09/20/22

My Covid Story

A few months ago, my son Chris spent some time in a car with his girlfriend and another person, going back and forth between Sacramento and the Tahoe area. The other person had Covid at the time, and didn’t really tell Chris or his girlfriend. At the same time, my daughter Bryanna picked up Covid from work. I went by her apartment and took her a drink from Dutch Bros. Chris kissed his girlfriend and came home. Then we all found out about the Covid vectors, and I was sure Chris and I were both infected.

We didn’t get sick. We both tested negative. Bullet dodged.

A couple of weeks ago, Melissa and I went to Chicago for WorldCon, where there wound up being 60 reported cases of Covid.

We came home, and we didn’t get sick. We both tested negative. Bullet dodged again.

During the Writing Excuses Retreat 2022, the first reported case amongst our group was announced in the middle of the week. By Thursday, I had a tickle in the back of my throat, but tested negative. Thursday evening, my symptoms became much more pronounced. I hoped I was just exhausted, and that a good night’s sleep would set me right.

I woke up the next morning and felt like garbage. I tested positive. I am not Neo, after all.

Lots of friends and acquaintances talk about mild symptoms, and that it was no big deal. A couple people in my perimeter have said that if they hadn’t taken a test, they might not have known that they had Covid at all.

Lucky devils.

It hit me hard. One of the doctors on the ship gave me Robitussin and Nyquil equivalents. He may or may not have said something about getting lots of rest. If he did, I took it to heart. When I got back to my room, I took a dose of the red stuff instead of the blue stuff, in case I wanted to stay up and write during my sick time, and then I promptly crawled into bed and slept for 26 hours. Friday doesn’t exist for me.

Melissa was not sick at this time. She may have had the option to change rooms, but she didn’t want to leave me, and I selfishly didn’t want her to go, either. She brought me food and fluid throughout Friday, but I only remember a little of it. I was apparently very grumpy about it. I just tried to sleep to get to the other side of the pain, because there was a lot of it.

On Saturday morning, I got up and went to the bathroom. Melissa wasn’t in the room. She might have gone to deck 4 to read. She might have gone to find herself some food. I don’t remember. I didn’t want her to get sick, and I remember turning away from her all the time to avoid breathing on her. When she was in the room with me, I tried going to the opposite side. It turns out, that little dance was useless, but I really didn’t want her to get sick, too, because I at last knew first hand what it was like, and I did not wish for her to suffer.

I coughed as I entered the bathroom. Not a particularly weak cough, either. I put some force behind it, but it didn’t move the material in my chest enough. It moved it some, which is to say that thick, heavy mucus entered a part of my throat it should not have. It felt like a stone lodged near my vocal cords.

I tried to swear and discovered I could not speak. Then I realized I couldn’t breathe.

I could not breathe.

Fear hit me, but not panic, exactly. I could see myself in the mirror. My eyes went wide. I remember thinking, “Oh. This is Covid. This is how people die from Covid. Choking to death.”

That could have been my end. It was close.

I figured out that I could get a trickle of air in if I tried hard enough, and I did. Through what felt like a bent straw in my throat, I managed to inflate my lungs as much as I could, and then I tried to cough again.

The blockage ejected. I spit at least some of it out in the sink. It was colorful.

I could breathe again.

I believe the long sleep is what got me in trouble. I was a bit dehydrated, which made the mucus thicker in my lungs. After drinking and eating, I started to feel much, much better. There was still pain in all my joints, and a headache, and it hurt to swallow, but the pains were starting to recede. By the afternoon, the pain was almost all gone, and all I was left with was the wildly fluctuating fever and a world of snot.

Every day since then has been a ton of better. Right now, I feel like I have a head cold, and I’m almost over it.

Catching Covid while on the cruise meant that I couldn’t come home when planned. We came back to Galveston, and around 20 of us Covid+ people from the retreat got transferred to 2 AirBnBs. I’ve been keeping my spirits up, and trying to help the others around me. I’ve made meals a few times, and it’s been a pretty good way to deal with being confined. It’s been a good place to recover.

Yesterday was a bad day, though. Yesterday deserves its own post, but it’s part of My Covid Story, now, so I’ll include it here.

Yesterday, Monday, September 19th, started with a call from Chris. Our cat Paws was in trouble.

Paws had problems while we were away. About the time I started to show signs of Covid, Paws had stopped eating, and Chris took him to the vet. Paws needed fluids and food, and there were signs of multiple organ failures. It looked bad, bad, bad for him. He probably should have been put down at that point and saved him any additional suffering, but apparently the vet was more hopeful than that, and scheduled a number of treatments, thinking he would get better.

