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Bridging the Gap Posts

Imaginary Numbers

School has stepped on a lot more things than I thought it would. Depression has been really strong this week, things build. There’s a really steep social learning curve I wasn’t prepared for. I don’t know how school settings work – I didn’t know how to pass things forwards and backwards until the first week of class, last week I learned how lockers work, this week I learned how to get up to speed after being out of class due to injury. All these things most people have navigated by now are totally new to me.

Math itself takes up a lot of trauma space in my brain. The math for the trades program I’m in is really helpful because it’s directly adjacent to the math I’m doing in all my other classes, but it’s super similar to my high school math books. Thursday it almost directly mirrored the math book that got thrown at my face, which sent me into a spiral for about 15 minutes in the classroom while I just started at my book in horror. The wind was knocked out of me for a minute, and I just had to sit and wait for the wave of feels to pass before depression and anger got loud again.

I have to keep reminding myself that when teachers try to get you to be an independent learner and collaborate with your classmates they don’t mean that you can’t ask them for help or resources. This is a really difficult nuance for me to understand. I still interpret school as something with no leeway. Like: if you miss something, you’re fucked because you should have come or whatever. With no room to make up for things. Which I know isn’t how it works, but I’ve never seen how it does work.

My education was  “If I miss it, I’m fucked” because I had no support at all. I was the only student and teacher of my class.  I’m trying to navigate college with the bulk of my educational experience being isolated and solitary. I’ve never had classmates to help me, I don’t know how to study in a group, I don’t know how to learn socially.

I learned on my bedroom floor, alone, with no one to see me struggle. I’ve never been in a learning environment where like…..I’ve inevitably had to show people I don’t know stuff (none of us do). Learning things is really vulnerable, and doing it in front of other people on a whiteboard sometimes is a lot. It’s a hard thing for people generally, but most of have at least been in a classroom like that before.

Giving a presentation on a whiteboard to a group of 20 on something I’m prepared for feels completely different than trying to correctly place a dimension line in front of 20 people who are also trying to learn dimension lines.

It’s a different level of vulnerability I guess, and I’m not used to it. I choose to be vulnerable a lot, whenever I write, when I choose to talk to people about trauma. I have a lot of practice being vulnerable in this way, so it becomes a strength. Feeling vulnerable in relation to school is significantly less familiar. But seeing it on paper, it’s not that different. In the same way I choose to be vulnerable when I write (like this), I’m still going to class every day, I’m making that same choice to be vulnerable, the feeling just lives in a different place in my brain in this context.


This week we have wrapped up most of our lectures and are getting into the lab. I was supposed to weld on Wednesday but was getting x-rayed from dislocating my elbow on Labor Day instead. We’ve split into three groups in Machine Shop: Drill Press, Tool Grinding, and Precision Measuring.

Getting things to be within .0001″ fucking terrifies me, I don’t know that I am capable of that at all, so I decided to do the Precision Measuring part first because I think that will make working on the machines and making shit a lot easier. At the very least, I’ll be way more confident in my measuring ability. I am not extremely confident in my abilities to be a perfectionist; but then again, I guess that’s literally why tolerances exist so maybe I won’t suck.

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One Year Post Burn

It’s been almost exactly a year since returning from Burning Man. I learned a lot about myself in Black Rock City. I learned that I’m strong, capable, and so very very very trans.

I had felt reserved about being more masculine for some time before becoming one with the playa last summer. I had been actively repressing those pieces of me that wanted to escape and when I watched the temple burn I set them free.

While Victoria and I drove back from Reno in the rental car with the AC on high, dancing to chip tunes and The Black Keys, I wrote a list of things I wanted to do post-burn.

On that list was:

  • Switch off Lexapro
  • Start T
  • Remove Implant

I forgot about this list for several months, and rediscovered it shortly after starting T and tapering off Lexapro. Three weeks ago I got my implant removed because it was reacting with the testosterone and I was having hot-flashes constantly bookending my shot days.

This morning, the Sunday before labor day….or the day the Temple burns, I woke up, pulled 1ML of testosterone from a small vial, and injected it into my thigh. I remembered then, that it’s been a whole year since I really came to grips with the masculine aspect of myself, and I’ve just run with it.

