Author: mrs fringe

Don’t Shit Where You Eat

Welp, normally I’d stick a fabulously lousy photo here, but WordPress has changed their editor since I last logged in and I can’t figure out how to do it.

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oh look, I did it! Nope, nothing to do with this post, but I like the way this photo came out. Or maybe this is me, glaring at all the world’s nonsense.

What brings me here after my long months away? I’ve been thinking a lot recently about respect and ever elusive dignity in the writing world. The other day someone tweeted a great thread that’s gone close to writing-twitter viral, and I have thoughts. Ok, maybe not close to viral, but it found its way into my feed a lot, and my standards for numbers (or anything else) aren’t that high. I love what the OP had to say and think these are great guidelines for members of the writing community. The reality for many is they don’t have the bandwidth (mental or otherwise) to make the table bigger.

So I’ll make it even simpler–don’t shit on the table. That’s it. Seems pretty straightforward to me, and yet, basic respect and professionalism is somehow a reach for too many. Writing is weird.

Weird by definition, it can be lonely, isolating to allow yourself to get lost in your head and create characters, entire worlds. The publishing world, also weird, so much of it balanced on personal opinions, lots of the entry points having different expectations for formatting, guidelines, information required, etc. Tell me about yourself! Don’t tell me about yourself! Query only! Query and first 10 pages! Query, synopsis, and first three chapters! Simultaneous submissions are fine! Simultaneous submissions are never okay! Have your work professionally edited before sending! Never pay for an editor if you aren’t self publishing! Is your head spinning yet? Mine does, all the time. What focuses me is the writing itself, and the writing community.

Like any community, there are constant squabbles, jabs, and disagreements (often referred to as discourse). That’s cool. We’re all individual humans, bringing our individual points of view and experiences. We should, however, not forget our table manners. Personal attacks? Not cool. Bashing a genre you don’t write or read because you don’t write or read it? Yo, who’s farting and blaming the dog? Sending a ranty missive and you’ll-be-sorry-you-wouldn’t-recognize-excellent-writing-if-it-bit-you-on-the-ass threats to an editor or agent who sent you a rejection? Now you shit on the table. There’s the obvious of how unprofessional, disrespectful and downright criminal those follow up to rejection notes are, but there’s also the fallout for the rest of us. Those of us trying to keep straight the individual guidelines and follow them, make connections, build relationships, get an offer of rep or publication? Congrats, you’ve just made it a million times harder for us, because now that agent or editor may stop including a personal note where they otherwise might have, or increasingly, not send a rejection at all, because they’re concerned it will be perceived as an invitation for abuse.

Basic respect is everything. And not just respect for industry professionals, but for ourselves and each other. Know your own limits. I’ve seen a zillion tweets ranting about things that might or might not bother me. Or you. What I perceive as fine, others might perceive as disrespectful. I’ve seen many complaints about wording in rejection letters, sometimes for phrases I know are forms. Rarely has the phrasing in a rejection letter bothered me. I didn’t love this as much as I’d hoped? Cool, I’ve had that thought myself about lots of stories, published and not. Solicitations to buy your mag/take your course within a rejection? Yeah, that bothers me. A lot. Some can’t tolerate submission fees from lit mags. I don’t mind a small (seriously, small, a couple/few dollars, $20 is not only disrespectful, but predatory, imo) fee for a paying market. Honestly I don’t see it as different than an annual kickstarter favored by some of the mags. Others vehemently oppose a small sub fee.

Contest with a significant entry fee but equally significant payoff? Cool. Contest with a significant entry fee and a small payoff? Annual contest where the winners just happen to only consist of those who’ve taken (paid for) the editor’s classes? Contest with a significant entry fee and solicitations for 2-3 more run by the same mag arriving in my inbox before the first one is closed/winners announced…hmm, do you smell that?

Long wait times. Shrug. We all have different definitions of a long wait time. Having the innate patience of a flea, I love fast responses. I’ve seen complaints about mags that respond within a day, or a couple of days. Personal preference. But I’m also fine with mags that take 3-6 months to reply, if they take simultaneous submissions. Over a year to reply to a short story? Yeah, no. Again, that’s me, others are fine with it. Simultaneous submissions. Some won’t sub to mags that are no sim sub places. Honestly, it makes me a little uncomfortable, but often these are the better paying and well known mags, so I can tolerate some discomfort–if/when those mags are straightforward about how long it will take them to respond. Please, magazines/editors: have enough respect for those submitting work to be honest about approximately how long to expect for a reply. I’m an old bag big girl, I know the difference between 2 weeks and 5 months, and know exactly how many markets I may miss/missed submitting to because their sub window closed while I was waiting for your reply. I’m also old enough to understand life happens to the best of us (especially these past years. Oy. Covid, burnout, childcare issues, eldercare issues, the whole fucking world is on fire), including those who run literary magazines. So maybe, for whatever reason (none of my business what that reason is) your usual response time has turned to dust. Send an email letting submitters know you’re behind, expect to have replies out in X months, have a note posted on Duotrope/The Submission Grinder, close your subs until you catch up, and I dunno, is it insane for me to think hey, if you haven’t heard back within three times the amount of weeks/months originally projected, maybe say it’s ok to send the work to other venues? Seriously, I’m asking, is that whiney or is that reasonable?

