To Survive This Pandemic, We’ll Need To Adopt Some Polyamorous Skillsets

People involved in polyamorous relationships all share the same problem:

1) They would like to have sex with more than one person;
2) They would like to avoid catching sexually transmitted infections.

As such, poly folks are forever balancing the risk of “I want to do fun things with people” and “But the only way to guarantee 100% safety is to shut myself up alone in a house forever.”

…sound familiar?

Fact is, poly communities have been balancing “health” with “risk” for decades, and I suspect some of the classic polyamorous social habits will leak into the mainstream as the pandemic continues. Because yes, we absolutely should minimize risk so we can all keep living, but staying locked in a hugless apartment for a year isn’t exactly what you’d call “A life.”

At some point, we’re all going to have to figure out which friends it’s safe to have over for a night of watching Netflix, and who to invite to that gathering, knowing that every additional person you add to that list raises your chance of infection. Which isn’t too difficult from people in open relationships deciding who they’re going to invite to into their beds.

So how do poly folks navigate these tricky details of emotional intimacy vs. risk of infection?

First off, most poly folks cloister themselves off into little subcommunities – a lot of poly circles divide themselves into rough circles formed of their lovers, and their lovers’ lovers (a.k.a. “the metamours”). Essentially, you’re looking one circle out – the people you date, and the people they date.

Within that poly circle – or “polycule” – is where you decide what kind of sex you’re having. The simplest – and riskiest – is called “fluid bound,” where you’re not using any kind of protection at all. Then you move up to “full barrier protection”: dental dams, condoms even for penile oral, gloves for any penetration. Then there’s just plain condom usage for PIV/anal, but no barriers for oral or digital penetration.

That may be pretty intense discussion for some of you! But that’s definitely one skill you’re gonna have to master during the pandemic: Getting comfortable with frank discussions of what you do. It’s not always comfortable asking questions like, “Do you always wear your mask when you go to the grocery store?” or “How are you disinfecting delivered packages?” – but if poly people have learned one thing, it’s that assuming everyone’s playing equally safe leads to really bad outcomes.

With that information in mind, what often happens in the polycules is that there’s a fair amount of discussion before someone starts dating/hooking up with someone new. It’s not saying “no,” exactly, but it is looking at the new metamour’s risk profile – like asking, “Who are they sleeping with? How scrupulous are they in their protection? Do they already have an STI?”

(Top tip: the perceived danger of a lot of STIs, herpes in particular, are often drastically overblown – in part because of the stigma of where you caught it. Nobody wants to catch an STI, partially because there are risks, but also because getting an STI is often a reason for people to become absolute jerks to you.)

So after that discussion of what New Person is like, everyone reevaluates their risk profile. Which is also uncomfortable at times, thanks to to discussions like, “I’m not saying you can’t sleep with Alex, but if you do we gotta go back to using condoms.”

Negotiations – explicit ones – take place. And you decide, “Okay, my lover here is a potential vector for these kinds of dangers, but I am accepting that risk in exchange for hot makeout sessions with them,” and that’s that.

And sometimes, condoms break. At which point you put someone on a timeout, saying, “You gotta get tested, and we have to be on max lockdown until we get the results in.”

Which, I think, is what’ll happen to society – not the sex, but the socialization. It’s absurd to ask people to stay holed up alone for half a year, so I suspect over the summer we’ll all start categorizing risks into rough categories like:

  • Safe to walk outside with at a social distance;
  • Safe to hang out alone with inside;
  • Safe to gather with several carefully-chosen people at a gathering;
  • Safe to go to a specific restaurant with.

Which isn’t terribly different from, say, the divisions between “Full barrier protection” and “Condoms for PIV.”

And if those aspects change – someone goes on a trip, someone attends a big sloppy party, someone hangs out with someone who doesn’t believe in masks – then you’re gonna either put them in timeout or maybe stop hanging out with them altogether.

Which will lead to new social faux pas that have been standard problems for poly folks! You’ll have people lying about how consistently they wear their masks because they want the socialization, you’ll have drama with people who think they’re acting safely but aren’t really, you’ll have to deal with people shit-talking you because you’re physically letting the wrong people into your house. And let us not forget that old classic, “I really wanna hang out with this unsafe person, so I’ll risk infecting everyone else I hang out with.”