I went to Burning Man last year and discovered I was trans, and it’s totally okay to be exactly who I am. Today, I took my 17th shot of Testosterone.

I’ve come so far since I burned my past in the Temple, and it’s been good.

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The Awkward In-Between

I’ve noticed myself try to be quieter as I’ve started becoming more visibly masculine.

When people read me as male I feel like suddenly (in the feminist & progressive discourse spaces I inhabit) I no longer have a voice worth listening to. It’s difficult to balance the way feminist discourse at large tries to get masculine voices (without specification) to take a goddamn fucking seat while expressing my own particular brand of masculinity that has been informed and constructed by my femininity.

I’m stepping into a social place where half the time I’m read as male and taken super seriously (and half the time not). I know what (cis white) men are supposed to do, which is pass the fucking mic; so my quandary is:

Does being read as a man instantly invalidate my voice and experiences?

Queer Feminist discourse tends to sway largely in the yes direction. Having grown up being told I should be silent because of my gender expression means that being told by a different social group that I should be silent because of my gender expression is something I’m already good at instinctively, even though I know it’s wrong and entirely unnecessary.

I suddenly understand why so many transmasculine people become quiet about their experiences. I think a lot of us feel this – because we know what it’s like to not be listened to. Suddenly having people’s ears because of voices dropping a couple octaves is really disorienting. It doesn’t mean that all of the oppression I’ve internalized is suddenly un-learned and I’m suddenly granted every single privilege a cis white dude has as if my life had never happened to me.

(apparently in my brain, regardless of not being white or a man, cis white dude is still my bar)

I have agonized over minor things like being the first to move or speak up, because I’m read differently. Some of that is because I don’t want to deal with the confusion and some of it is because I feel like because my voice isn’t femme of center anymore, I’m somehow less allowed.

It’s really like going through that part of puberty where you have to decide how much social projection matters to you about how you express yourself and gender. With added complications because being non-binary means there’s nothing to switch to, so this extremely binary conversation is happening while the binary-ness of it all is also extremely irrelevant.

I’ve fallen into the trap I saw coming but hadn’t fully grasped. I’m going to work hard to write more about my experiences and feelings and disoriented-ness on HRT because I don’t need to carry the internalized lies that my voice has no value due to my expression anymore.

I’ll just keep doing what I’ve always done: speak my truths and elevate the voices of others as I can. There’s room for everyone’s experiences, even mine.

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First Week

I’ve been coming home from school every day this week kind of struck by how prepared I am for college despite never being in a classroom setting for ~8 hrs/day before. I hadn’t thought about how fighting tooth and nail for my education, and seeing it through myself, and teaching myself through high school would be helpful in a college setting. Really this just shows you how much (zero) I know about schools, because this morning I had an epiphany about homework.

Which was that: I did the exact same thing that everyone else did. My school entirely consisted of what most people experienced as homework. I just didn’t have anyone to actually teach me the things. I never understood what “homework” was when people asked me if I had homework after school….because that was all I did – what I really didn’t understand was what school was. I didn’t have anyone giving a lecture on multiple things every single day, painstakingly explaining the same thing on a whiteboard three different ways so it makes sense. If I was lucky, my mom would read the instructions paragraph out loud, or a chapter of a textbook.

I didn’t have deadlines or tests or quizzes, I barely had grades. My parents stopped actively educating me when I was 10 and started bragging about it the second they found out that I was self-driven enough to do the work if only I were handed the tools. So when I say I taught myself through highschool, I mean it.

College right now feels complicated. Homework is sort of hard because it feels a lot like that right now, and the thing is it’s hard in a good way. I feel ready and prepared for this because I had to fight so hard to get here, because to have an education in the first place I had to do the exact same thing that I am doing now. But also, it’s not remotely the same or familiar.

My instinct is to write down the things I don’t know to look up later, because the concept of a teacher I can ask questions to is still foreign to me (despite trying very hard to have and ask questions in every class). I have to consciously remember that the entire point of being in class is so I have a chance to get information without google, in a way that is probably better explained.

This is going to be kinda circle-y because a couple things are happening: there’s a button that’s being pushed because of the ways this is familiar and there’s also a lot of “oh cool, I got this” stuff going on.

