• Diaries,  slice of life

    Salvaging Succulents

    One of the nice things that has come from my complete breakdown of the last two years (thanks pandemic! and encroaching fascism! and illness! and–) is that I have picked up keeping houseplants as a hobby. I’m a reformed black thumb. I started out keeping succulents (mostly very rugged, hard to kill via neglect), so while I have around twenty different planters around the house with a variety of botanicals, succulents remain special to me.

    A bowl of small succulents in a variety of colors.Succulents are fun plants, in part because they’re so strange to look at. They come in shapes both organic and geometric. The variety is astounding even if you glance around the grocery store plant section: colorful orange tips on green fingers, miniature trees, violet florets, little barrels with cruel thorns.

    A collection of small unidentified succulents. I truly have no idea what any of them are. I think there’s a cereus sp in there, but…?
    You can see multiple cacti of mine in this image, including a wax agave in the background. The toy mushroom is not a cactus.

    I pick up most of my succulents in little discount bins. Some of them come to me from drugstores, tucked next to a register, where they want two dollars for a pup which has a straw flower glued to its head.

    Others come from over-packed bowls at commercial nurseries, where they’ve been sprayed with so much pesticidal soap that the substrate is glued solid. Water can’t permeate, and if it does, it can’t evaporate, leaving these little jewels to rot.

    It’s not hard to grow succulent pups. They’re “cheap.” A mother plant might spawn dozens of these in a season, and the pups can live mostly dehydrated for months. They aren’t meant to flourish like this. They’re made to look pretty and die.

    Succulents which have been uprooted, waiting to be repotted.
    Most of us need a little TLC once in a while.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t flourish. I like little bargain succulents because it’s easy to help them live their best lives. If you break them out of hard soil and give them room to breathe, they can end up growing up lovely to produce pups of their own. The cycle goes on.

    That’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve only started propagating succulents sincerely in the last few months, so I’m not very far into it. I don’t propagate with the plan of selling. I just want to fill my world with succulents. I keep sticking them in new containers. Cracked mugs. Old jars. Anything that can hold dirt can hold a succulent.

    After a couple years locked in rigid stasis, paralyzed by fear, helpless to indecision, it feels like a relief to learn something new. And to use the new things I learn to observe change and growth in other life forms. I don’t always manage to salvage the succulents, but just going through the work of it calms my soul.

  • Diaries,  slice of life

    Seven Ways to be Stoned

    One.

    You’re in New York City for the first time. Your friend’s walk-up is cluttered and cozy, as homey as it should be, and it smells like weed. She smokes a lot. She eats even more. You haven’t done much before, but she offers a bowl to you, so you clumsily navigate lighter and pipe.

    Truthfully, you’re scared to have a lighter that close to your face. But you’re in your twenties, your friend is in her thirties, she’s like your big sister. You want to look like you know what you’re doing. So you light it–flick–and your nose gets warm while you touch the flame to a corner of the herb. You inhale as it smolders. You get a little smoke. You think.

    You go out on her balcony, which is small and made of wood so wobbly you’re not sure it can hold your weight, much less a charcoal barbecue. Neither of you know how to use a charcoal barbecue. You laugh a lot trying to get it to light in the wind. You keep a fire extinguisher on hand just in case.

    You feel the warmth after another hit on the pipe. The vegetables you grilled with your best friend taste better. You laugh a little louder.

     

    Two.

    It’s cold outside, but you don’t want to smoke inside. You put on a balaclava. You wrap yourself in a bathrobe. You put on slipper socks. You huddle under a blanket on your balcony and light your bong, hands cupped around the pipe to shelter it from the wind. It still won’t light and your fingers are getting stiff. Grab the plasma lighter. It’s not as good, somehow, but it will make your herb burn even when the wind is blasting.

    You take a couple deep hits that make you cough plumes into the chilly night, and the smoke is sucked away to disperse against the crystalline starlight. The harsh hits are bad for your lungs. You go inside, take a shot of Pepto to soothe your throat, puff on the inhaler to open your lungs. You settle into bed with a cold nose, cold fingers, and a dizziness that makes the room sway in the wind with you comfortable in its womb.