About that whole “each other” thing. Honestly, I’m pretty lucky. I’ve got a number of fantastic, long-time writer friends who are incredibly supportive, all at different points on their writing journey, with varying goals. Quite a few where I am literally squealing with joy as I retweet their links and successes, scream about their brilliant words, harass everyone else I know to purchase and read their work. You won’t see every link or success, but you’ll see some–offer the support. Or maybe they aren’t there, so if you have the time to do it well, read and crit for them. Certainly, cheerlead. Do this. Really, it feels good, and we all need it–the giving and the receiving. The success of others, small or large, takes nothing from you or your work. Don’t belittle the accomplishments of others. Unless it’s yet another 6 figure publishing contract for a traitorous bastard trying to step on democracy and strip the rights of others whose book is actually being written by an underpaid & unacknowledged ghost writer.

Some have brought me to tears with their generous thoughts and support for my words, and I’m grateful each and every time. Regardless of where our seat is; writer, editor, publisher, agent, trade published, self published, unpublished, we all deserve some basic respect to be given and received. Most of all, don’t shit on the table.

*WP isn’t letting me see this in preview, so bear with me if there are glaring formatting mistakes and typos.

My Little Runaway

A very gray day

Yeah, I’m going to try blogging regularly again. It used to be–dare I say it–fun. Fun is good. Besides, I don’t think I added more than a page to the current WIP this week. This way I can feel productive. Not much to say, though, so come wander through the park with me. I am not a good photographer, but wanting the just the right photos to go with blog posts taught me I enjoy playing with the camera. Between my terrible vision and shaky hands, I pretty much just keep clicking until the battery dies. When I want to run away, I grab the camera and go to Central Park. Sometimes in search of birds, sometimes peace, sometimes to wander through the trails of the North Woods–the rats are bolder and more numerous up there but fewer tourists and closer to home–so I can sob my way through. Today I took the train downtown, entered the park by Strawberry Fields. Not long ago I wrote a flash fiction piece about a woman who runs away to the park and stays there. I think one lit mag is reading it. I don’t write a lot of flash, so I tend not to keep close track of whether or not a piece is on sub, and rarely try more than a couple of places.

Anyway. You hear New Yorkers say you can forget you’re in the city when you’re in Central Park. Now, I do love it, but that’s a damned lie. People, traces of people, clearly manmade structures, bridges, gates and/or the shadow of buildings are everywhere in those 843 acres. I’m pretty sure I’ve even read the slow change of leaves in the fall is due to the way the sun/shadows are disrupted by the buildings surrounding the park.

The Lake in Central Park. Beautiful, but not exactly the middle of nowhere.

I know it’s stunning when you’re surrounded by vibrant autumn colors, but I kind of like these days, with surprise pops of red or yellow against the green and brown. Much the way I walk past the serious birders of the park (and there are many serious birders in Central Park–for good reason, tons of species) with their lenses that are longer than I am, taking shots and debating the movement of amazing birds I usually can’t even see outside of their Twitter posts. I mostly stick to the sparrows/robins/bluejays/mourning doves. Yes, I will die on the hill saying those regular brown city sparrows are underrated. They’re beautiful, move and sing in little communities. Look at these little faces.

I’m not a fan of city squirrels, but they are great subjects if you’re slow with the camera. They aren’t remotely afraid of people, so they aren’t moving just because you stopped to take a picture of them. Unless you have food, in which case give it up or run, because they’ll shiv you, your grandma, and your baby to steal a few goldfish crackers.

It was a good afternoon for wandering, wind kicking enough to remind everyone that it is the end of October, slow color change or not. Until the wind increased and reminded me it was time to get home before I got clipped in the head by an errant piece of scaffolding.

ah, nature

Have a good weekend, all.

Rejection

Well, here we are. Or here I am, in any case.

I never made a conscious decision to stop blogging, or take a break, or whatever this has been. Like many others, I got caught in the tidal wave of the pandemic, and just getting through was about all I could do. I’m not sure I’m restarting, either, this may be a one-off. But I have thoughts, one in particular, that’s been banging around my brain these past couple of weeks. And good grief, it’s been so long since I blogged, WordPress is using a new (not intuitive!) editor program, and it just took me twenty minutes to figure out how to insert a photo.

This was never specifically a writing blog–and it isn’t about to become one–but I have rambled a fair amount about writing because it’s a big part of me and my life. Over the course of the pandemic, I did more submitting of short stories than I ever had before, had some success (acceptances/publications), and lots of thanks but no thanks, often but not always with specific invitations to try again. That’s the way of the publishing world, until and unless you’re SUPER BIG NAME WITH MANY ACCOLADES. Which is not most, not even those who are successful. Over the past week I received a couple of rejections I’d been waiting for, and this morning I sat down to the laptop intending to choose a few new places to send those stories to, and just couldn’t. Not today. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week. Seriously, I feel like this chicken.

Chicken? Rooster? What do I know, I’m a city gal, after all.

Smashed into an invisible wall and decided here was as good a place as any to drop.

So what are these deep thoughts I’ve been having that I absolutely needed to share with the world? Rejection, of course. Not in a poor me kind of way, not calculations of acceptances/rejections, not looking for pep talks or cheerleading. Just thinking about the repeated choice to continue pursuing some measure of success in an area where monthly, weekly, daily rejections are par for the course. Thinking this must have, have had, an effect on the choices I make, the way I view the world, the way I view myself. Don’t you think?