I have been unpacking my brain in therapy lately and coming to some realizations about my relationship to my trauma. A large part of it is that I draw a lot of strength from it. There’s a lot of anger (a lot of anger) but also so much of what makes me me, and capable, and able to get through shit comes from that place. So good things are hard because while I’m pushing through normal things like a normal human, I’m fighting some demons on a sub-level and getting to a place where the strength I pull from my pain doesn’t bring as much pain up with it.

Also I’ve been super proud of myself for knowing how to do homework, and keep my shit together, and pace myself. I can pin point when I learned those things and it pulls up a lot of pain with it, even though it’s good.

For roughly a semester I participated in my homeschool group’s co/op day where we took over a church and operated kinda similarly to a school. Parents or alumni were stationed in rooms and taught a thing, and gave us actual homework. It wasn’t really graded in a way that I remember mattering, but there was still like, a due date for things.

I remember when my mom was pregnant and therefore not up for teaching us and I would just take my books and do my school. Eventually I had to teach my siblings and do my school. When I got into schoolwork that took more than 2 hours total to complete, my parents decided I’d learned all I needed to know and should focus on educating my siblings.

The only person who really valued my education enough to do anything about it was myself. It’s a really rough place to be as a child who has no idea 1) what they even need to learn and 2) very little guidance in any educational direction. My reading comprehension skills are great because that was the only tool I had to teach myself everything else.

It’s foreign to me to be lax about education because it was never just available to me. I have to remember that a lot of people haven’t had to go through educational neglect before getting to college, so I should not assume that everyone else is a Hermoine like me.

I realized that part of the trauma space I’ve been in is because the emphasis on being self driven (which I am), sends me back to being educationally abandoned. So my instincts say I’m about to lose access to support even though that isn’t remotely what’s meant.

They’re setting reasonable expectations because they can’t will students to show up and learn things. But the only experience I have is….that being used to restrict my ability to learn. I have to consciously remember that I am supposed to ask questions and not just take notes to look things up later. Logically, I understand this.

The part of my brain that’s trying to protect me from danger hasn’t adjusted to a different context yet. It’s made doing math homework really difficult because math is sort of my sticking point. Although I’m also feeling really devastated about my bullshit science this week too.

In a few weeks I’ll be actually learning how to weld and I am terrified and I know nothing.

Which I guess is the point, really. I think everyone else in my class also knows nothing which is exactly why we are spending 6 hours a week for 2.5 weeks going over safety before we even go into the welding lab.


I’ve also been feeling really guilty about putting my personal future/education first as far as time and priorities go. Even though like, this benefits more than just me long term…I feel like an asshole for not being able to organize full-time because I’m doing school full-time right now instead. Doing school while watching the rise of fascism just seems pointless some days, even though it’s probably the best decision to be making right now.

In that vein I’ve been blocked lately because I feel like I have nothing worthwhile to say, and what’s the point? Some of this is tangled up in gender feelings and sorting things out, and depression, and the state of the world. Right now I am a big tangled mess of buttons that keep being pushed and thank fuck therapy is on Monday.


In the meantime, PPE suits me. 

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Semester 1

Tomorrow I start school at Laney.

 

I took the compass test and will be taking the Technical Math (which is designed for people in any of the trades programs) course instead of arithmetic. I’m also taking Welding, Shop, Spatial Reasoning, Engineering Drawings, and Electricity. I’ll be at school from before 8am until 5 or 7pm Monday-Thursday.

I am the only visibly queer & not male person in my cohort – thus far I’m the only visibly queer person I’ve seen on Laney campus but I feel like that can’t possibly be true. I’m hoping that will change now that school is actually starting. There are no queer clubs on campus (but two christian fundamentalist ones) which has me worried, a bit, to be honest. There is a socialist club on campus though, so maybe there?

The only all gender bathroom on campus that I know of, I found by happenstance on the 3rd floor of Laney tower (where the counseling offices are). But my classes are all…too far away to make that feasible.

I have my work cut out for me, but my instructors are all happy I’m there. My therapist altered her schedule around mine, so my support system is strong at least. First class in the morning is Spatial Reasoning, and then Welding, electricity, and then therapy.