     

    Three.

    You’ve gotten good at baking with cannabis. People like your cookies–some of them say you can’t taste the weed on it, which isn’t true, because your husband cringes to nibble. But many people like the skunky taste. You like the skunky taste.

    You’re careful with the cookies. You can’t have children getting into them, so you entomb them in a bag, carefully label it with contents and date, and stash it in the very back of the deep freezer. Since you’ve filled it with almond slivers, oats, and raisins, your kids won’t eat them even if they find them. But you want to be sure. You want to be responsible.

    You’re so responsible that you don’t try the dough or the cookies. The butter must be infused, and the cookies baked, cooled, and stored, before your kids come home from school. You don’t want to be stoned when they get here.

    Once they’re safe, you clean the skillet where you made cannabis ghee and prepare an omelet. It doesn’t taste like weed. Only when you’re sprawled on the couch in awe of the music melting through your muscles do you realize you didn’t clean the pan enough, and now you’re very, very stoned despite your naive efforts. On the bright side, while your cookies do taste like weed, your omelet did not.

     

    Four.

    It’s a cold, windy night on the Pacific coast. It’s so dark that the beach and the ocean are indistinguishable from each other. You’re in love with the woman at your side, sneaking onto the boardwalk amid the dunes. You haven’t told her about this big warm secret coiled in your belly. Your bodies hold warmth between them while you shelter the pipe. It’s the second pipe you bought on this vacation. The first one wasn’t properly drilled with holes, and it weighs down your pocket. It’s pressing against her thigh. She smells like coconut oil and she’s beaming at you when flickering lighter shines gold on her face.

    You both inhale. You take all the smoke inside of you and breathe with each other, seated on the sandy steps. The ocean roars slower than your breath. There’s a dark shape on the shore. You can’t be sure if it’s a signpost or a man coming to bust you for getting stoned on the beach in the middle of the night. It’s scary. But being scared is funny.

    Her skin is so soft, so smooth. You don’t know it yet but six months later, you won’t be talking. This moment that makes you giddy with the joy and desire will be only a memory. The shape on the beach is a signpost. Nobody cares you’re smoking in the dunes. You’ll still have the pipe without a hole drilled properly, and sometimes you’ll hold it in your hand and remember how her braids felt against your lips.

     

    Five.

    This morning, your cat died. She was in your arms, swaddled in a towel, while a gentle veterinarian injected the medicine to stop her heart. You carried your kitty to the car so she could be cremated. You set her in the back seat on the towel. That pile of fluff is all that remains of a life you loved and cherished and tended your entire adult life. When the car drives away, she’s gone.

    There are cannabis cookies in the freezer, carefully labeled and stored out of reach. Each one has about fifteen milligrams of THC, you estimate based on how they make you feel. You eat two, three, four. You keep eating them until you feel nothing but dizzy warmth. Until your eyes are too dry to cry. It’s not healthy, you’re not coping, but maybe you don’t have to cope right now.

    A couple of days later, your baby is brought back in an urn. You hold her. She weighs nothing. She no longer purrs and rolls over to get belly rubs. She doesn’t put a paw on your arm while you’re using the computer mouse. You make a shrine to her because she’s so big inside you, some of that feeling has to be set down somewhere else.

    Two more cookies, three more, four. The months pass and you’re always stoned. But by the end of it, you can hold her urn and cry. You stop taking so much weed. The emotions come back and you live in a life without your cat. Somehow you handle it. You have to. Grief doesn’t feel better when you’re stoned, not the way that love and music do.

     

    Six.

    It’s an afternoon on the weekend. Your kids want to play LEGO. You popped a chocolate earlier, so you’re mellow, and life’s stresses have faded away. The house needs to be cleaned. The yard’s a mess. You haven’t showered. But now you’re on the couch, cozy and floating, so it’s easy to give yourself permission to fuck off and play LEGO.

