, the accounts will stay with handy signposts to come here to The Black Laser to follow-up and see what I am doing.

I don’t know if I will eventually come back after the year is up. I am not even sure how it will make me feel. Better? Worse? More isolated? Less aware of my isolation? The whole point is to detox to see how I feel. Get some things done. Make some stuff. If I get to the halfway point in the year and I find myself direly missing social media, I’ll come back. Or if this year ends and I realize some utility for enduring the misery, I’ll come back. However, in the meantime, the break will be nice.

You want to see cute pictures of the girls? They’ll be here! You want to read my inane, messy thoughts about my life? This is the place! You want to comment on something I wrote or shared? Do it here! I’ve already got a platform; I built it myself thirteen years ago. There are no ads, no trackers, no algorithms. This is what it is and I encourage you to make yourself at home here with me.


Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash

Photo by Trollinho on Unsplash

The Lure and Repulsion of Outside

COVID has turned me into a shut-in.

Ok. That’s not entirely true. A more accurate statement would be that COVID, moving across the country to a place where I have no friends, having kids, taking care of those kids while Sarah works, and working exclusively from home have turned me into more of a shut-in than I already was. Not some manifesto-writing, greasy-package-sending, sunglasses-mugshot sort, but quicker to stay in and avoid interacting with other people in other than a passing way.

During lock down, I’ve realized I am more of an introvert than I ever gave myself credit for. I knew for a long time that social events took a lot out of me, that the recovery time from those social events was long. I’d much rather hang out at home or with a small group somewhere quiet than be surrounded by people. I am excellent at entertaining myself! It’s a skill I honed through endless years of being grounded as a teenager. Going to be alone for a few days? Perfect! I’ll fill the time with something that I enjoy.

Lock down was that multiplied by, what is it at this point, 18 months? I still haven’t run out of things to do to keep myself busy. I’ve learned that I can go on for a long time and be basically all right with the situation.

Similarly I’ve never been good at spur-of-the-moment social outings. I’ve always needed a long time to prepare mentally for engaging. Even when I have a long time, sometimes I get to the day of the thing I’ve been preparing for and I can’t think of anything I’d rather do less. The idea of going somewhere and being stuck in a large crowd fills me with anxiety. Concerts, sporting events, parades, the mall before Christmas, or any place with a ton of people are immediate “No”s for me.

I don’t draw energy from being around people; I spend it. And that equation is not in balance. I am often left in psychic debt after a company Christmas party. Or after schmoozing at an industry event. Or any time I have to turn on the charm and interact with people, especially in a context where that interaction has an impact on the greater scope of my life. When I was an editor, I had this sort of interaction all the time and often left me totally drawn out, temperamental, and grouchy. And while I like to imagine I was reasonably good at hiding my moodiness, I know that I was not.

This tendency had been slowly worsening for the last five years or so, but the protracted period of isolation that COVID brought on accelerated the downward spiral. I can remember in the recent past being at shows with friends and becoming overrun with anxiety about being there and wanting nothing more than to leave. Some of the shows I did leave! But, at the very least, I made the effort to go out in the first place. Now? No way. Don’t even ask if I’ll go. The answer is no.

And, really, there is absolutely nothing wrong with not wanting to be social. Staying in and tinkering or having quiet time is a perfectly valid, reasonable choice. I don’t miss parties. I don’t miss crowded bars. I don’t miss concerts. I don’t miss any of it. I’ll kiss my babies’ drooly cheeks, drink a beer, and learn about something all by myself. A perfect evening.

The problem at the root of all this is that I feel anxiety over feeling like I should miss those social interactions. Part of me is super cool with not having that stuff in my life for the foreseeable future, but another part of me—a mean part—is all twisted up with this idea that I should be making an effort to get out and interact with the world, make new friends (another thing I am traditionally BAD at), and do more than spend time alone. That part drives me to make bad decisions, fueled by agitation, in the expectation that my life would be richer with more external interaction.

For example, tonight I was supposed to go to a dinner at Sarah’s restaurant that they do every year where they pair a multi-course menu with various beers. Pretty cool! Yet, the idea of sitting at the bar by myself, while Sarah worked, making small talk with people I don’t know so I could create some appearance of wanting to not be a weird shut-in dropped a red-hot glowing lump of iron in the center of my chest. I almost went, too, even though I knew I wouldn’t enjoy myself. I knew it. Certain as sunrise. But part of me thought, Well, I should just go and do the thing because I never go out, even though the rest of me was like, This sounds like pulling teeth.

And when Sarah gave me an out? Oh, you know I took it as quickly and definitively as I could.

Do I feel bad about taking the out? Yeah, a little. But not as bad as I would have felt engaging with strangers tonight, pretending that I wanted to be there.