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Mountains

At 4pm I have the Compass math test at Laney. In the morning I need to drop off all of my income documentation from the last 2 years, my divorce decree, and an exception petition form because FAFSA awards aid by 2015 taxes, as if nothing major ever changes in the span of one year. After that I hightail it into SF for an advice session about freelancing, and then home, test, Machine Tech open house.

I went in on Monday to schedule the test assuming the closest would be a week out, but no. So I spent Tuesday getting my head back in math and working through quizzes on Khan academy and unearthing a massive pile of worms in the process.

I was working through rounding and got really fight or flighty, and then got to writing out what the greatest common factor looks like if you distribute it and at that point somewhere a mine exploded. Suddenly the entire time I’m spending trying to work through math problems I am also fighting a hugely intense battle that sounds a lot like:

Why are you even doing this? It’s not worth it, you’re not worth it

And I know those are lies so I press through, but they get louder. I manage to practice math for several hours before it gets too noisy, and make enough progress that I start passing tests because I remember how the process works again. And then imposter syndrome hits some more.

I spent half of today studying and half of it coming out of trauma space from trying to study. I feel like I climbed a mountain and took on two bears….for passing some basic pre-algebra quizzes.

I’ve gotten faster at realizing when I’m in that space where I live in my trauma instead of…not inside it. It still took me about an hour to go from realizing I needed to take a shower and go for a walk to get my head out of this space and reorient myself to actually doing so, but it only took me 4 hours of depression instead of two days.

I can identify my own tells now:

  • I feel like my shackles are raised and everything is personal
  • I feel like I’m about to lash out at any point and like I need to isolate myself
  • I get quiet and distant
  • There is an undercurrent of rage when I start talking about what’s bothering me (which means I’m obviously on to whatever it is that’s being stepped on)

When I suddenly feel like fight or flight out of the blue, it’s generally because something close enough to be associated in my brain happened that stepped on a trigger and some explosions went off.

I recently watched this anime called Mind Game; there’s a portion that depicts my brain when it’s triggered so perfectly: endless loops of the situation that happened, loud and inescapable. It weirdly helped me identify that the repetition of just…..the B roll of every time I was ridiculed for trying to do math as a kid, was coming from that place, not my current reality.

So I went out for a walk and explored a park on top of a parking deck, sorted out some thoughts, and felt much more grounded. I still feel like I just took on an army and I’m trying not to feel…like that’s uncalled for, because “it was only math”. It’s just that math….has a history, but I think I’ll be okay. 

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Post-YIMBYtown brain dump

I have a lot of things swirling around my brain that I need to process, and flesh out, and give words to but I haven’t had the mental energy or focus to do so. YIMBYtown took a lot out of me and I have like three things I need to write up about that because holy shit your boi here accidentally ran an international conference. But I haven’t had the energy to do that either.

The world got a lot dimmer this week. I don’t know, it was like something just flickered and died. I can feel it in my soul and it’s discomforting and weird. Trauma has a weight.

The trauma I carry, and the trauma others around me carry, they have weights and we can sense it. Mine is carried in the small of my back, like two granite stones. If I’m not careful they’ll pull me into a spiral. I’ve noticed that my trauma likes to hang out with other people’s trauma when we’re in groups and sometimes it takes me longer to recharge from that.


I enrolled at Laney, I have classes and everything. Tomorrow I go to schedule the Compass test for math and hand in my “I actually live in CA, please let me pay in-state tuition” papers. I’m taking what is basically Intro to Machine Tech, Arithmetic (unless I place into algebra), Spanish, and Jazz (dance) on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

In addition to my activism work. So I need a way to afford school which is where the crossroads lies, but……..if I’m really honest, I already know the answer.

I could try to get a part time job on top of full-time school and activism.

Or, I could hustle the shit out of myself and freelance.…which is what I’m actually going to be doing, even if I do toy with the idea of not having to be tracking work down all the time.