Seriously, I’m wondering. What would the difference be, if there was a difference, if I was one of the many who enjoyed reading and writing as a child, got some nice compliments from a second or fifth grade teacher, and just left it there? Limited writing to cute or heartfelt messages at the bottom of Christmas and birthday cards. Impassioned social media posts. Maybe became one of those obnoxious, “Oh, you write? I always wanted to write a book but don’t have time, I’m going to write a bestseller when I retire, I’ve got the formula down from all the thrillers I read.” I don’t think I’d be radically different, the rest of me is still me, the rest of life would still be what it is. I’d still have a dark outlook but like to laugh, still be an old-timey Noo Yawk broad, still hate when it’s cold enough I have to wear socks, still have some who think I’m funny and more who think I’m too damned much. But I think there is something, and I wonder if it’s something significant enough that after all these years it’d be noticeable? fundamental?

Sure, it’s well known you have to have or develop thick skin to pursue any creative work. Which is weird as fuck, because at the same time you have to remain so sensitive you’re raw, the proverbial bleeding onto the page. Have such an inflated sense of yourself, your words, your ability to create fictional people and worlds you put your work out there absolutely certain others will care enough about your characters they’ll laugh with them, be shocked by them, maybe even cry when you kill them off. Hope these imaginary readers will pay real money to read your work, while understanding and accepting many more won’t be interested, maybe even think your blatherings are good for nothing more than lining the chicken coop.

Do you line chicken coops with paper?

Themes: Blogging, Fiction, & all too real Life

Salt & Pepper, extra salt

At least once a day there’s a thought that crosses my mind or a headline that catches my eye where I think: I should write a blog post about that. Usually followed by all the reasons I shouldn’t bother–no one cares, you have nothing new to add to the subject, good grief, Fringe, another lousy poem? what makes you think you should, you’ve already posted about that ad infinitum, blah blah blah–and I don’t. Well, it’s my blog and I’ll weep ruminate if I want to. We don’t all have One Thing we dedicate our lives to, but I do think most of us have a handful of subjects that draw us back. Themes. I’ve written many stories in somewhat varying genres, but most can be boiled down to the theme of not enough. Not good enough, not rich enough, not talented enough, not young enough, not worthy enough. Any of my long time readers know there are themes here on the blog I return to again and again, all loosely related to living live on the fringe. Today I’m back to womenofacertainage.

That’s me, above. My hair, anyway (post-ironing). It isn’t news to me that it’s a political statement (insert eyeroll here) I don’t dye my hair. I mean, sure, there’s an element of budget (getting your hair dyed is $$$$), laziness (it’s a good year if I get to the stylist twice for a haircut), and I like how it looks (I think the silver is pretty), but to others? Whoa. I am brave. Excuse me while I gag a bit. Maybe weep some more. If you dye your hair because you want to and like to, great! But I don’t think it’s so clearcut. When it comes to the signs of age and aging in our society, it’s complicated. I’ve had many women offer a compliment and follow it with, I would love to stop dying my hair, but my husband/partner/child/parent doesn’t want me to. Is that true? Maybe. Sometimes. But many of those same women wouldn’t hesitate to dye their hair a color their person objected to, or cut their hair, or not cut their hair, or dread it or straighten it or perm it or whatever.

I’ve been reading a lot these past weeks, but have put aside many more novels than I’ve finished. Last night I started another and realized part of why I keep putting so many to the side. Not because they’re terrible, and not because they’re too deep. I love great books that make me think, highlight the human condition, and make me cry because I’ll never write such a beautiful sentence, but that isn’t what I’m in the mood for these days. I want stories deep enough to engage that primarily offer escape. All the news is awful, thoughts of what’s to come, who and what has been lost in these past months of Covid-19 are worse, damned right I want to get lost in someone else’s fiction. But it can only be escape if it offers characters I can connect with. I guess my version of escape is different from…who? The majority of readers? Gatekeepers of the publishing industry? Where are the contemporary novels with mid-life (and older) protagonists? Ones where the storyline isn’t about second chances at love, or ticking biological clocks, or 55 year old men finding love with a 22 year old, or twenty-nine year olds who are panicking and botoxing because they’ve realized  their skin actually moves when they smile. Where are the novels–whether they’re lit fic or genre–with protagonists who have saggy boobs and enlarged prostates and that isn’t the whole storyline? And nope, I’m not looking for the sweet septuagenarian who solves bloodless murders in between knitting tea cozies and baking cookies, or the cranky old octogenarian who used to be so nice until his somebody died and left him alone and afraid until the toothless 6 year old facing a lung transplant melted his heart with a sticky hug. I’m not saying I never read or never want to read stories with young protagonists, but for me the thought of being 25 again is not a pleasant escape but ugh, no thanks. And 16? 18? is the stuff of nightmares.

Everyone in the US so busy pretending to be shocked by the GOP and republicans literally willing to sacrifice seniors, disabled people, POC, middle aged folks with pre-existing conditions. Are you really? Really shocked? Hell, middle-aged people are so undesirable, so distasteful in our society they’ve been willed into invisibility. Young or old, those are the only two options. 60 is young! Why, just look at that multimillionaire 60 year old actress over there with her personal trainers and surgically enhanced everything, must be something wrong with you, your priorities, if you don’t look like her–or want to. You don’t want to look 50, or 40, or hell, even 30 (remember, that’s about when you discovered your skin might move when you smile).  We’re such an all or nothing society. Young is good, old is bad (except as a vehicle for the occasional heart warming moment). Rich is good, poverty is bad. Men are bold and distinguished, women are hysterical and bitchy. White is rights and freedoms, black/brown is unlawful and suspicious. Anyone in between, who contemplates or lives in the gray of life isn’t worth discussing, insuring, or even saving, why would we want to read about them, eh?

This morning I asked on Twitter for recommendations of novels with middle aged or older protagonists. To my non-surprise, few suggestions have come through, fewer that I haven’t already read.