    Your son gives you the broken minifig without arms. He plays the one with long hair. You climb walls and jump off with silly cries and your children laugh and laugh and laugh. It feels good and simple, the way childhood felt. Anything can happen. The couch can become canyons. The pillows are trampolines. When your kids bounce, you bounce too, and their kisses feel like going to heaven. If only they could always be this happy. If only you could always let yourself be this happy.

     

    Seven.

    It’s raining. It doesn’t do that much around there. You grab the papers, the grinder, the funnel, a lighter. You settle under a blanket on the couch in your gazebo. Rain dribbles off the edges while you pack a joint.

    Life’s been hard, and you’re tempted demolish that joint in one go. Suck it down until there’s nothing but a roach too annoying to smoke.

    But you take it slow. A couple good hits and you stub it out. Then you lay back on the couch, close your eyes, and listen to the rain, knowing that there’s nothing to do today. The rain is like music. It feels good when you hear it. Sometimes the wind blows drops against your cheek. Your husband is with the children, your dogs are warm on your legs, and there’s nothing but you and a few puffs of smoke on a wet gray day.

  • Diaries,  slice of life

    The Gauntlet of Beauty

     I am 31.5 years old, and with the onset of the thirties comes relentless reminders that I’m aging. I’ve accepted my crow’s feet because they look sexy, and the general firmness lacking from my skin is unavoidable, so I don’t stress it.

    Unfortunately, with the onset of the thirties also comes a certain surrender to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as vaping nicotine. I started doing it this year. I don’t recommend it. (Prior to this, my only nicotine exposure was occasional social hookah, as you do in your glowing twenties.)

    Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it basically dries you up like a big walking corpse. Perhaps you can get away with being shriveled by poison in your youth (I wouldn’t know, I waited until a responsible age to start destroying myself) but in your thirties, it makes fine lines rather promptly. In the last ~6 months since I started vaping nicotine, my mouth has developed pucker lines. They are small but noticeable to me.

    Sooooo I am quitting nicotine because suffering vanity is much more obvious than whatever hellstorm I’m making in my throat/lungs. I need another coping mechanism that won’t make me look like Aunt Bertha who lives at your neighborhood bar. But still, I have these lines, the beginning of them, and now I can’t see anything else in the mirror.

    Being that I am a clever, dogged, calculated Aunt Bertha, I immediately researched What The Fuck To Do About This, assuming the answer is Botox. It turns out that Botox is ONE answer, but there are cheaper, less botulismy methods to remedy this as well. 

    I got an inexpensive high frequency device and a micro derma roller. The science on whether or not these actually DO what they claim is still out, as far as I can tell, because a cursory Googling yielded only clickbait and no scientific papers. My assumption is that they’re utter hogwash, but maybe if I believe hard enough, the placebo effect will plump my skin.

    The high frequency device looks like a phallus where you insert a delicate glass wand and then poke yourself in the face. Did you ever play with those plasma balls, where you touch the glass and it lights up? It’s like that but for your face. You can turn the frequency high enough (what frequency is it talking about anyway?) that it feels like constant static electricity. Apparently this does something. Like it microwaves under your skin to terrify your body into making more collagen. Yes you put this on your face.

    The other thing is the micro derma roller, which is like a handheld iron maiden, also for your face. It’s a ball covered in spikes and you rub it on your face. It feels the way you would expect it feels to rub spikes on your face. Then you follow up with a soothing acid treatment, which can now penetrate deeper because you cut holes. Into your face.

    I’ve now done both of these rituals once, and I suppose I plan to do them again, and at least once or twice a week for a few months. Whether or not they work, I’m optimistic that 31.5 years old is young enough that I’ll produce more collagen and fill out these lines to a small degree with time anyway, as long as I stop filling my lungs with nicotine clouds. The effect of the devices may be strictly placebo but time is not.

    Some resentful cave-feminist within me is nonstop irate with this, running some high frequency wand over my lips and then jabbing myself in the face with needles. It doesn’t escape my notice that they both hurt. You can feasibly jab yourself with the needles hard enough to bleed, which may or may not be a desired effect. (Kardashians bleed from micro derma rolling but Kardashians also marry people like Kanye so I live a less extreme life.)