Which will get really intriguing if we start seeing rough divisions even inside the “safe hangouts” zone the way there’s a rough division between polyamorous folk – who generally are comparatively choosy in who they date because they’re in it for the emotional validation – and swingers, who are mostly in it for the physical satisfaction, and as such hold larger parties with larger risk profiles. Neither side’s wrong; they just evaluate differently, but those small evaluations can often lead to significant cultural rifts.

But the point is this: in this pandemic, you’re going to have to accept some level of risk in seeing your buddies up-close. And there are well-worn paths that other folks have trodden before, handling similar situations.

Might as well use what’s worked, right?

Incomplete Information and the No-Fault Zone

In the event of an emergency, the most important thing is to assign blame…. or so my friend Mick seemed to think. Mick was the sort of man who, whenever anything bad happened, Mick needed someone to be at fault.

If his wife was driving the car and a stone chipped the windshield, it couldn’t just be an accident; no, he had to blame her for taking the wrong route where a malicious stone was clearly present, or not swerving in time to avoid a pebble travelling at speeds high enough to chip a windshield. If it rained on vacation, well, clearly someone had chosen the wrong place, or the wrong time, and they must be assigned punishment.

It got to the point where when Mick’s daughter got injured in a freak accident, his wife breathed a guilty sigh of relief – because she hadn’t been in charge when the daughter was hurt. Thankfully, the kid had been in Mick’s custody when the accident happened, which meant that he didn’t have anyone else to blame.

(The daughter’s fine, by the way.)

I don’t think it’ll surprise you to hear Mick’s marriage didn’t work out. But his divorce brings up a useful tool that needs to be in the skillset of most relationships: The concept of the no-fault argument. And for the no-fault argument to work, you have to believe – really believe – in this essential truth:

Two people, both acting with the best knowledge they have and the purest intentions, can still hurt each other deeply.

That sounds crazy to a lot of folks. “She loves me, and she never means to hurt me,” they say. “So if I get hurt, it must be something she meant to do.” (Or, the flip side, “If she’s hurt, that means I set out to hurt her… and I wouldn’t do that.”)

That leads to more Mick-style arguments because blame must be assigned… and who wants to take the blame for hurting someone? Or worse yet, being so stupidly fragile that you got hurt through the vagaries of silly mistakes?

In the card game Magic, though, there are world-class players who lose even though they made, what appeared to be on the surface, a perfect play. Why? Because in Magic, you play with most of your opponents’ cards hidden from you. You can’t see what’s in his deck or in their hand. A good player can guess to a reasonable certainty what’s there, of course, but you never know for sure until they play a card for all to see.

This leads to a lot of situations where the player, thinking that their opponent has card A, makes a genius play that would utterly foil his opponent if their opponent had card A. But they don’t! They have card B, and as such the perfect play turns out to be a devastating rout.

That’s right: you can make the perfect move, only to find something you couldn’t have foreseen.

This is one of the reasons why Magic is, quite literally, one of the hardest games in the world. You act on limited information; your strategy is based on guesswork. A lot of the heavy lifting in Magic involves trying to fill in those gaps, and you do that with a variety of techniques: Looking at what they’ve played in the past, knowing what sorts of plays they like to make, understanding what sorts of decks they feel comfortable playing.

Likewise, in relationships, your partner is also a hidden book. You can never read someone’s mind. You can only act based on knowledge from their past actions –
and let me tell you, my wife and I have been close friends for over twenty-five years, and still about once a year we stumble upon some unknown trauma that’s like stepping on a wasp’s nest.

Point is, it’s impossible to catalogue everything that will hurt your partner. You can accidentally tread on some past hurt you’d have no way of knowing existed, or do something innocuous to you that seems a lot more serious to them.

And when that happens, it’s bad enough that you accidentally hurt them – but when they trust you enough to come to you and say, “What you just said upset me. I know you didn’t deliberately set out to upset me, but you did, so can we talk about this?” and you counter with, “Well I didn’t mean it,” you have just assigned blame.