 

Kool-Aid with Arsenic, on the Rocks

 

As I’ve already blogged, my family’s shelter-in-place isn’t complete, because while we have been going to fewer appointments than usual, there are still some that can’t be avoided/postponed. Every appointment is a risk that is carefully, thoughtfully, analyzed and weighed by us and by the doctors involved. It isn’t like we generally go to any doctor or lab for the hell of it, but yes, when weighed against a high likelihood of death, there’s a whole lot that can be postponed. Because it isn’t just about our family and the risk to us, it’s the risk to every doctor, nurse, and hospital employee we come into contact with, and by extension, their family members, every other patient, ad infinitum.

Yesterday was the eye specialist with Art Child, and I have to say, these appointments get creepier and creepier. I didn’t think hospital (outpatient sections) hallways could be any emptier than they were a month ago. I was wrong.

It isn’t as if the office is normally filled with patients getting regular eye exams. Anyone who is a patient there has a significant disorder. Granted, this is a specialty hospital, and then up to a sub-sub-specialist’s office, but still. Right now they are only seeing those who are at imminent risk of total vision loss. The creep factor isn’t limited to the normal raised eyebrows of a young person being very noticeable in a hospital frequented by septuagenarians, octogenarians, nonagenarians. Not even limited to the 50 stops set up to ask if either of us have a cough, a fever, known exposure to someone with Covid-19, temperature check, please put on a new mask. No, it was the way I felt so noticed. Radioactive. I swear kiddo was the only patient, we were the only non-employees in the place.

And then home, back online to news reports filled with open-the-country protestors. Keep in mind, those photos are artfully cropped to look as if the number of participants are greater than they are, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real. And widespread. Oh, you poor, deluded fucking morons. Some of my friends (you know, those extremists who believe in things like science) are wondering why? how? I’m not wondering, and at this point no one else should be either. They are cultists. There is no logic to be applied to society or the world at large. Their only thoughts are in service to their leader. Don’t be fooled by taglines about Jesus or the greater good. This is about two things, and two things only, because there are actually two subgroups here. The first are the wealthy and greedy, who don’t give a shit how many die or are permanently disabled from this virus. Get those peasants back to work so we can keep growing our portfolios! The second group doesn’t know any better, because they’re busy listening to right wing propaganda that continues to tell them this is overblown, a hoax, the fault of the leftists and the other, and really, Great Uncle JimBob is a pain in the ass anyway what with his whining about empty insulin pens and the way you have to blend and thicken Grandma’s Sunday dinner so she doesn’t choke on it. Both groups though, part of the same cult. Cult 45, the orange monstrosity.

Besides the obvious warnings signs: a leader who’s considered infallible, placed above God, no accountability for said leader, mistrust of other, preying on the weak, demonization of anyone who leaves the group, calls for violence, harm and threats against their own members, no allowance for questioning leader or dictates–all of these have been true from the beginning of his reign, err, I mean, campaign–there’s another obvious and growing sign. Isolation. That’s an important aspect of cults, same as any abusive partner, isolating members from access to information and people outside of their approved community. I’m concerned that much the way the internet allowed the extreme right wing, white-power-and-mysogyny-prompted nutters to find each other and grow their numbers, our legally sanctioned and medically necessary nationwide isolation will only strengthen the cultists, both in conviction and numbers.

I understand, you understand, this is for the greater good. For physical health and well being of all, in addition to wanting a shot at seeing economic health again. Reopening the economy isn’t going to do squat to help the average JoeJane when JohnQPublic drops dead. Those going out and protesting, those crackpot governors reopening beaches and hairdressers and massage parlors aren’t putting themselves and their families at risk. They’re putting all of us at risk, because of the spectacular combination of communicability of Covid-19, asymptomatic transmission, lack of widespread testing, and the most corrupt, authoritarian administration backing the most narcissistic President this country has ever known.

These cult members? Some don’t understand the repercussions, but many do. And they don’t care.

 

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Oh, New York

Like everyone else during this pandemic, I’ve been thinking. Too much thinking. The shot above is not from today. Today is one of those crazy stormy days; crazy rain, howling winds, you don’t want to go out even if you could.

I’m thinking about how unprepared we all were for this. Not just the tangible, obvious unprepared of a federal government that decided the best way to respond to warnings was to stick their fingers in their ears and sing lalalalastockmarketlalala, the lack of sufficient medical equipment and PPE for health care workers, disruptions in supply chains. The lack of emotional preparedness of…me.

I mean, it’s a bad storm today, but not The Day After Tomorrow.

We wake up and shuffle through our days, room to room in our apartments or for brief errands outside, but we haven’t turned into actual zombies, a la Zone One.

The streets are quiet, Broadway’s gone “dark,” but despite the photos circulating of empty tourist spots like Times Square, the city isn’t silent, as The Stand would have led me to believe. As I joked the other day with a friend, I was mentally prepared for the need to engage in a bit of looting to access food in the grocery stores, not waiting on line for over an hour to be granted entry. I took the photo above last week while on line for the store, a full two blocks away.

So here we are, just about mid-April, almost a month since NY has officially been under stay-at-home orders, over a month since many been social distancing. I’m still thinking too much, and April is still National Poetry Month, which of course puts me in mind of being an angsty teen and writing angsty poetry while sitting on the rocks on an empty, windy Brooklyn beach, expecting many things ahead–some good, some not, but not this. I’m still a lousy poet, but sometimes it still feels right. I’m not writing anything else, so why not?