Would my life be better for having more adult interaction than just Sarah and our babysitter? Honestly, yeah, it would. I’ve been pretty depressed and the growing tendency toward being a shut-in is pretty clearly an expression of that. This has been a hard year. But the solution to my depression is not small talk, surrounding myself with strangers at some event, or engaging socially. I feel confident in that. Still, I feel bad.


Photo by Ian Wagg on Unsplash

Cookin’ With Lasers – Vegan Stuffed Acorn Squash

A few days ago, I was speaking with a friend of mine about a project we were working on for Moms Against Poverty and we got to chatting. The topic of dinner came up and I told him I made some sausage and pepper roasted acorn squash—a staple dish of mine as the nights get longer. He responded with interest, curiosity, and a smidge of amazement (which is wholly undeserved). It is an incredibly easy, flexible recipe that should really be in anyone’s back pocket.

To dispel the mystery surrounding stuffed acorn squash, and because Bobak doesn’t dig on animal products, here’s a vegan version of my stuffed acorn squash that I have never made. Consider this my gift.

Vegan Stuffed Acorn Squash

Ingredients

  • An acorn squash, you could use another kind of squash too, but make sure it has a decent sized seed cavity. Spaghetti, kabocha, whatever, would be fine too.
  • Some mushrooms
  • A bell pepper, any color is fine
  • A decent sized onion, or two smaller onions
  • A clove or two of garlic, or more garlic if you like garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Tomato paste, or not, your call
  • Other spices you like, just make sure they go together
  • Cooking oil

Equipment needed

  • Sheet pan
  • A pot of some sort, could also be a big skillet
  • Knives?
  • Probably some other stuff I am forgetting

Phase 1 – Squash

Preheat your oven to 425°.

Cut your acorn squash in half. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. If you run a paring knife around the inside of the seed cavity, they are much easier to scoop out. Or you can just use a spoon, like a savage.

Slice a sliver off the back side of the squash to create a flat spot for it to rest on the sheet pan. It sucks when they roll around and dump the filling out. Cutting the flat spot creates a handy little platform. You’re welcome.

Lightly rub the top, inside, and new flat spot with your cooking oil. Olive oil is fine. Avocado oil is good too. Use whatever you like. You don’t need a ton of oil. Just a thin layer to act as a conductor for the heat in the air of the oven and the exposed squash.

Place the oiled halves on the sheet pan, cavity-up, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Don’t be shy. Consider that you are salting the entire volume of the squash’s flesh. Of course, you can always add more salt later to taste. You’re a big boy (or girl, or otherwise). You can figure it out.

Put the squash into the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the flesh is tender. If you have a small squash, reduce the time to 20 minutes. You’re precooking the squash so that when we fill it later, it requires less time to cook through.

Once time is up, pull the squash from the oven and set aside. Leave the oven on.

Phase 2 – Filling

Dice up your vegetables. Not too small. You don’t want them turning to mush. Or maybe you do. Whatever makes you happy. I prefer to have texture of individual elements.

If you like garlic, mince or grate it. Good job.

Heat a little cooking oil in your pot or skillet. Put your garlic in. Once you can smell the garlic, add in the onion. Cook the onion for a few minutes until it turns lightly translucent. We’re cutting the raw onion edge, not caramelizing.

Add the rest of the vegetables and cook them until they are cooked. Rocket science.

Add a squeeze of tomato paste, salt, pepper, and whatever spices you chose because you are a grown-up and being a grown-up means learning to live with the choices we make.

If you’re feeling a little sassy, you can add a splash of water or vegetable stock, bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat of your stove, and let it reduce. It will help the vegetables’ flavor meld together a bit. It’s not necessary though, and this recipe works better when the filling isn’t super wet. Do what you want.

Phase 3 – Stuffing the squash

Now that your squash is precooked and your filling is ready, put the filling into the squash. A small mound just above the lip of the seed cavity is good. If it is overfilled, you risk spilling and then having the filling burn in the oven. If it’s underfilled, well, then you might as well just eat the fucking squash plain and call it a day.

Don’t worry about using all the filling. If you have extra (and you probably will) save it and eat it with rice or something the next day. It’s good that way.

Pop the filled squash back into the oven for another 30 minutes. Again, less for small squashes.

After the time’s up check the squash. The flesh should be very tender. If so, it’s done. Let it cool because that shit is hot as hell on the inside.

Congratulations! You roasted your very own stuffed acorn squash.


Photo by Kim Daniels on Unsplash

Sarah’s Address to Olive.

Sarah wrote a powerful piece on the loss of Olive and her experience of grieving over on Facebook. In the interest of storing it for posterity, I am reposting it here.

Losing a child feels like the whole entire universe is reduced to a grain of sand.

Empty, yet somehow filled with so much energy all the same. An unpredictable kind of force that will blind you. Grief is a tricky thing— it’s not linear. It sneaks up on you, and it doesn’t care if you have plans. It’s absolutely ruthless and there is no map.