Your partner’s already acknowledged that you didn’t set out to do it – but by defensively saying, “Well, I didn’t mean it!” you’re trying to change the focus on the argument from “What you did” to “What you meant.”

Listen: In many cases, good intent means nothing. You can be racist with good intentions, you can be rude with good intentions, you can exclude people with good intentions. What matters is not what you meant, but what your actions actually did. And as long as you’re attached to the idea of your good intentions being some sort of shield against all ill, you’re going to keep causing problems – because you’re so busy proving that your intentions were pure that you’re ignoring the very real lessons that “Hey, you meant well, but this behavior is causing problems.”

You must understand that we’re all operating off of hidden cards and incomplete information. You can make the perfect move based on what you knew at the time, and have it be the wrong move because you didn’t know enough. The question is, are you going to learn more so that you can make better, more-informed, and less hurtful moves in the future – or are you going to spend your energy convincing everyone that this losing move was actually the right play?

Repeat after me: Two people, both acting with the best knowledge they have and the purest intentions, can still hurt each other deeply. Life is messy. Life is weird.

Sometimes, things just happen.

It ain’t satisfying. But the truth rarely is.

(This is a revision of an old 2009 LiveJournal post, which a friend of mine asked to exhume because she wanted to reference it and I’d shut down my LJ. Here ya go!)

When The Pandemic Transforms “Emotionally Toxic” Into “Physically Toxic”

“My Mom wants to come over for a visit, but she doesn’t believe in wearing facemasks.”

“My roommate keeps sneaking out to go to parties because she’s lonely.”

“My boyfriend says there’s no reason to stop going out bowling with his friends.”

One hallmark of an emotionally toxic relationship is that toxic folks push boundaries. Your comfort will never be as important as their comfort. If they want something from you, they’ll wheedle you, they’ll guilt you, they’ll nag you until you cave.

Until now, generally the worst that could happen to you thanks to those sorts of pressuring behaviors was emotional exhaustion. Sure, your parents could keep forcing you to be go have a nice visit with your homophobic grandpa – which sucked, but the biggest consequence was pretty much some tight jaw muscles from keeping your mouth shut. And your partner could keep sitting on the couch, Xbox controller in hand, ignoring all the household chores until you finally did the work.

It was bullshit, of course – but depending on your tolerance for bullshit, their selfishness added up to a wasted afternoon here and there.

But now?

Giving into their narcissism could get your ass killed.

And not, may I remind you, a nice neat little headshot kind of killed. COVID’s a messy death, and not particularly pleasant even if you survive it, with three weeks of your life being spent as a wheezing wreck and even then possibly having lifelong scars to bear – fun things like “reduced lung capacity” and “potential neurologic issues.”

And in this sadly polarized day of politics, where “wearing a mask” and “being considerate about potentially passing on a deadly disease” have somehow been framed as “liberal whininess,” you may have a lot of asshole relatives, roommates, and lovers who literally don’t believe in the coronavirus – or, more precisely, don’t believe that it’s a threat to you.

There will be gaslighting. There will be whining. There will be complaints that you’re such a pain in the ass, I only went out dancing, why do you care?

Do. Not. Give. In.

Because what’s happening now is that “emotionally toxic” has a large crossover with “physically toxic,” and you don’t want to go to your grave with the words “They Were Nice Until They Died” carved on your headstone. (Especially if you’re immunocompromised or have preexisting conditions.)

Look. I’m not saying these people are evil. Looking honestly at the consequences of the pandemic can be a short-cut to anxiety attacks – it’s a lot to take in, not just for yourself, but the rolling uncertainty of “Will I ever be able to go to a concert again? Will I have a job six months from now? How can I be safe?” And a lot of people are, quite frankly, not dealing with this well, retreating into denial and downplaying.

This shit is hard. They don’t have to be narcissists. They could, you know, just be coping in shitty ways.

But now more than ever is the time to enforce your boundaries. Value yourself. Don’t let them wear you down, because you are correct. Having people talk you into life-threatening situations is not a good thing, because it encourages them to endanger other lives and encourages you to put yourself at risk.

And yes, they will whine. They will smack-talk you. They will get angry. Those are all blunt emotional tools to get their way, and in this case what they’re asking is unreasonable, so shut it down.