 

 

Birds Sing in the Quiet Spaces

In the used to be normal days

The space of almost mornings

Gray and brown wings against black to blue to lavender sky

A moment with coffee, while neighbors snored to the rhythm of

Recycle trucks belching along

Subways rumbled below, metallic clash and squeal of elevated tracks reaching

 

Birds sing in the quiet spaces 

Today, yesterday, tomorrow, the new shifting normal, quiet all day days

Thought they’d be different days

Birdsong throughout days

 

But city quiet isn’t silent 

It’s the momentary standstill walking past a writhing garbage bag on the curb at 

2 am

The count between a split of lightning and ripple of thunder

The pause after a squeal and thud before traffic moves on

The halt of skittering roaches against cracked linoleum when the lights come on

The right before applause as the lights dim

The stun on the playground between a fall from the monkey bars and a wail

The space between a siren’s keen and speed followed by the lament of quiet lights 

that roll away

slowly

Ambulance full and void

 

Birds sing in the quiet spaces.

One Egg Family: aka, Hold On

Holding hands: Congo Gorilla Forest, Bronx Zoo

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this and I’m too lazy to read back, but I’ve been without gas (which = no stove or oven) for a couple of months now. Gas leak was discovered in the building, so it’s nothing personal, the entire building’s gas was shut down, no end in sight. Others I know or have heard of where this has happened, it’s taken anywhere from 8-13 months to get it repaired. With coronavirus in the mix, who knows? I figure I’ll be lucky if I can bake and roast in time for Christmas of ’22.

A friend saw me tweet about this when I figured out how to cook something (can’t remember what) in the slow cooker and sent me an electric skillet. How lovely, right? For all we’re drowning in right now, there have been some wonderful moments of friendship, community, and support.

I was happy to make eggs for breakfast the next day, we’d missed them. After everyone ate, I told them I hoped they enjoyed, because for the foreseeable future, we’re now a one egg family.

I’m not an epidemiologist, not an economist, not a historian. But I’ve lived through some shit, and this is unlike any other. For all the politics and discussion, it seems to me many aren’t understanding the extent of the toll this Covid-19 pandemic is having on our world–and will have, for a long time to come. This isn’t producing a short glitch in the economy that can be rectified by a stimulus package. Hell, half of our elected representatives are still arguing about whether or not all workers deserve to get enough money to eat. Or, yanno, children. The magnanimous bill passed, with $1200 to be given to each adult? A one shot deal, we’re being told some shouldn’t expect to even see that money until September. Sure, I’m sure everyone can wait to buy food, medications, pay rent, electric, gas, water, until September. And they only need to pay those things once, absolutely. And oops, that $1200 “gift?” Maybe not a gift. Maybe an advance on 2020’s tax credit/refund. (Don’t @ me here, as far as I can tell, this is yet to be made clear or official one way or the other.) Besides the obvious ramifications on everyone’s health and societal interactions, we’re looking at hard times ahead. Unemployment, rising at a shocking rate, is expected to reach levels we haven’t seen since the Great Depression. 

I’m still seeing a lot of people complaining about not being able to go out to eat at their favorite restaurants. Again, I’m no financial analyst, but unless you’re in the highest of economic brackets, that may soon be the least of your problems. This video, from two weeks ago, shows lines outside of a food pantry. Reminiscent of the old photos of bread lines circa 1929, no?  There’s a rising number of people who can’t afford to go grocery shopping, and then there are disruptions in the food supply chain, expected to increase. Do I think we all need to panic? No, and it won’t help if we do.

We don’t all have to choose deprivation and starvation diets. If nothing else that would cause lowered resistance if we get sick. but it is time to choose with an eye towards frugality and stretching. Two eggs per person, for breakfast, is a lot of eggs gone–and in the scheme of breakfast foods, expensive. Two eggs plus flour and small amounts of other stuff (I recommend buttermilk if you can get it, lasts longer than regular milk, tastes great in pancakes, adds some richness) and you’ve got a big batch of pancakes.

We don’t know all of the ramifications of Covid-19 yet, not how many will die, how many will have died because of the vanity and lack of compassion of a reality tv president, not how high the unemployment rates will rise, not how many will become homeless, not how many will become newly food insecure, not how our society will permanently change, not how long we’ll be under stay-at-home-regulations, not how much longer we’ll have to be under those regulations because of certain pseudo-news organizations’ disinformation and certain governors pretending the US doesn’t stand for the United States, and therefore are refusing to put real stay at home regulations in place (because viruses are partisan, checking to see if you’re a registered Dem or Republican before cozying up in your lungs. Mmmm hmmm). We won’t for a long time. But we know much is uncertain.

There’s an expression from when I was in kid in the old country of pre-hip South Brooklyn: Mr J is so cheap he’ll squeeze a nickel until the buffalo shits. (yes, young ones, there used to be buffalos on nickels). I hope I’m being an alarmist here, and we’ll get all of this under control well before it gets as bad as I’m imagining. Either way it’s time to hold on. And just in case, have a one egg sandwich while you squeeze that nickel.

Fear Gone Rabid


New York is that cab. I am that cab. Hell, we are all that cab. Balanced precariously, not on the tip of a friendly well-trained nose, but on the edge of the undomesticated and aggressive Covid-19, while the sun continues to rise in the background each day, unconcerned by the dramas and traumas of human beings.

I’ve ranted over the past couple of weeks, vented the anger and frustration of not enough people in the US taking this seriously enough, the hideous politics of a literal pandemic while we have a president and administration that cares nothing for its citizens. These last days, though, no matter how I try to hold tight to the protective coating of anger, anxiety has continued to ratchet up and fear has coated the surface of every thought. Writing, whether fiction or blogging, is my way of taking control and muddling through, always has been. So I’m writing now hoping it will help me get a handle on this. I’m not sure it’s possible, with no end in sight and no certainty as to the scope we’re facing. I may or may not actually post this one.

