For more than a month, I’ve been trying to answer the question of whether or not 2019 was a good year. I’m not ready to touch whether or not the 2010s were a good decade. This was the fourth time in my life I’ve watched one decade change into another, and the fact that I’m aging is hitting me hard lately. But a year? I can handle that.
Writing-wise, I kicked ass this year. I relaunched this blog (to no fanfare, as I don’t fanfare well), and I’ve been working diligently on Stars Fall Out. I came out of the combined writing slump of 2017 (anxiety) and 2018 (baby).
Despite this having been my worst mental health year since I was diagnosed in 2012, my writing hasn’t been stomped on by my anxiety the way it was in the past. I have a toddler, and so many weeks, I didn’t write as much as I wanted. Still, 2019 is the most consistent I’ve ever been.
I had a string of bad haircuts, culminating in me giving in and getting a professional haircut for the first time in three years. I’m still pro diy haircuts, but this year was one botched experiment after another.
I lost two aunts and a great aunt. As a result, I’ve put more thought into my own death than I probably have before.
Don’t embalm me. Put me in a simple box, and let people write and draw on the box. Plant a tree over me.
I made less art and went on fewer adventures than I wanted.
It’s no surprise to me that they’ve both been weak; I’ve long considered art and adventures to be two sides of the same coin; one is the input, the other is the output.
My writing is a form of art, and that went well. But there’s only so much to pull out without putting something back in. I miss sketching, watercolor, collage. I miss going to new coffee shops and cemetaries and turning down intriguing roads.
The exception to not having many adventures were the ones I took with my toddler. She loves Dunkin Donuts, but I don’t know how many times one can go to Dunkin and still count it as an adventure.
When I try to figure out what 2019 was, I keep thinking about what turned out to be my flagship anxiety problem. It started when I paid off my car earlier this year.
Specifically, I paid it off a year and a half early to save more money in the long run, including on my insurance.
I was supposed to follow up by letting my insurance know that I had done this, which would give me full control over my policy again so I could choose cheaper coverage options, thus saving myself $200 per year.
This was a smart plan, but I can’t handle phone calls, and I didn’t do it. Reasons and excuses rolled one into the other, snowballing for weeks and then months. Knowing better isn’t doing better.
Around this time, the trichotillomania I’ve dealt with since my teens hit me the worst its ever done. Every so often, I’ll pull out eyebrow hairs while reading or thinking. I don’t typically notice until my thumb and forefinger come into view with five or six hairs pinched between them. I usually have months between episodes, so it hasn’t been too big a deal.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I haven’t had my eyebrows in their entirety for the same amount of time that I’ve been procrastinating on this call.
My social skills have seemingly deteriorated, which makes sense because assuming they are actually a skill and not a talent, one would have to practice to keep them sharp. It’s been a bad year for social anxiety, and I haven’t done well at keeping in touch with people. Low key texts to friends get wrapped up in the bigger anxieties of every other correspondence-related task I’m putting off. Like that phone call.
So back to that. For ten months, I assumed I had to make a call. For anything important, it’s always a call. No matter that we’ve advanced technologically to the point where that shouldn’t be the case. It’s always a damn phone call.
But then I went on to my insurance’s website in a fit of desperation, knowing it was a waste of time and I wouldn’t find anything. Instead, I learned that I can change my policy online. And because it made me feel like I was doing something, I filled out a contact form and asked if there were any way to have the lien removed from my policy electronically.
I knew this wouldn’t be possible. I knew they would tell me to call.
Instead, six hours later, I got an email that said it would be taken care of.
AFTER TEN MONTHS. That was it.
I’d love to see if my eyebrows grow back.
I couldn’t tell you why I started a list with every single year of my life and tried to label each year with a single word.
2009 The Year of Depression.
2015 The Year of Change
2017 The Year of Pregnancy
2018 The Year of the Baby
I’ve only managed to label six years of my life, and those ones came to me easily. The others bleed together. Nothing clearly demarcates them except for the numbers we put on calendars.