Things still come in threes. As the days and months go by, I find myself sifting through gifts sent in three, gifts sent with love and without the unthinkable notion that we wouldn’t be bringing all three of our baby girls home. I cycle these gifts in and out as the girls continue to outgrow them. I always know when they’re wearing something that has a third, and it’s painful but I also find it comforting. I find myself desperately holding on to these moments— because it’s a reminder of the time before, the time of “is” and not the now of “was” that breaks my heart daily. It’s a reminder of a joyful time when we were just thrilled by our new reality of raising three little girls. And while it’s hard to see the third onesie or the third set of eating utensils, I’m actually more terrified of reaching the day when things start coming in two.

Moments like these have a particular kind of sting. They make me feel farther away from the time that Olive was here, and more thoroughly a part of the now where we exist without her.

I know by now that nothing will actually keep me from Olive, that there is no without, because she’s with me every moment. When I wake up and when I go to sleep, and in every step I take. Even still, I feel like I’m desperately hanging onto right now because I don’t want to keep taking steps that move me forward, creating this inevitable distance from the time that I last held her in my arms. I want that time back, I want to be back there. It was hard, but it was so beautiful.

I still hear the sounds of monitors in the PCICU, in the streams of the shower, the dishwasher, in traffic— everywhere. I often wake up expecting to head to the hospital, just like I did every day for months. I realize that’s not the case, and it just reminds me of how impossibly hopeful I was that things were going to turn out okay. I long for the time when there was still a true flame of hope. But honestly, I can still feel it burning in my heart months later. Even though Olive is gone, it persists. It’s as though that hope hasn’t completely caught up with reality. Hope doesn’t know how things are going to turn out, it exists regardless of outcomes.

I can’t express how badly I wish I could see Olive again, boop her nose, call her muffin. Some days are just more painful than others, but every day I’m considering every moment in terms of what it would be like if Olive came home. What would this whole experience of parenting feel like with Olive here too? Would she need a million hugs like Bea? Or would she be more independent like Penny? She would absolutely be something entirely her own, something 100% Olive. Ask any of the amazing staff at Johns Hopkins, Olive was not to be messed with— she was a sass machine, and she was also the sweetest baby and delicate in so many ways. She was little but not without personality, her impact vast and infinite.

I constantly feel the absence of her, I feel it framing my every experience. I feel it so deeply that sometimes it’s hard to breathe. I miss her. I just really miss her.

There’s a lot of not saying things throughout this process. There is a lot of skirting around the darkness with new acquaintances and coworkers. Almost every day I’m meeting new people at work and answering questions about myself, that’s kind of how it goes in a small town. People are interested in my life, my story. Do you have any children? What are their ages? Inevitably, I find myself answering the question I dread: you had twins?! I hesitate, I hope they can’t sense my hesitation. People are excited to share in the wonder of twins, I get it. It’s something that stirs up joy in just about everyone. But my mind travels to a hard place. I’m still figuring out how to navigate this loss. I tell myself that when it feels right, one day I’ll tell the whole story. Or maybe they’ll find out some other way— they’re actually triplets, not twins.

At their check-up, both nurse and doctor asked if Penny and Bea have any other siblings— we say no, but we think something different. I wonder if they “know” and how it feels for them to ask a loaded question that they are simply trained and required to ask.

It’s been a little over three months since Livvy passed. Last month the girls celebrated their six-month birthday. It’s a complicated celebration, a messy jumble of sincere joy for our two little ding-dongs, combined with feelings of great loss and immense aching for the now that could have been— the now of three and not two.

I’ve been hesitant to speak on or with anyone concerning Olive for the last few months because I’ve been too scared to move forward. I’m still just so scared and so unbelievably sad. But I do believe that the steps present themselves organically.

Just last week a coworker heard about our loss and asked a question that helped me turn that corner. She asked me, “What was her name?”

Olive. Olive, I told her.

It felt so good to speak her name. And I realized that my fear is that people will be too nervous to say her name— when all I want is to hear it. Olive. Never be nervous to ask about Olive, and please continue to say her name.

There’s still so much to uncover and learn in this process. I’m still figuring it out, and I’ll probably always be figuring it out. But I feel ready to start. I feel embraced by the love I have for Olive, her sisters, and her father. My heart got bigger because of Olive. It got stronger too.

The world is better for having had Livvy in it for whatever amount of time. Not enough time, that much is certain. But time feels different to me now. When Olive died time changed completely. The short time that Livvy was on this earth was enough to expand and fill an entire universe ten times over, absolutely crushing the trivial meaning of time. A few months, a few years, or a hundred. The love we have for Olive is infinite. My heart is a lifetime. To the moon and back, Livvy bear.

“We are photons released from a dying star
We are fireflies a child has trapped in a jar
And everything is distant as the stars
I am here and you are where you are”
— Nick Cave