If you are a reader who follows Mrs Fringe, whether long term or more recent, you know I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in emergency rooms, ICUs, hospitals. More than most, not as much as too many. My fears today, the anxiety that’s taken a blowtorch to my gut over the past month, comes from those experiences, from knowing how these things are “supposed” to go, from being able to envision but not able to face what lies ahead for too many of us. The other day I went to the grocery store. A long line to get inside, but once I was all was neat and organized, people (for the most part) working to keep their distance from each other. Not necessarily six feet, but this is Manhattan, it just isn’t physically possible in most shared indoor spaces. As I walked up the frozen food aisle I had to stop because the cases on either side of me took on the gray fuzziness of oh shit, am I going to pass out? I wasn’t, and am not, ill. This wasn’t the first time I got dizzy while out and running a necessary errand in recent weeks, had a moment of oh my god, this is not right, not a personal trauma, the world is wrong and will never be the same. Not even the first time it’s happened outside of Covid-19. I have a strong stomach and high tolerance for medical stuff, but oh man did my knees go out weeks? after Husband’s second open heart surgery, when the physician’s assistant was removing the drainage tubes from his chest and abdomen and I heard the peculiar, specific, sucking, squishing thwok of that first seal being broken. Other times also, with no particular, obvious trigger, always after a crisis has passed, when the fear, emotion, excess caffeine, lack of sleep and often lack of decent nutrition hit me in a mundane moment of checking for a ripe avocado. This time my brain isn’t waiting until after. I’m panicked now.

I, Mrs Fringe, am fucking terrified. Our closest hospital is one we’ve been to many times, both their adult ER and the Peds ER sections. Many fine doctors there, some inpatient units are excellent, never had any problems in the ped ER. The adult ER? Another story entirely, and over the years it’s gotten worse and worse, to the point where I’ve said I will not go there for anything anymore. Why? Because they’re chronically understaffed, and an understaffed and overcrowded ER is dangerous, no matter how good and well trained the nurses are. Less than a year ago we were there, Husband, it was a guy from housekeeping who turned on the oxygen and gave him a nasal canula when I couldn’t get a doctor or nurse to come over when his o2 was dropping. One story of many, and that’s with me there, staying out of the way when I can/need to and making noise when I need to do that too. Again, not the fault of uncaring or lackadaisical nurses, but the limits of how many high needs patients any one person can reasonably care for, with new patients streaming in and needing assessments every few minutes. Stretchers stacked like a damned game of Tetris, many times I watched workers from transport needing to move 4-10 patients just to reach the patient they were there for and be able to get them to their next stop in the hospital.

I stay when Husband is in. I stay when Art Child is in. For all our hospital time, we don’t go unless it’s absolutely necessary. And part of when an ER visit or hospital stay is absolutely necessary, by definition, means the person being seen/assessed/admitted isn’t feeling strong, maybe can’t speak, certainly can’t make a fuss if they need something and staff are busy elsewhere. Other hospitals. It was me who yelled for the nurses in the step-down CICU after Husband’s first open heart surgery, when he turned blue and all tubes and bags filled with blood, his aorta ruptured along the suture line of his new valve. Would they have come running thirty seconds later? Would thirty seconds have mattered? It might have, considering they needed to reopen his chest there in the room and manually pump his heart on the way back to the OR. Or when Husband was on a vent and the ICU dr decided this was the perfect time to preen for the nurses and show off how the temporary pacemaker leads were/weren’t working, giving unnecessary shocks until I spoke up because he didn’t know about damage to a nerve he was expecting to see a response from because of a prior surgery (Husband, obviously, unable to tell him). Or, less crucial but important, when we had the (thankfully rare) experience of an unkind EEG tech who was too rough placing leads on my girl’s head, and she was too terrified to do anything other than cry quietly. Or the times food service sent non-diabetic meals to Husband. Or the many other times when calories in take precedent over what type of calories, so I go out for foods to tempt while the hospital trays sit uneaten. Or with MIL, when some slick talker from billing came into the room to offer threats about insurance claims and what would be owed. Yes, I kindly invited him to get the fuck out and take it up with Medicare, not a vulnerable elderly woman who’d had her chest cracked open two days before who’d only been off the vent a matter of hours.

These are just a few bad moments of lapsed or potential lapsed treatment in otherwise great care, with many, mostly reassuring moments. Every ICU nurse I’ve ever interacted with (Peds, cardiac, or general) has been great to oh my god this person should be nominated for sainthood). ICU nurses are extraordinary, with training that goes well beyond the nurse drawing blood at your local GP’s office. But when hospitals have literally overflowed into tents, it isn’t just equipment that will be in short supply, it will be staff, doctors, nurses, nurses aides, physician’s assistants, because both there are too many patients and because they themselves who are getting sick.