I remember twenty years ago, in 1999, the odd precariousness of realizing that all four numbers would be wiped away. 2000 would be a new, different world. This is both true and untrue of every new year that comes.
A few weeks ago, I asked my partner if he thought 2019 had been a good year. His response? A series of quizzical noises.
And so it came to be that 2019 was The Year of the Mixed Bag. I don’t know if time and introspection will turn that into the official label, but it’s true for now.
If you’re entertaining in your home this year, there are many reasons why you might want to utterly destroy a guest with obsessive-compulsive disorder. While the technical differences between a frenemy, a nemesis, and a cousin who drives you to murder with a turkey baster are beyond the scope of this article, all are bound to show up at your door this holiday season, and one of them might have OCD. By taking the words of Sun Tzu to heart, and learning these actionable techniques, you can deal with that person.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
OCD comes in many forms, and this guide is not meant for all of them. But if you know your guest has OCD, and you know that their OCD intersects with germaphobia or health anxiety, you need not fear the result of this holiday season.
Greet your guest at the door
Start off on the right foot! Or rather, the right hand, where you keep a great deal of germs. A hearty hug or a handshake is the perfect way to warmly welcome your OCD guest into your home while also saying, “Nothing is safe for you here.”
This one is especially great if your guest is female! No matter how many gender norms we see fall by the wayside, the norm at gatherings of friends and family is still to hug women while men shake hands. If you are warm, effusive, and sweater-wearing, you can hug everyone.
Once you’ve mastered the basic greeting, next year you can pull out of the hug and cough demurely. Something is going around!
Make space for everyone
Do you need to make space on the table for another side dish or for another guest’s plate? Does your OCD guest have a cup full of water that they’ve been sipping from? This is a two-birds-with-one-stone situation, like when you have multiple turkeys and kill them yourself with the molded plaster “Welcome to our home!” tile that you scooped up from the walkway.
Wait until your OCD guest glances in your direction. Then pick up their cup by the rim–the part they drink out of–and move it two feet or so.
Remember, don’t pick the cup up by the base; this method is less effective less of the time, and you should make sure you know your guest is suitably sensitive before trying it.
Take more mashed potatoes
Curses, you’ve run out of mashed potatoes! You scoop up more potatoes, but they are hearty and thick, and they stick to the spoon. Don’t panic; you can get out of this situation with subtlety and panache, and you can destroy your OCD guest at the same time.
Now, do you have the serving spoon in hand? Clunk the spoon onto your gravy-swirled plate. This action will free your desired serving of potatoes, while also leaving a subtle seasoning of your mouth-germs on the spoon, which you should then stick back into the nursing-home-yellow casserole dish.
Burn those holiday calories
Going for a post-meal walk or run either to burn off some calories or for a good reason? For convenience, place your sneakers soles-down on the table before you sit down to put them on. Make sure it’s not a side table, an end table or a coffee table: you want to use the kitchen or dining room table.
This will send a clear message: “All the germs from every public restroom I’ve walked in with these shoes are now on the table where we eat!”
Keep up your dental hygiene
Is your guest staying over? You have a great opportunity here! Make sure they’re around when you brush your teeth, and do the following: squeeze out your pea-sized ball of toothpaste, scrape your wet, used toothbrush over the opening of the toothpaste tube to get the paste off, and hand your guest the tube. Make sure to tell them, “All set! Here you go!” in your cheeriest holiday voice.
Even though flax is a flawless egg substitute when it comes to cookies, make sure you use raw eggs in your cookies. After you’ve rolled out your cookies and put them on trays, but before you wash your hands and tidy up, make you sure touch a lot of things. Chairs, doorknobs, and refrigerator handles are great options which are all in close proximity of your kitchen.
If you really want to be a maverick, combine this with the next tip.
Put out the guest soap
You know those shell-shaped soaps that sit ambiguously in their dish, making guests fret over whether they’re supposed to use them or not? Don’t use them. That kind of holiday anguish is old-school, and definitely not on-trend. These days, there’s a better way: have bars of moisturizing soap at every sink, and turn off your hot water. The slippery, difficult-to-rinse nature of the moisturizing soap draws out the oft-repeated hand-washing process of your OCD guest, making it as long an excruciating as possible.