    There’s something to be said about beauty rituals raging against the inexorable march of time and the consequences of our bad decisions being so painful. On one hand, it feels like the beauty industry is laughing at the stupid things people will pay to do to themselves. On the other hand, it feels like an illusory gauntlet through which many of us pass on our way to accepting middle age; it hurts, so it must be doing something, it must be changing me.

    Sometimes I look at getting plastic surgery done. Or even just Botox. I look at the websites, I look at the prices, I read about healing difficulties. I could probably do it. Then I remember that learning to love myself has zero cost and zero recovery time, and we’re all aging at the same speed anyway. So I won’t do that, probably. But I will spend forty dollars for the privilege of scraping my face with tiny needles and then dripping hyaluronic into my cavernous pores, bleeding my fear of aging in fine red lines down either side of my mouth.

  • Diaries,  mental health

    How I Didn’t Spend My Summer Vacation

    Idea #1: Going to Disneyland. Checking out Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge would have been part of it, mostly in the forms of getting a lightsaber and riding the Millennium Falcon attraction. Most of it would have been getting to laze in Disneyland in my favorite ways in the summer: fastpasses to the water rides, Pirates and Ariel in midday when it’s hottest and I’m about to go to the hotel to take an afternoon nap, seeing what new Marvel face characters are around that I like and haven’t taken pictures with yet. Maybe my dream of being on Space Mountain when it goes down, and getting to see what it looks like when the lights go up, might finally come true. And if I went down there, I could venture out of Anaheim and go to places in Los Angeles I’ve always wanted to visit, like the Ripped Bodice.

    Variation: Going to a non-Disneyland Disney park. Maybe Disney World, except…Florida in the summer? Maybe not. The dream would be either Disneyland Paris, which I could pair with other French touristing because I’ve never been to Europe at all, or Tokyo Disneyland, which I have been to but not since I was a kindergartener, and they have DisneySea there now. (Also, visiting Japan as an adult!)

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: I’ve been to Disneyland a fair amount, and I prefer going in October or January. This is probably even more true with a new, very popular section of the park; the combination of summer heat (and a lot more humidity than my home turf) with on-season crowds are no joke even without Galaxy’s Edge open. And I’ve been having less fun on water rides lately. (Not that I ever rode Splash Mountain for anything other than the drops. That ride. Oof.) Plus, traffic down there is never exactly fun, especially if you are going into Los Angeles itself.

    Idea #2: Las Vegas. Frankly, all I would have to have is an AirBNB with a pool (or a hotel with a pool that isn’t also a club, I guess), but I enjoy so much about hopping on- and off-Strip. Maybe I finally would have done the New York, New York roller coaster that I’ve always thought about. I’ve also always wanted to see a big artist’s residency there, although I don’t have anyone particular in mind at the moment. The Super Rich Person’s Dream would be to do designer shopping, particularly at somewhere like Alexander McQueen. A more modest dream would be a helicopter ride, probably over the Strip, but hopping somewhere like the Grand Canyon would be fun, too.

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: I’ve been in Las Vegas in August before. Ovens are more comfortable. (Late September has been a great time to go in the past, by the way. Like, Life is Beautiful time period, although I’ve never gone there specifically.)

    Idea #3: San Francisco, possibly during Pride weekend. It’s a big dream of mine to do a gay tour of the city; I’ve been there a few times, but I’ve never ventured anywhere near the Castro, for instance. There’s also more generic touristy stuff I haven’t done, like go to Alcatraz or art museums. I could sneer at the gentrification and tech bros that have ruined a lot of the city while also eating great food and pretending I’m in a less soapy version of Tales of the City (2019). And if I felt like venturing out of the city, I could walk amongst the redwoods, which I’ve never done, and visit Monterey again.

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: Did I mention the gentrification and tech bros? I really do want to do gay things in San Francisco in the not-too-distant future, though.