Yes, there are the very real extra fears that go with knowing people in my immediate world are particularly vulnerable to more severe manifestations of this virus because of pre-existing conditions. And it’s more than that.  If one of those I love needs to be admitted because of Covid-19, or what about the non-Covid-19 related reasons I have the experiences I do that haven’t magically disappeared, how will I be able to just leave them there? Maybe in a hospital, maybe in a fucking tent? Nerd Child isn’t even here. He’s safe and healthy, for now, but if things go sideways and he was to get sick? I couldn’t go to him. If Husband or Art Child or Man Child was to need hospitalization he couldn’t come to be with them either. The thought of walking away, not being there if Husband is on a vent? Literally makes me sick. One of my children? I can’t imagine it, because the pain of that very real possibility overwhelms my ability to paint that mental picture. But I can’t stop thinking about it, at least the edges of the possibility, because I have been there in “normal” times. Our normal abnormal. In fully staffed hospitals with all the needed equipment. It’s knowing that if medical equipment needs to be rationed, there’s the very real possibility those preexisting conditions will render them ineligible for a needed ventilator. It’s the incredibly stupid comments I continue to see and hear online, in the news, in the community, from stupid people still blaming the ACA, or Obama, or saying those same rationing conditions existed under “Obamacare.” Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If you’ve never experienced a loved one on a ventilator I’m glad for you. I hope you never do. It’s awful, and illness, injuries and novel viruses don’t give a shit who you vote for. But for those of us who have, repeatedly, who deal with chronic illness and disorders that make things like staffing patterns, hospital admissions, ICUs (hell, the fact that we “joke” about July being the worst time to have a crisis requiring admission because that’s when the new residents come on board), know the best cart to get coffee from part of our basic facts of life, there’s an entirely different level to this hell we call the Covid-19 pandemic.

This isn’t a potential crisis, it is a crisis. It’s real and it’s here. That was a few days ago. As of last night, there were 26,697 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in this city, 5,250 hospitalized, 1,175 in ICUs, and 450 deaths. Those numbers are just in NYC, just the confirmed cases. It may or may not be futile, but I’m doing all I can to keep me and mine safe, keep others safe from us should one of us get it. Please, please, all of you do the same.

Say. The. Words.

Come now. You–and I’m talking to you, 45, GOP, Fox News, et al–and I both know what it is you aren’t saying out loud. I have no special mind reading powers, we ALL know what you mean. So say it.

When you state the cure (social distancing, purposeful slow down of the economy) is worse than the disease, you’re saying your stocks and bank accounts are worth more than people’s lives. Hell, Tmp doesn’t even care about the economy of the country (outside of wanting to see big numbers, YUGE), he cares about his personal bank accounts and businesses.

Let’s put to the side that this makes no sense in terms of basic, surface logic. I mean, if 40-70% of the population is sick, dying, overwhelming the health care system, how great is the economy going to be? Who will be buying shit? working? The wealthy, but contrary to popular GOP opinion, the wealthy aren’t enough to keep the economy going.

When you say grandparents are willing to die for the economic health of their grandchildren, you aren’t only talking about grandparents who are 90+. You’re talking about everyone over the age of 60. You’re talking about the…what? one million? two million? grandparents in the US who are currently raising their grandchildren. You’re talking about all of the vulnerable population regardless of age, due to cancer, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, homeless, incarcerated, hospitalized for other illnesses or injuries. For all the nonsense war analogies, this isn’t war, no one is pointing a gun at people in a particular uniform. It’s a virus, not checking to see which flag you’re waving, or the date of your birth certificate, before penetrating cells. You know it. I know it. We all know it. I guess you’re assuming your wealth will protect you from dying, despite your advanced age. Statistically your odds are better than the average Joe retiree, the fact that you can access a Covid-19 test, and access it before you’re at death’s door–will automatically tip the scales your way, so not a delusional thought, though of course, no guarantee.

It is no surprise this administration has created such a dangerous scenario with its mishandling of this pandemic. It is no surprise you were unprepared and unwilling to do or say anything to upset Dear Leader, point out his lack of clothing or unwashed, groping hands. It is no surprise the cult following still standing behind this administration will throw themselves on the proverbial funeral pyre in order to stay in line and protect him, sacrifice millions–including themselves, because many of them are not only among the most vulnerable because of age, health, and economic status, but those sparsely populated red states–very limited access to health care even without a pandemic. No surprise at all. We knew it the day the GOP fell in behind Tmp as their nominee in 2016, when millions voted for him knowing what he did/didn’t stand for, what he did/didn’t understand, or care about.

I understand that doctors in some countries have had to make these types of decisions that place a value on each life because of limited supplies and equipment. I understand it may come to that in certain regions of the US. My heart goes out to the patients and their loved ones and the doctors. People go into medicine for a variety of reasons, some altruistic, some not, but I don’t know of any who go into it in order to be placed in these types of positions. A doctor, a panel of doctors, making these impossible decisions based on the best science and information available to them in the moment is a very different thing than a government making these types of decisions not because of last resort, but because money is worth more than lives–as evidenced by discussion of decisions that will increase the number of human beings who will become seriously ill, with a percentage of those dying.

Frankly, I am very willing to sacrifice myself for my family. If there is one ventilator available, and I and another member of my family need it to live, don’t hesitate. Save my children, my husband, my mother in law. But that is a personal choice. I will not decide your life has less value than mine. I do not believe the lives of my family, my friends, even myself, are worth less than the lives of the uberwealthy nervous only because of the worth of their stocks. So go ahead, you cowards, blustering behind your stock market charts from under the shadow of your red ball caps. Use your words. Tell me it’s worth it to you to take the life of my 18 year old immunocompromised kiddo. My late 50s husband who has worked his entire life, paid taxes, cared about others, raised three very fine children, isn’t done with life yet, and is more upset by the term unemployed than he was facing a rare and risky open heart surgery.

Reopening everything, ordering people back to work, will not save the economy. It will kill people unnecessarily. Seniors, yes. Also health care workers, middle aged people, young people, maybe even pregnant people–and we all know how much you care about life pre-birth. I understand this, and you do, too. Fucking say it.