Keeping your hot water off ensures that if your guest needs to wash hands multiple times—and they will, if you’re following these tips!—their fingers will be too numb to unwrap presents or pretend to eat your dubious food.
Share some comfort and joy
Is there a flu going around? Has your guest expressed concern about the flu, or about the sick children you invited because child germs are different from adult germs? Remember to make vague comments about upset stomachs, then assure your guest that it’s indigestion.
Does your guest think the meat seems undercooked? Make sure you dismiss this silly concern! Even if you used a meat thermometer, even if the pink occurs naturally in that cut of meat, even if you’re an experienced cook, don’t say any of those things. Don’t explain how you know the meat is fine. Simply say, “there’s nothing to worry about.”
Remember that dismissing legitimate concerns isn’t holiday gaslighting; it’s sharing comfort and joy.
As Sun Tzu said, that’s what the holidays are all about.
When you cut a deal to get out of goblin jail, sometimes you end up on a secret pumpkin-snatching mission for the manipulative goblin wizard who busted you out. And it can an awkward situation when you’re with a squad of professional pumpkin-snatching goblins, and you’re just sort of… a kid.
This is the third preview of my upcoming middle-grade chapter book Pumpkin Goblins. The clip here is read not by me, but by my spouse (and number two fan*).
A part of this scene stemmed from writing anxiety. There was a self-flagellating voice in my head saying something like: “This story is really stupid. Why can’t you think of stories that aren’t stupid? Why would goblins snatch pumpkins from people’s doorsteps when they could just go to the store and buy a bunch of pumpkins?
Then a more helpful voice said: “Grocery stores don’t accept goblin money.”
And another helpful voice, one that sounded a bit more like a goblin, answered: “Also, we don’t have goblin money.”
I believe in brainstorming rather than waiting for inspiration to hit. When it does hit, it’s almost never out of nowhere. It happens because I’ve been thinking and asking questions, even if sometimes those questions are kind of whiny.
Here’s the transcript:
Korkor turned to Amber. “You’ll be doing my job. Keep the trick-or-treaters away while we take the pumpkins back in several trips.”
“How do I do that?”
“Shouldn’t be too hard. Maybe a bat-nexus grenade followed by a smoke shroud? Or a nice Spook’s Gambit followed by a Kirlik Maneuver?” He made an excited gesture of a swooping owl and handfuls of explosions. ”Do you have your own array of creeper-cell batteries and magic boosters, or do you need to borrow one?”
Amber said nothing in response.
“Here.” Korkor dumped a pile of pocket junk in Amber’s arms.
Torlik made an exasperated noise. “She doesn’t know how to use any of that stuff, and you know it’s not enough for a crowd.”
Amber wanted to help, though she really didn’t know how to use any of that stuff, and she hadn’t understood most of what Korkor had said. “I don’t get why you can’t just grow pumpkins yourselves. Or buy them.”
“Takes too long,” said the three goblins in overlapping bites of speech.
“Fine, buy them,” said Amber, suspecting that, somehow, this wouldn’t do either.
“Buy them?” With a dramatic arm thrown across his forehead, Torlik pretended to faint. “From a store?”
But Korkor’s eyes lit like jack-o-lanterns. “A store with aisles and aisles of pumpkins?”
“And a pot of stew?” Falkit added hopefully.
Amber shrugged “A grocery store.”
“Grocery stories don’t accept goblin money,” said Korkor
“Also, we don’t have goblin money,” added Torlik, turning out his pockets.
“Also, goblin money doesn’t exist.” Korkor turned to Torlik, and they nodded rapidly in unison.
There was a pause.
“Could you explain coupons?” asked Falkit.
I had been aiming to publish this on October 15, and I think it will be pushed back by just a few days. When it’s out, I’ll announce it on both this blog and my newsletter.
By the way, I just saw an in-progress version of the cover illustration as the color is being added. It’s going to look cool, and I’m excited to post it sometime next week!
*I may not have a lot of fans, but they are the most organized fans in the world: they numbered themselves.