    Idea #4: Seattle. I almost applied to Clarion West this year, and I’m really hoping I get an application together and accepted in the next five years. I’ve never been to Seattle, but I have some online mutuals there that I might meet up with, and even if I didn’t, I could get suggestions of fun things to do from them online. I don’t know that I have a lot of interest in things like the Space Needle, but I would definitely swing by the first Starbucks and the Museum of Pop Culture (to name just one museum—can you tell I like museums?). And yes, potentially pretend I’m in 10 Things I Hate About You. If I didn’t want to just stay in Seattle, I would absolutely cross over into Canada, and if I drove there and back, I could also go to Portland and meet up with some friends there.

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: I don’t have a super overpowering urge to go to Seattle specifically, although visiting a new-to-me big city would be swell.

    Idea #5: New York City. Romance Writers of America is having their yearly convention there as I write this, and even if I didn’t go to the conference itself, I would love to meet up with online mutuals who are there for it (and other online mutuals who aren’t). There’s way too much in the NYC area that I would love to do to list; just the Broadway musicals I would try to see could be its own post. One thing I would definitely do, if possible, is Sleep No More. Immersive Macbeth! There would almost definitely be a concert I would want to see while I was there, and you’d better believe I’d go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and dream of Harry Styles as I walked through the Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibit.

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: I follow enough NYC-based people online to know what a clusterfluff the subways are right now. I suspect everything I’d want to do would be super spread out, and I tend to like to go on vacation and stay in a closeish radius to my hotel, which would probably be even more true if the trains weren’t a super-viable option.

    So what have I done this summer? Go to a concert in Sacramento, mostly. Go to a movie and eat a giant soft pretzel. A lot of struggling to sleep in my own bed and failing. A lot of looking at the front door and shaking at the thought of stepping outside. Navigating breakups, both in terms of medical professionals in my life and the fallout of other people’s falling outs. Enjoying the cool summer evenings and the thunderstorm we had. Cuddling with a pit bull puppy and missing the cat who I used to cuddle with who died in the spring. Playing the Spider-Man game and seeing the sights of a fictional Manhattan. Playing the Sims 4 and pretending I could be a mermaid in a Hawaii-like place. Trying to regain the pieces of a life poor mental health likes to steal from me again and again.

    Why this is okay: I’m tired. God, I’m tired. Time to close my laptop and go back to sleep.

    (Big thanks to my Patrons for sponsoring this essay!)

  • A sleepy puppy sunbathing on a pillow.
    Diaries,  slice of life

    My dog is so gay. The gayest dog ever.

    Sara’s Diary, March 2019

    Sara’s Diary, March 2019

    I purchased a fifteen-week-old pit bull puppy on March first. He is a legitimate pit bull: an American Pit Bull Terrier (registered under American Staffordshire Terrier with the AKC), born of an “oops” litter between a dog trainer’s pet and a friend’s miniaturized tank. At least, I assume that the father was a miniaturized tank, because my pit bull is very good at running into things with his head and bad at changing directions before that happens.

    His name is King. All my pets are named after authors or literary characters, and I’ve been waiting to have a Stephen King homage for years. In truth, it’s a very silly name for a very silly dog; King sounds butch, manly, and my dog is a toddler with more skin than common sense.

    Even though this goofball with a whip-tail of destruction is a bundle of licks and nibbles, I’ve already heard a lot of praise for how manly he is. His name is manly. His American flag collar is so manly. (And patriotic!) This was the last thing I hoped to communicate about my pit bull, considering there are still anti-breed laws in many places that treat pit bulls as dangerous monsters.

    In much of white America, masculinity is a prickly thing, both hostile and defensive. It’s synonymous with being “tough.” I don’t ever want my dog to look tough—for his safety.

    So of course I bought my pit bull, King, with his tank-shaped head and shoulders and destructo-tail a very bright pink reflective leash.

    You can’t miss how pink this leash is. It’s a climbing rope, so it’s an inch thick. King likes to take himself for walks so he’ll often have it looped in his mouth while he trots home, looking for a good bed to nap in.