You may not be able to stop them from being dumbasses at other people. But you can stop them from being dumbasses at your doorstep.

And remember: stay in touch with reality. Talk to friends who get it. Hang out with people who, when you say, “I can’t see you right now” go “Got it. Thanks for taking care of yourself.”

With luck, you might even come out of this pandemic with your health intact, but a better social group who genuinely supports you. So stay strong. Be well. And don’t give in.

Learning What You Don’t Want Is Equally Valuable: Thoughts On Clarion, And Also, Unrelatedly, Polyamory, As Well As Other Things

Once a year, in normal years, eighteen lucky students are chosen to go to the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. There, they spend six weeks on a hellishly intensive writers’ retreat, being subjected to the stresses and triumphs that come with being held to standards of a professional writer.

Many of today’s most popular writers have come out of Clarion.+ I did. If you’ve liked the books I’ve written (or feel like preordering my upcoming book to see what I write like), well, you can thank Clarion for that.

Yet Clarion is a big ask for some. It costs thousands of dollars, and requires six weeks of free time to go, let alone travel costs. And the ugly secret to Clarion is that some people go to Clarion, spend their six weeks there, and emerge to realize that they do not want to be a professional writer.

This is often treated as a failure state.++ “They spent all that money, and didn’t emerge as a best-selling author? What a waste of cash and time!”

Whereas I look at that is, “You spent six weeks learning that one of your life-long dreams would actually make you miserable.

“That’s so much better than vaguely longing after something for years and feeling guilty that you never made it happen.”

Because some people go to Clarion and realize that being a professional writer is actually kinda sucky sometimes. Struggling with a story is hard work; revising that story can be even tougher. And continually weathering harsh feedback – from beta readers, from agents, from editors, and (if you’re lucky) from readers can be soul-destroying. Then you have to worry about your career, and whether you’re on the upswing or the downswing…

A lot of people wanna just write and not go pro! And that’s entirely legitimate. There’s this running undercurrent in American culture that implies that if you can make a career out of it you should wreck yourself to monetize every last hobby, but… hey. There’s nothing wrong with writing happy stories in your basement for a couple of friends and online forums.

In that sense, it’s pricey, sure, but spending the cash to strip yourself of this nagging urge that “I should be a pro writer” is really pretty damn effective. Because learning what you don’t want is often more valuable than learning what you do want.

Learning what you don’t want can free you from all kinds of guilts.

And I’m writing this essay because an online friend of mine said something very wise: he said he’d learned from reading my essays on polyamory that poly was not for him.

Which is awesome! I read a lot of online writings that seem defensive about not being polyamorous, as though there was something wrong with not being poly.+++ But polyamory is often a right pain in the ass; it’s juggling a lot of emotional concerns, it’s stretching yourself across a line of lovers that you may not have the time or energy for –

Discovering that you’re not cut out for poly is valuable information. It frees you. You can say, “Nope, sorry, not for me” to any potential poly relationships with a confidence and a surety that will serve you well.

And that’s why I don’t think all breakups are necessarily bad, either; sometimes, even though it’s painful, you have discovered a way of interacting with your lover that utterly will not work for you.

There’s all sorts of discussions about learning what you love, and those are also good. But when it comes to discussing past failures, often there’s this residual sadness fogging up the lens when it really shouldn’t – this idea that “I wasn’t good enough.” Whereas the truth is that it wasn’t that you weren’t worthy of your initial goal, it’s that you got there and discovered that it made you sad.

Learning what makes you sad is equally as valuable as learning what makes you happy. There is great strength in that.

Treasure that on the days you find out.

  • – This is the obligatory disclaimer that you do not need to attend a writers’ workshop of any kind to be a professional writer, and many of the people who teach Clarion as bestselling authors never went to Clarion. ++ – Coming out of Clarion as not-a-writer can, however, be a failure state, especially if you came out of it because overly harsh critiques sapped your love of it. Every Clarion has a different mix of writers and people, and while the success rate is high, there are always group and individual failures in the mix where perhaps a different approach could have ignited, instead of doused, their career. +++ – And yes, there are people who believe that polyamory is the “enlightened” path, selling that old snake oil that monogamy is inferior. They are bullshit artists, and you can safely ignore them.