Top of the Heap

There’s a bit from the manuscript I’m querying that keeps going round in my head. Is it in poor taste to quote from my own work? Do rules about poor taste apply when we’re in the midst of a pandemic and facing the apocalypse? *shrug* I’ll quote it anyway.

He should have missed me. Pined for me when we weren’t speaking, begun to waste without my dumplings. But in fact he looked fine when I snuck upstairs and watched him hauling cases of clean glasses to the bar. Healthy. Maybe he’d gained a pound or two. How could that be? I was good for him, damn it. I would be there, even later, when he got sicker and most people got afraid. Maybe. If he wanted. If I wanted. I turned my mind sideways, so’s not to think how people could be good and bad for each other at the same time. Simulcast, like a presidential speech, or a Grateful Dead concert, when the sound was supposed to line up from the TV and the radio exactly right, but there was always that lag, so you didn’t know where to put your ears.

That last bit, not knowing where to put your ears. That’s how I feel these days, but I don’t know where to put my mind, can’t quite think about anything straight on without needing to let my thoughts slide to the next, and yet now matter how much slip sliding between the neurons, those thoughts always slide to another aspect of Covid-19. The danger to my family, personally, health-wise? Slip. The economic ramifications? Slide. The thought that if one of my loved ones ends up hospitalized I don’t think I’d be allowed to actually, physically be with them? Slither. The entire country changing forever? Well, that one is something we’ve been looking at for close to four years now, isn’t it? Sigh. And what I’m talking about today. New York. The city. My New York.

The rate of confirmed cases in New York City is, so far, following the terrifying curve that’s been expected, with confirmed cases rising exponentially. For the most part the parameters for testing are still strict because of limited tests available, so when I say there were close to 4000 confirmed cases by late yesterday afternoon, it isn’t my imagination run wild to say there are likely tens of thousands of actual cases through the city already, confirmed or not, severe or not, symptomatic or not. The only thing moving faster than the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in NY right now is the number of jobs lost, which dwarfs the number sick &/or testing positive. People in the music industry, hospitality, restaurants, retail, on and on.

Much of the city looks like a movie set right now. The flats and backdrops are there, subway cars empty and waiting, lighting is right, but still far from filming, only a few people moving about here and there. I know that is good news, our best and–except for testing (out of individual control) and hand washing–only defense. Still creepy as fuck.

Being a born and bred New Yorker is its own cultural identity. You can be anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, and if you say you’re a New Yorker, people have images that come to mind. Images of the tourist traps you avoid, the cultural institutions you grew up frequenting, the shops and restaurants they’ve maybe dreamed of visiting but for you are–were?–daily life. If, like me, you’re of a certain age and/or from certain boroughs, you don’t actually have to identify yourself as a New Yorker, not for nothing but your accent does it for you, recognized no matter where you are.

Broadway is dark. I love live theater, and yes, I love Broadway shows. I haven’t been able to go regularly in years, out of budget, but man oh man, nothing like it. Those shows are mind-bogglingly expensive to produce and run. With weeks, maybe months, of no sales, how is it going to get up and running again? And those are the big boys, what about the off-off Broadway shows?

The Metropolitan Opera laid off its union employees yesterday. Union employees. Think about that.

Though still technically allowed to run delivery/pick up service, many of the restaurants have closed. Restaurants in New York, even the top ones with the Big Name Chefs, run on a very, very narrow margin. The restaurants everyone has seen on tv shows/movies, read about in Page 6, and or the local corner joints that have been serving locals for decades. Katz’s Deli (1903), Lombardi’s Pizza (1905), Peter Luger (1887), Tavern on the Green (1934), The Rainbow Room (1934), Totonno’s (1924), The Russian Tea Room (1927), Delmonico’s (1837), Sylvia’s (1962), Nathan’s (1916), Jing Fong (1978), Russ & Daughters (1914), Barney Greengrass (1908) and I’m guessing literally, easily, a hundred others people world wide would recognize the name or interior shots of.  Weeks/months of no income?

And the shops. Not just the big names that are more of a tourist attraction than shopping expedition for most (Bloomingdale’s, Tiffany’s, Bergdorf Goodman), but the ones that are known through the city and often across the world. Shops that represent New York, make this city this city. Mood Fabric, Matt Umanov Guitar’s, Rudy’s Music, Canal Street Market, Moscot’s Eyewear, Kiehl’s, and on and on and on. I can’t think anymore.

I’m no stranger to long running businesses closing their doors, no New Yorker is. With the rise of commercial rents having gone from ludicrous to impossible over the past couple of decades, the sight of a beloved local shop gated with a big long sign saying goodbye, thank you, and after X generations we’ve had to close because we lost our lease (only to sit empty for months, years, before being replaced by yet another half empty high rise, a CVS, a Starbucks, a bank whose name is going to change by the time you blink because it’s been absorbed by another bank) is a familiar one. Always a moment for sadness and reflection on how very clean and cold and corporate so many old favorite areas have become. But not everywhere, and not all the businesses.

So I’m thinking, when we get to the other side of this–and we will, whether it’s weeks, months, or over a year–what will be left of New York? My New York, our New York. Who and what businesses will be able to ride it out in this city of those that represent the city and the people in it, not the chain outposts that are already all too common a sight. Yes, we are a constantly evolving city, it’s what allowed it to become an icon and identity unto itself, self-absorbed though it may be. But those often small, multi-generational, not necessarily big name or big dollar places? They’re the heart that keeps beating.