Monday morning, he was not getting better. Chris was having to deal with it all alone. Something happened. Paws made some kind of noise. His tongue was sticking out, and he stopped breathing for a few seconds. Things were happening, and Chris was scared. He put him in his car and started racing to the vet emergency care, which was about 20 minutes away. During the drive, he called Melissa.

Melissa spoke to him, and then I heard it in her voice. Covid. It finally got her.

We tried to give as much reassurance to Chris as we could, but there was only so much we could do. His two sick parents were halfway across the country, and the cat wasn’t showing any signs of life.

Paws passed away. He will not be there to greet us when we finally manage to get home.

A little bit later, I made Melissa take a Covid test. In the dim light, it looked like she tested negative again. She took a picture of it and sent it to the kids, and looking at it on our phones, the truth was made that much more obvious. In addition to her being congested, and having a fever, and aching all over, there was a faint line at the T on the test.

Melissa was not Neo, either.

If Melissa managed to remain Covid free, we would have transferred to a hotel in Houston tonight, then double masked and flown home on Wednesday. Our plans needed to change, so we’ll be here through the end of the week.

There is some relief in Melissa turning up Covid positive at this point. I’m no longer doing a weird dance, trying not to breathe on her. I don’t have to mask around her. We can cuddle when we go to sleep again, though she’s currently a bundle of lava.

Last night, I finished the first draft of a story that was very challenging to write. Today, I read it to her.

The company around me is very nice. There is a lot of support here. As far as isolation is concerned, a person could do much worse.

That is My Covid Story. I should probably add the words “so far.” I still have symptoms, and we’re not home yet. But I think I see how this story will end, and this is enough.

So far.

09/13/22

Dealing with Brain Weasels

At this moment, I’m sitting in the conference room of the Liberty of the Seas. We are docked at Costa Maya, and the ship is mostly empty as people go offshore to enjoy excursions and land-based adventure. There’s a roleplaying game going on about 15 feet away from me. Several other people are in the conference room with their laptops open, quietly writing. I am on vacation, surrounded by My People, doing exactly what I want to do.

I should be happy, but… I just feel tired, and a little bit frustrated. Maybe a little bit disillusioned.

In the last couple of days, I’ve seen some things that I can’t unsee. It keeps me from being as na├»ve as I want to be.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I can’t just relax and enjoy the moment. I want to be present and appreciate where I am on this journey. I want to open up and connect. It’s just so, so hard.

This year, I’m volunteering to help with all the fiddly little things that make the conference successful. Things like rearranging chairs and tables in the conference room, rotating the daily challenge sheets, organizing and coordinating the Office Hours… that sort of thing. There’s no benefit to this activity. It’s just a way to give back and help other people have a good time.

This kind of service usually quiets the brain weasels, because it doesn’t let me just sit around and dwell on myself. I’m not sure it’s working, though. I feel unsatisfied. Anxious. Sad.

At one point yesterday, I sat still and considered quitting. Not the volunteer work, but the writing itself. Just… give up. There are so many people trying to do the same thing as me, and I don’t know that there is that much room in the world for it. Not everyone grows up to be an astronaut. Most writers do not become authors.

Why did I want to quit? It wasn’t for lack of confidence. At this moment, I feel like I have the talent and skill to be successful. I wanted to quit because we only get one life, and I want to be happy. If I reach the end of my life and I have dozens of completed novels unpublished and unseen, will I be happy? Will the measure of happiness in my life be high if I spent all of it wanting something I could never have?

Some friends encourage me. They tell me that I’m going to make it. That something good will happen. But there is so much about this business that is outside the writer’s control. It takes luck, which I’ve never had in ample supply.

The doubt is a brain weasel, digging through my thoughts and emotions, chewing away at the wiring of my brain matter, making it hard to enjoy the journey.

I’m not going to quit. I will keep going, even if it means I end up in the scenario I just described, having spent my entire life pursuing something out of reach.

But some days it is really, really hard to find joy in the work. I’m on a cruise, surrounded by writers and acquaintances, with no pressure upon me other than what I’ve placed upon myself. I should be really happy right now, and the brain weasels are getting in the way. Perhaps by the end of the week, I will feel better.