    Pink this vivid is culturally reserved for the feminine and gay. My puppy has done nothing to indicate his gender identity, but he does like to sit on my other boy-dogs’ faces, so it’s safe to assume that he is gay at this point. And why not? I’ll be removing his testicles soon enough. He’ll be left semi-infantilized for the duration of his brawny life. He yips like Satine in Moulin Rouge. He flings his head sassily when he argues with me.

    I don’t think he’ll disavow anyone of the notion he’s gay.

    He’s very cute. He looks harmless with it. And now people won’t immediately praise him for perceived toughness.

    This morning I walked my dog on his bright-pink leash. I passed a neighbor that I know to some small degree: he has two enormous German Shepherds, he loves football, and he’s got a military background.

    His dogs sniffed my dogs, and we briefly, happily chatted about the fact I had a new puppy.

    “How old is she?” he asked.

    “Oh, he’s only about four, four and a half months,” I said, trying to remember what day it was.

    If people “misgender” my dog, I will often avoid using pronouns so as not to deal with the awkwardness that follows. People feel like they have to apologize for misgendering your dog. They always apologize to me, rather than my dog, who does not care about his pronouns and actually has no idea what pronouns are, although he’d really like to chew on a pinecone for a little while.

    And indeed, it was like the conversation ground to a halt when I said “he.”

    My neighbor’s mouth fell open. He said, “He’s male?”

    I said, “Yep, he’s a boy,” and petted the enormous German Shepherds.

    His wife and I chatted briefly about something else, but we had not yet moved on from the leash issue. The husband interrupted me to say, “I guess I was just thrown off because of the pink leash.”

    “Oh, yeah,” I said. “Doesn’t it look nice with his fawn fur? Pink and fawn look so nice together.” Plus, my dog is light in tone on his paws, his chin, his eyes. He looks like a buttery Valentine’s cherub of a pit bull.

    The neighbor simply did not respond.

    He looked alarmed, somehow. They walked away quickly, and I won’t guess at whether they had places to be or if they really didn’t want to talk to the weird lady with her gay puppy.

    I’d been hoping that dressing my boy dog in a girly manner would make him more appealing. Now I realize that making him look gay never made him less threatening. Bold defiance to cultural norms doesn’t exactly make the conventional hetero cis white American feel more comfortable with any situation.


    Sara’s Diary: May 2019

    It’s now May and my little angel is six months old.

    We’ve had more encounters with our neighbor, again awkwardly stumbling over pronouns and being loudly reminded by his wife that the ambiguously-leashed dog is male. (“Oh! I’m so sorry!”)

    I’ve ditched the patriotic collar for a martingale with a silver chain dangling at his throat and a braided leather leash in all the colors of the rainbow. If he were to attend Pride, King would surely march with the burly, loving BDSM bears.

    His dressing doesn’t seem to matter. People are threatened by King even though he has roughly the genial personality of a Nutter Butter cookie sandwich and the vigorous affection of Elmira from Tiny Toons.

    Most people are happy to see him. The people who aren’t tend to be unhappy in dramatic ways.

    One time a man literally ran from a park because he realized I had a pit bull. King was so sad. He had no clue why that man didn’t want to pet him.

    Frankly, Park Guy was right to be afraid.

    King can’t be around other dogs at the same time as food or toys. He’s a feisty gay, sassy about his belongings. He won’t make you bleed for touching his Himalayan yak chew but he’ll drool into your ear while making Chewbacca noises. I’ve become hyper-alert to his tantrum pre-warning signals and become adept at crating him for a nap before he turns into a drag queen backstage who realized someone touched her wig.

    One time he hurt me because he jumped on me to say hello while I was wearing shorts. His little puppy claws hadn’t been properly manicured in too long—he made me bleed. Also, I have seventeen bruises on my shins from his tail alone.

    Also he stuck his tongue in my mouth. It tasted like farts. I drank a family-sized bottle of Listerine.

    Loving this puppy is deadly.

    But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being unpalatable to society is a feature, not a bug. People who run from his big jaws and stubborn nose don’t get to snuggle in the hammock with him either. I’ve had three blissful months with my gay dog and I couldn’t be prouder or gayer.

    86228457-5285-43C8-93B5-DEA9EF58E2C7