God, As A Most Delightful Daddy Dom

As of tomorrow, it’ll have been eight weeks since I last ate refined sugar. This would have been “pretty impressive” during a decent year, but in the Age of Pandemic, the fact that I haven’t stress-eaten a cake a day has been nothing short of miraculous.

The big question is, how have I given up sugar for so long when I’m constantly craving a big ol’ glass of chocolate milk?

The answer: By using the Lent abstinence, compassionately, as a brain hack.

See, I believe that religion is at its most useful when it’s not merely faith, but also doubles as a brain hack to make you a more resilient, more compassionate person regardless of whether God exists or not. That’s a concept neatly stolen from Alan Moore’s thoughts on magick, where he says that casting spells isn’t really about shaping the world, but are simply a way of using patterns to rearrange your own consciousness.

Which is why for me, prayer isn’t about helping people. If I’m spending more time praying for people than I am actually helping them, then I’m failing. My days are spent calling politicians, listening to friends when I can, and donating to charity.

With that in mind, my prayer is a sort of anxiety-reducer for the large-scale things I can’t control – things like pandemics, wars, politics, and so forth. I quiet down and talk to God, trusting that He (or She, or It) has a plan – and I do genuinely believe that, but even if I didn’t, focusing on a belief that everything’s going to be okay is a meditative way of hacking my brain to get my ass to calm the hell down.

Because yeah, if I turned on the logic circuits in my brain and said, “Everything’s gonna be fine,” then my asshole brain would devise a thousand reasons why everything is spiralling out of control. But focusing on a compassionate being watching over us all – even if they’re imaginary – helps short-circuit those frantic concerns. And I need those concerns quelled, because as noted, I’ve done all I know how to do already, so stressing about the economy 24/7 will just break me down.

So I have this twinned issue: I believe, and also that belief is useful. I never assume prayer will be helpful for anyone else, because everyone should process stress in their own way. But that’s how it works for me. God is both a reality and a way to cut through the conscious levels of thought straight to the amygdala.

Which is how Lent happened to be useful.

I heard a priest discussing Lent not as a time of abnegation, but as a time of self-care. The point, said the priest, was not to grudgingly give up your favorite hobbies for six weeks; the point was that you knew what was hurting you in your life, and God wanted you to stop hurting, so why not take the time to get closer to him?

Which flipped a switch. (Or, perhaps, flipped my switchy tendencies, ha ha ha.)
I’d been dreading Lent, because six weeks of no chocolate milk? Six weeks without the nectar of life? How?!?

But that concept made me go, “You know all that sugar is hurting you. I know you can’t give it up for yourself, but what about envisioning doing it for a being who absolutely loves you and wants you to be happy?”

That… felt like a Daddy Dominant.

Which is to say that there’s a lot of BDSM relationships that aren’t predicated so much on bloody whippings and ball gags so much as “You’re not good at taking care of yourself for yourself, so let’s externalize that focus.” There’s a lot of people who take their medications because their dominant sends them a text every morning reminding them that part of their relationship is, yes, working out and taking time for themselves. You don’t take your medications for yourself, but as part of a ritual that affirms your bond for another person.

You devote yourself to another person, who in turn wants you to devote yourself.

So whenever I felt the itch for a big gloppy eclair, I thought, “If there is someone all-loving who treasures me, do I want to disappoint them by shoveling this food into my face?” And I felt them saying, “You know what’s right, don’t you?” And I let my putting the eclair aside be an act of devotion to someone else.

Basically, I hacked my brain out of an eclair. (And my brain really likes eclairs.)

And yeah, it’d be nice if I could externalize that concern to someone actual, like my daughters or my wife. (Which I have, to some extent – on the days I really want to skip a workout, I think of my daughter Erin stressing out over my heart and then I get to the weights.) But those real people have real disappointments, and if I fuck up they might yell at me – or even leave me. Whereas the God I envision might sigh a bit, but the all-loving, mysterious creator knows down to the atom precisely what a fuckup I am and still cares, so I don’t carry that extra stress of “Must be perfect in quitting sugar or I’ll be alone.”