09/5/22

Chicon8 – Going Out with a Bang

I think I said something about yesterday’s post being my last one on Chicon unless something interesting happens. Well… last night, Melissa and I had the distinct pleasure of taking Michael Gallowglas, Patrick Tomlinson, Cliff Winnig, and David Gerald to dinner. It was an absolutely fantastic time.

It was just so, so good. What happens when you fill a table with storytellers? You have a great time.

The dinner is part of a tradition I started a long time ago, which is one night of the convention, I’m going to take a bunch of people out to dinner, my treat. I can be a bit awkward when it comes to socializing, so this is the one moment in the convention where I can overcome that and offer a good time.

Last night was probably the best one I’ve ever been a part of.

When I made the reservation, I tried to plan it so that when we finished, we’d have time to go to the Hugo’s. I assumed everyone coming to the dinner would want to go to the Hugo’s. It’s a big part of WorldCon, right?

We were having such a good time that when David Gerald said, “I’d rather sit here and have dessert and coffee” we all agreed. We stayed in the restaurant, continuing to share stories, and had a way, way better time than we would have had, stuffing ourselves into a convention hall and listening to the Hugo’s presentation.

When we finished with the restaurant, we went to the bar and had drinks and continuing visiting. Not much later, the Hugo’s ended and other people came into the bar.

A couple of Hugo winners came through the bar with their statues. Sarah Pinsker, who won for best Short Story, came near, and for the second time in my life, I got to hold someone else’s Hugo. I’m not going to lie, it affected me deeply, just like the first time when Mary Robinette let me hold hers. It’s a link in a chain that reaches back to Heinlein, the author that inspired me so long ago.

Actual, Final Thoughts on Chicon8

I had a good time throughout the convention, and I enjoyed getting to meet some new people and catch up with acquaintances I haven’t seen in a very long time.

The two moments that stand out the most for me are last night’s dinner, and a couple of days ago when Melissa and I walked with Alma Alexander. In both cases, there were opportunities to be a little bit less selfish, and just do something nice for other people. With Alma, we were attending the Stroll with the Stars, and the rest of the group left Alma behind. She was using a cane and struggling with pain in her hip. Melissa and I stayed with her and made sure she had company and people to talk to. She was concerned she would have some problems with her laptop, so I gave her my card and said I would help. Yesterday morning, she called, and I was able to come down and help her sort it out.

The lesson appears to be: if I want to enjoy a WorldCon, I need to give a little. That’s true in a lot of places, and it was proven out again this weekend.

I have no regrets whatsoever with coming to Chicon8. From a certain perspective, I hardly attended the convention at all. But I think I was present in the best way I could be present this time.

Now, it’s just about time to go home and prepare for a week on the seas with Writing Excuses.

09/4/22

Chicon8 Day 4

It’s close to 1PM, and Melissa and I are sitting in comfy chairs away from everyone else. We still have a big dinner to attend tonight, and the Hugo’s after that, so there’s plenty of Chicon left. However, I think this will probably be my last collection of thoughts I’ll share on the convention, unless something really amazing happens.

Covid Cases

I think a lot of us assumed that people would come to the convention with Covid, whether they knew it or not, and that this would be a vector for infection. Melissa and I have been wearing masks and being as careful as we can be. Neither one of us are showing any symptoms, and we have no reason to believe we’re infected at this point. However, the emails from Chicon telling us about the reported cases are a little bit alarming.

It’s better to know than to not know, I think. But damn.

One of the cases reported being at Mary Robinette Kowal’s signing and her reading. With the cruise coming up, where we’re supposed to get on the boat a week from today, I really don’t want any of us getting infected at this point. The cruise wouldn’t be the same without Mary Robinette. So I’m hopeful we will all dodge this bullet, one more time.

As of this post, there have been 9 reported cases of Covid at Chicon8.

Panels

I don’t think I’m into attending panels anymore.

The nature of panels has always been that you never know what you’re going to get until you attend. You put a handful of people on the other side of a table and have them talk about a topic. Sometimes they stay on that topic. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they’re good at exploring interesting ideas. Other times, their words fall flat. The quality is random, and not everyone that has the opportunity to be on a panel should be on a panel.

I used to want to be a panelist. I thought that would be a kind of validation. Also, I really do want to pass on the things that I have learned and help people in their writing. I’ve been honing my craft for a long time, studying and practicing, and I think I have a lot to give back to the community.

I’m just not sure about the efficacy of panels anymore. I remember enjoying them so much. They were my favorite thing, and I couldn’t get enough of them. I took notes. I still have all the notes I’ve taken, going back to that first WorldCon in Reno, and all of the tiny conventions in between.