Some of the things I keep wanting to write about but haven’t been able to get out of my head:

  • Why cities are important to me after being isolated in suburbs as a child (and related to that: how being in a suburb and not rural nowhere is good for child safety)
  • Why I YIMBY (and how the intersection of homeschooling fits into housing politics)
  • Shit I learned doing YIMBYtown
  • Some of the things I’ve learned about my trauma and how I have to take care of myself
  • All 10 of the mountains I just climbed to enroll in the Machine Tech program and do trades and science and math…

I also want to make some shorts with pockets, and if they turn out to be okay, I might sell them.

I also have a few more pieces for Autostraddle in my pocket that I need to be able to write down.

I’m really tempted to start dabbling in local journalism doing more than writing press releases.

But I only have so much time in a day, and my energy is being eaten by existing this week. I feel like we’ve all aged about a decade.

 

This has been a rambly update, but now it’s out of the way so maybe I’ll be able to write something more cohesive later.

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Just Ask

We’re back in the trauma-dump phase of therapy where I dump a bunch of things and then chew on some of it the rest of the week. Lately I’ve been learning about asking.

Asking is fucking terrifying. I don’t know how to ask for things I want, or for help, or things I actually need. It takes a lot of effort – more effort than just doing whatever the thing is – to ask for literally anything.

When I was a child, my parents wanted us all to be super well-behaved: an example for other kids/families. One of the ways they ensured that was by telling us we were never allowed to ask for anything, whatever it was that we wanted or needed had to be offered to us. This meant that we were perfect children while grocery shopping, but also that when we went to my grandparent’s houses, we weren’t allowed to even ask for food or water without being punished. One of my siblings once violated that rule and was yelled at and spanked for asking for a drink. Thankfully, my grandparents caught on to this quickly and worked around it so we didn’t dehydrate or starve.

Conversely, when I was asked questions, they were always thinly veiled demands. My wellbeing depended on being able to decipher what the intent behind the question was and answer that. This meant understanding that if someone asked what my preference was, I wasn’t supposed to give my actual preference, but the one they desired. Anytime I made the mistake of answering with my actual preference, or any way other than desired…I was punished.

Every interaction I have goes through this filter of What is the desired outcome? and what is required of me? So I’m really good at figuring out and answering these questions really quickly (guess who rolled high on perception), but when people stop and ask me, genuinely, what my preference is or if I want X….I actually don’t have an answer, because I often don’t know. The flipside of this, is because my brain interprets questions as demands and I was never allowed to have needs/wants/etc let alone voice them without repercussions, I have a really hard time letting myself ask, anything, ever.

It touches a bunch of things that make it a really difficult wall to climb, every. single. goddamn. time.

  • A lifetime of experience shutting out acknowledging my own desires makes figuring them out enough to articulate them really hard. The work to remember that I have needs and find out what they are is…a different thing entirely.
  • Somehow convincing myself that asking literally anything isn’t going to wind up with being emotionally abused. I have to work through a ton of screaming alarms in my head to get to the point where I actually ask something, because I have to remember people aren’t actually going to freak out about it.
  • The trained instinct to not be inconvenient or need (let alone want) anything from anyone, but always be available to people who want things from me. Which is a long way of saying everyone can take advantage of me, but I’m not allowed to inconvenience anyone by existing. This is a goddamn fucking mountain, let me tell you.
  • Justifying that whatever I want to ask is something worth asking, largely because of these mountains, but also because having to justify any (rare) ask is a habit of self-preservation. I will always have a reason or justification for whatever answer I give, or question I finally work up the courage to ask. No one usually wants this… >.>
  • About 18 years of intensely negative reinforcement surrounding asks

What this looks like in practice now is that my kneejerk response is to say yes to anything and take on more things than I can handle (I’m actually improving a little bit here) because the answer to “what is the desired result?” is “them not doing a thing” which means the solution is “I will do the thing.” The question of whether or not the thing needs doing (by me or no) actually didn’t occur to me until just now.

Sometimes I will be having an anxiety attack and it will take me about an hour to ask to be held, I float caveats and explanations around every question I ask and provide context, I go out of my way to tell people that I won’t take their response to a food question personally, if people ask me what my preference is for anything at any given point, or what I want done, I blank and literally don’t know how to answer, I think about questions all the time and decide not to ask them because I took too much time trying to form them, and everything circles back to simply not feeling like I deserve…. anything.