And so it’s two weeks past Lent, and here I am, still not tucking into the boxes of Girl Scout cookies on top of the fridge.

Still. I’ll have a chocolate milk some day. This isn’t about refraining for the sake of refraining. Part of the deal with a Daddy Dom is that they know you fuck up from time to time, or even just need a break. A really compassionate Daddy Dom gives days off, understands the times when you’re so wracked you need to deviate from the routine, and will be stern but loving on the days you forget.

It is weird to think of God as my Daddy Dom. But honestly? I’m a big fan of whatever works. And if I gotta be a little closer to God to get me a little further away from diabetes, well, I’ll take it.

Not A Hemophiliac, My Hemophiliac

Whenever I think of hospitals, I think of my Uncle Tommy.

Yet how could I not? Half of my memories of my sainted uncle are at hospitals; us dropping by to pick up his cryoprecipitate twice a week, seeing him on the nights he bled so badly they had to keep him in for overnights. I remember my uncle’s five o’clock shadow thrown into harsh contrast by the fluorescent overheads, his leather boots clacking on speckled white hospital tiles, wreathed in the scents of old cigarette smoke mixed with the ammonia scent of freshly-mopped floors.

His life was intertwined inextricably with the hospital. When he was a kid, he spent two weeks out of every month there, practically growing up in the childrens’ ward. His best friend was a kid with a terminal illness who died before he was twelve. He used to go over and comfort the scared kids when the nurses had to give them injections, showing them through his own needle-scarred forearms that the IV wasn’t that bad.

When he died, I found nurse porn in his VHS collection. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Tommy’s existence was a product of medical science – he’d basically spent his whole life dying just a little slower than hospital advances could catch up to him. He was born with hemophilia, which meant his blood clotted so slowly he risked bleeding to death from gashes you or I would just bind up – and when you’re a three-year-old hemophiliac, every toddler tumbler means potential death.

But as I said: the technology caught up to him. At birth, he wasn’t expected to make it to six. At six, he wasn’t expected to make it to twelve. At twelve, it would have been a miracle if he’d become a teenager – and then, when he got to his mid-twenties and it looked like hemophilia was a solved (if expensive) problem, he got HIV from a blood transfusion.

Somehow, he managed to live through that until HIV medications could stabilize his conditions, a gruelling decade.

Then he got hepatitis. Managed with that.

Then he got pancreatic cancer, and that’s all she wrote.

And that continual lack of a future stunted him to some extent; he was always terrible with money, because Tommy literally couldn’t imagine having to pay debts two years from now. He had no image of himself as a future being. Yet paradoxically, because he was an accountant, he was also very good with money, dying literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in forestalled death and still managing to leave me $20,000 on a technicality I still don’t fully understand.

What did he buy with that money? Pretty much what I would have: comic books and CDs. Fine meals. Fun outings.

No, I lie; it’s exactly what I would have.

Because Tommy was my best friend.

We’d sit down on a sleepy Sunday afternoon like this, and drive out to the corner store, and pick us up some Archie comics and some chocolate milk (he’d get beer, but I don’t think it’s coincidence I’m drinking a beer today), and just sit around and read comics with MTV on in the background and shoot the shit.

I was… a very lonely teenager. It took me a long while to get past a combination of my own social anxiety and my unwillingness to fit in anywhere. And on those days, those Sunday afternoons, Tommy and I would discuss how great the latest Stephen King book was and talk about Eric Clapton and I’d rag on him about him smoking still and he’d just shake it off and tell me it was too late for him to change, but maybe I could.

And when I was depressed, I could talk to him too. He knew loneliness. He had a lot of friends, before he got HIV and retreated inside and got ready to die – and it was a damn shame that he spent fifteen years withdrawn, braced for a death that took him by surprise – but even though he could have had people over at the drop of a hat, he also understood his dramatic, awkward, fumbling nephew well enough to give him hope on the bad days.

I was the last person he talked to before he died.

Literally nobody who knew us though that was a coincidence.

And for as much as he loved me, he’s laced through my DNA. I walk slow, because Tommy walked with a cane and even now, almost twenty years on, I still amble at his pace. I have his guffawing laugh, which sometimes draws attention at restaurants.