Now, the panels do not delight me. I find the panelists talking about subject matters that I have explored, and they’re either not bringing anything new to the table, or they’re not going as deep as they could go, or in the worst cases, they’re just wrong.

Barcon

During the day, when not attending panels, I’ve hung out in public places to talk with people. I’ve also done some writing. Yesterday, I spent a good portion of the day reading to Melissa. That was very nice, and a good use of our time. In the evening, I have tried going to the party rooms, but they’ve been crowded and uncomfortable. It’s hard to relax in a party room when it’s crowded and the possibility of Covid is so high.

Barcon is a little bit different. The last couple of nights, I’ve gone to the bar and hung out with some friends. That’s been nice. It doesn’t feel quite as chaotic and crowded as the party rooms, though it is crowded.

Maybe Barcon has been easier for me because there have been people there I know and can talk to. That’s been a nice part of the Chicon experience, for me.

Concluding Thoughts

I don’t regret coming to Chicon. There have been some high points that stand out to me. It’s been very expensive, and it’s a little bit difficult to justify the cost for the benefit of the experience. There’s also the constant threat of Covid. This close to the cruise, Covid has been heavy on my mind.

It’s nice to have a couple of days away from work. I severely needed to take a vacation. At this point, I feel like I need a vacation from the vacation.

There will always be a soft spot in my heart for WorldCon, but I’m not sure the need to go will persist much longer. Maybe when I get home, I’ll dedicate an entire post just to that. When it’s in Seattle in 2025, I’m sure I’ll attend. But I might start looking for different ways to spend my vacation time.

09/1/22

Chicon8 Day 1

This month is going to be full of writing community, starting with the 8th WorldCon in Chicago.

I’m not sure I’m going to write a retrospective every night. I did that in the past, but I’m not sure I have the energy or the tenacity to do that now. Tonight, I’ll write something. Tomorrow night, we’ll see.

Thought One – Traveling is Exhausting

Baycon earlier this year was pretty easy as far as travel is concerned. We loaded up the Mustang and drove a few hours. There was a little bit of traffic, but the act of driving calms me, and I felt like I was in control the whole way.

Flying to Chicago started off with getting up at 3AM so that we could be on time for our 6AM flight. I drove us to the airport, and everything went as well as it could there. But it was still really, really early, so the whole day started off painted with the colors of exhaustion.

I’m not comfortable flying. I don’t like being out of control. Furthermore, the seating is just the right spacing such that after a few hours sitting in the same position, my knees start to bother me. Fortunately, we had a direct flight, 3 and a half hours in the air, so the physical discomfort was kept to a minimum. But the flying itself still took something out of me. I white knuckled through the takeoff and landing.

We took the train from Chicago O’Hare, which dropped us off downtown, about a half mile from the hotel. We walked from there. The distance wasn’t too bad, but I carried all our bags, which was… you get it.

Traveling is exhausting. But that’s not the only thing that wears me out.

Thought Two – Dealing with People is Exhausting

I’m a bit of an introvert. This is not a revelation to anyone. That alone means that this convention, and the cruise coming up later this month, are both going to take something out of me.

Meeting new people and getting reacquainted with folks I’ve met before has a cost, but it comes with benefits. I’m not just talking about the all important Networking, which is important. More important to me right now is making friends and creating memories.

I’ve been in isolation for a long time. I hardly leave my house anymore. I haven’t been writing in Starbucks like I used to. The only time I see people these days is when I go in to the office, which now that I mention it, I did that this week, too.

It costs me something to engage with people, and sometimes the cost is too high. That’s what happened tonight. We went on the evening Walk with the Stars and I didn’t really talk with anyone. Then we went to various parties in the rooms, and I could barely stay in any of the rooms for more than a couple of minutes.

Thought Three – Write to Recover and Try Again

I’m in a place surrounded by writers. The community is all around me. Maybe what I can do is just take some time to sit in a public place here and write for a little bit.

What am I going to write? It doesn’t matter. The act of writing soothes me and recharges me. I’m working on this blog post and I feel better already. I can work on an outline for the Cyberpunk story I want to write. I can work on the Darren Silva story that I never finished. This feels like a good plan, and it may be more beneficial than spending a bunch of time listening to a panel which covers subject material I’ve heard a half dozen times already.

So that’s my plan for tomorrow. In summary, traveling to Chicago and engaging people exhausted me, and I’m going to address that by doing a solitary activity in a public place. Until I feel better.

We’ll see how tomorrow goes.