So. I uh, am trying and mostly failing with this asking thing, but not being yelled at when I finally do ask anything at all seems to be helping.

Next step: not waiting until I feel desperate enough that the energy it takes to ask is justifiable.

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Avocado Toast

It’s 12:30am on Thursday. My body has decided hot flashes every 10 minutes is a Fun Thing To Do, so I’m awake. I haven’t written here since the end of March. I’m currently waiting for hopefully the last edit of a hyperlapse for YIMBYtown – the housing conference & unconference in July that East Bay Forward is putting on (go sign up!)- to export. FCPX was not meant for an underspec’d macbook, just saying.

I’m terrified that suddenly I will lose the ability to write and everything of mine will just suck. Because writing for 17+ years is obviously how you lose talent, not hone it. Also, my ability to draw and do anything creative or worthwhile. Somehow making progress also gives me a boatload of imposter syndrome.

I also had the realization that as an adult, I have what we called “fiat power” in speech and debate over the things I control. Which means, even if I AM actually pulling answers out of my ass, those are the answers we have and that’s okay. I’m still coming to grips with this.

I applied to the Machinist program at Laney College for the fall, which I’m really excited about.

 

I’ve been spending all of my time doing activism in one form or another and practicing selfcare. I’m really stressed about making ends meet. I feel like my time is needed in activism but activism isn’t paying me enough to keep me housed and fed sustainably. I have this recurring existential crisis where I weigh my failure in a capitalist system vs the Actual Work I Am Doing. I spend more time doing work than I’m getting paid for, and it’s work I love doing, but I need to figure out how to make it sustainable. Spending more energy than I am getting in return as far as work input for the ability-to-live-without-anxiety-output is not great long term planning. In that vein, I’m hirable, supportable, and fundable. My current situation is: I have a lot of things that are breaking or important (my cell phone, my surface pro, clothes that fit) that I just can’t afford to replace and still be able to make the minimums on my bills and buy food.

My taxes are still currently stuck in the IRS, and I have no idea when I’ll get my return. I filed in February. I called the number, it was the same exact thing as the website form but with a robot voice. Anyway, things are both terrifying and exciting right now. I am learning that it’s really hard to value my time, but that I have to or I’ll starve. yay capitalism.

 

I meant for this to end cheerier, but I accidentally had avocado toast this week and ruined my future.

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Hiatus

You may have noticed that I really haven’t been able to do much of anything for several weeks at this point. My brain checked out two weeks ago thanks to burnout and I’m only slowly getting it back. It’s really frustrating because the world is still going to shit, I just am powerless to do anything about it because all my spoons got eaten. So, to try to recover my brain and restore my energy I’m taking a solid two weeks off activism and anything work-like.

I spent the last few therapy sessions talking about burnout and resting and how hard it is to do. Resting starts a constant internal battle where the physiological need to rest is actually a traumatic minefield because of how often I would be punished and put to work if I was caught resting when it wasn’t the designated time. I wished once that I would get sick, just so I could rest, because that was how exhausted I was and how much I was not allowed to sit down as a kid. So resting is actually a fuck ton of work. Resting is more work than activism and working, but I run myself ragged and then go splat when I forget to rest or don’t feel like fighting that day.

But at this point, for the last two and a half weeks, my body and my brain have just been screaming at me that they need to rest and recover. I need to reset. My therapist told me that working – in activism or otherwise – is an exchange of energy, and you need to be able to balance it, because if you give more than you’re taking in, it’s not healthy. Taking a break is important to restore all of the energy I’ve been spending and not replacing, and this will enable me to then have energy for things again.

Obviously, I guess. But it helped to hear it out loud and that sort of calmed the part of my brain that is still a teenager who’s freaked out about taking a break if they aren’t actively vomiting because someone will come yell at them for being lazy and unproductive and they should ignore, y’know, anything less than death-bed levels of damage and keep going.

So, I’m taking a break. I am going camping for three days after I take my shot on Sunday and I think the being in the middle of the woods with no internet to remind me the world is falling apart will be really really helpful. Beyond that, my plans for the two weeks are to: go through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain again, play through some video games, and maybe bike a bit.

Hopefully I’ll be able to come back in full swing, because there’s shit to do, I just can’t do it right now.

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