And I can’t stop thinking about him now that the world’s in a pandemic.

Because of the hospitals.

I remember begging Tommy to move out to Michigan with me, near the end of his life – back when he was miserable and hurting and I wanted to take care of him. And he got bitter – he couldn’t leave. The doctors here knew him. I told him that was bullshit, he could start over again anywhere, and it’s to my eternal shame that this was not true – Tommy knew more than I did. As a man who survived through medications, having a stable of physicians who never questioned his own needs – who trusted that he’d only ask for the drugs he needed – was literally life support for him.

I wonder how Tommy would deal now. Now that the hospitals have become a place of danger, where coronavirus has made it so that simply walking in has become a risk.

He couldn’t not go.

But that’s the thing; Tommy was incredibly goddamned brave, for someone who was so goddamned fragile. He’d walk through bad neighborhoods at night with a limp and a cane, eyeing potential muggers as if to ask them what they were gonna do. For him, the worst had already happened.

He was afraid of some things; being dependent on people was certainly one, me aside. (He always relied on me, a fact I still wear with pride.) But he wasn’t afraid of mortal danger. I know he’d walk into that hospital, mask on, shrugging because what the hell, life was always a risk, here’s another one, fuck it.

Maybe that was foolish. Maybe that’s a short-sighted attitude borne of his stunted future. But it also served him well, getting him adventures a man of his medical history should never have reasonably been allowed.

He lived life on his own terms. And I respect that. This virus would be a concern, but not a panic; he’d deal, as he always dealt.

I’ll deal. As I have always dealt.

Because I am my Uncle’s son.

(If you enjoyed this, it was inspired by the National Hemophilia Society reminding me about Hemophilia Awareness Day. If you got a few bucks, I’ll remind you that hemophilia is incurable yet requires expensive, weekly transfusions to help the afflicted survive, so maybe throw them a few bucks? It could be a(nother) act of kindness in a time of pandemic.)

Advice From The Plague Pits: Shape Your Space!

We are now roughly a month into quarantine, and by now you should have learned three languages, taught yourself to play the harpsichord, and achieved samsara through the perfection of Buddhist meditation.

Fuck that.

Look, if you can use this time for profitable self-improvement, then do so. But this isn’t some pleasant vacation: this is traumatic seclusion, where you’re in parts equally concerned about thousands of people (possibly even you or someone you love) dying of a fatal disease and also can I get toilet paper before we run out?

So be a little merciful on yourself. This isn’t your sixth-grade recess, this is bolting doors against the plague – and if the stress is impinging your abilities for self-improvement, then don’t beat yourself up over that.

But there is one thing I will suggest you take the time to do in lockdown, even if you don’t feel you’re up to it:

Take some time to redecorate your living quarters.

Seriously. Hang up some art, push the beds around, or at the very least do as thorough a spring cleaning as you can manage. And here’s my rationale:

Most of you had a home that was somewhat of a transient space – you went out to work, you went out with friends, you went out to get coffee. And now, in this time of solitude, your home is less of a “I’m here for a few hours and then out again” and more of a soft prison.

And chances are there’s something you’ve been tiptoeing around in your apartment. Maybe it’s that closet stuffed full of unsorted games. Maybe it’s that spare room you’ve been meaning to turn from a junk space into a reading nook. Maybe it’s just that the windows are boring.

Sure, you meant to learn Italian some day, but even if you did that’s not gonna pay immediate dividends. Yet sprucing up your home will pay off immediately – because you’re there, more often than you meant to be, and not only will a change of scenery benefit you, but you’ll be shaping your living space into a place more suited to your mood and your needs.

So yeah. Hang a couple of dreamcatchers in the window, scrub the grime out of the tub, rearrange the bookshelves. Because every time you walk by those posters you hung in the hallway, you’ll not only feel a little pride because you accomplished something you’d been meaning to do, but also that accomplishment will have turned your home into something that feels, well, homier.

This is gonna be your space for another couple of weeks, at least. So shape it to suit you.

And hang in there. With a little luck, we’ll get through this. I know it’s rough.