Just Keep Swimming…

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: Don’t Be an Asshole

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party should combine two ostensibly happy things: Winter holidays (they’re careful to stay away from Baby Jesus, which I appreciate) and Walt Disney World.

You wouldn’t have known it the other night. Amidst the holiday cheer, there was some serious shit going down in Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe. People were full-combat Disneying. Some examples:

  1. The man next to me waiting for food only spoke Italian, and his chicken sandwich apparently arrived without bacon or the type of cheese he wanted, and he berated not one, but two Cast Members who came over to speak with him and try and fix it. This apparently didn’t happen soon enough for him, so he started yelling at them (shout out to Guiseppe from Abruzzo, who kept his cool when I would have thrown an orange soda in this jackass’ face, which explains why I don’t work at Disney) and you didn’t need to speak Italian to know he was swearing at them.When he finally left, I asked the CM — in Spanish — how you said “asshole” in Italian, and she laughed and all of a sudden I got my food right away. I’m glad I could make her laugh. Since I’m assuming she’s since been killed by someone who received chicken fingers instead of french fries, and I’m glad I could help make the last moments of her life somewhat more pleasant.
  2. A group of Karens felt that they’d been waiting too long to get their food. Nevermind I’ve never seen this place this crowded (it looked like every Greyhound station in America on Sept. 13, 2001), they hadn’t gotten their food. And they were cute and white and young, so why would old/fat people/other people get served first?Clearly, there was some sort of Donald-shaped conspiracy keeping them from their goddamn chicken sandwich and fries. And they were telling everyone about it. Loudly. And as if that wasn’t enough, whenever someone’s name was called, they’d parrot that person’s name over and over, and when that person would approach the counter, one of these bitches would grab that person’s receipt and read off their order time, and start bitching about how long they’d been waiting anew as compared to someone else.
  3. Cosmic Ray’s Starlight ran out of the display Donald Sippers (the ones in the front) and there was a palpable wave of panic as people asked any CM available if they’d sold out. It’s as close to a riot as I’ve ever seen, short of, you know, actual riots.

Honestly, it’s a good thing MK doesn’t have a bar.

Happy holidays, y’all, and if you go Disney, don’t be any of these assholes.

Lessons of 2022

Some of y’all realize I’ve gotten through the last couple of months by self-soothing with TikTok (and thanks, Dee, for the suggestion to take a bath and download the app until I felt calm. I don’t think you expected it to take two months, but here we are…)

I’m not going to go into why the last quarter of 2022 made me wonder a) if karma was coming back to repay me for all my sins or if I’d had a psychotic break and none of this was real, or b) why I couldn’t seem to sidestep drama. I hate drama.

More than once over the past three months, I’ve said that if every day starting Sept. 30 through, well, now, was a TV show, it would have been canceled because no one would believe one person’s life could have that much deus ex machina.

So I’m not going to relive any of it, except, as a way to remember it, I’m going to share my… Lessons from 2022:
 
  • You can get COVID twice. In a month.
  • COVID brain is a thing.
  • After COVID Rebound, you can then get strep. Immediately.
  • When you get it, the Telehealth doctor will tell you “that’s a result of taking the Paxlovid. You’re just going to feel that way for about four months.” (She was wrong. It was strep, and it was almost worse than the Rebound.)
  • Just because you’re not in the path of the hurricane doesn’t mean it still won’t screw you.
  • On that note, a round trip to Valdosta can be fun with the right person, and there are good people in the world, including the entire print deck crew at South Georgia Printing, who put in serious overtime to make sure we had a paper in Ian’s wake. (We paid dearly, but I’m pretty sure they probably only broke even.)
  • At the end of all this, do not, under any circumstances, say, “Well, the month’s almost over… how much worse can it get?” because 20 minutes later you’ll get a phone call that your dad’s in emergency surgery. It will not get better from here; at least, not for a few months.
  • The Devil’s great lie is not convincing the world he didn’t exist (he does, and I may or may not have been married to his spawn for a few years) but that opioids are not that bad “if you really need them.” I watched doctor after doctor prescribe them for my dad, who, after maybe a few days, didn’t need them. These drugs kept him from participating in rehab and sent him to Hospice where, despite the nurses’ best efforts, he managed to come out of the drug fog enough to say he didn’t want the drugs and would, instead, prefer to do rehab. Fuck opioids and everyone who has a hand in making or prescribing them; they almost killed my father. He’s alive now, no thanks to any of you.
  • The only way to make God or the Universe laugh is to make plans, like, “I’m going to remove all single-use plastics from my life in 2022!” or “We’re going to camp in a remote location over the new year.” Friends, I just threw out a lot of plastic I thought wouldn’t be in my house a year ago, and yes, I did it from my house, where street-side fireworks rage and my wimpiest dog trembles (Calypso, as ever, snoozes and waits for treats).
  • There are no friends like the ones you make before you get your first period. These are the women who will be there for you no matter what. I could kill someone and there are a few women who would not question why I did it; their only questions would be, “Shouldn’t we rent the car under an alias?” and “Which part of the Everglades should we drive to for the body drop?” Hold onto these women, people. What you have with them goes so far beyond “squad” there isn’t even a word. Had I chosen to kill the Hospice nurse who sat my mom down and told her my dad was dying (he wasn’t), these are the women who would have driven me to Turner River, made sure I had chains, lime, and concrete – and a tarp in the rental car trunk – and helped make sure I never served a day in prison.
  • There’s nothing like having a true partner at your side. Things got so much worse for El Cap – and, out of respect for his wish for privacy, I won’t mention what he’s gone through at the same time as all this. We joked that we needed to stop answering the phone, because it was never good news. When I asked him, mostly seriously, what I’d done to deserve the past few months, he held me and said, “well, it’s just our turn.” He was not wrong.
  • There’s always the other side. I’m not sure what 2023 will bring, but I know it will be the other side. Here’s hoping it’s slightly less… like 2022. I leave you with a TikTok I’ve watched more than you may imagine.
@erin.monroe_ #expectationvreality #newyear #fyp ♬ original sound – Erin Monroe

Paxlovid: Playing the Odds With COVID-19 Rebound

Let’s recap my medical history here, just for, you know, fun.
 
1999: To treat my ITP, my hematologist wants to use a cure that would avoid a splenectomy. They need to make sure I’m Rh positive, because if I’m Rh negative, it won’t work. “Don’t worry,” she tells me. Neither parent is RH negative, which means I have a less than 7% chance of being RH negative. I test RH negative and have to have the splenectomy rather than the noninvasive treatment.
2016: My doctor sends me to a hematologist because my iron levels are dreadfully low and aren’t improving with medicine. He tells me my iron levels “are the lowest I’ve ever seen” (and he’s a hematologist oncologist!) and sends me to a gastroenterologist to deal with what we assume are bleeding ulcers. He tells me I probably have celiac. I tell him it’s a bullshit disease (literally, that’s what I said). He insists on a scope and a blood test. 1% of people around the world have celiac. I have celiac.

2020: I sign up for a clinical trial for a drug to treat celiac that would allow me to eat gluten. They run bloodwork, which I’m assured is routine. The day before I’m supposed to head down to South Florida to get the first infusion, the doctor calls me and says I don’t qualify because I have an incredibly rare celiac mutation. 5% of celiacs have an antigen called HLA-DQ8. That’s 5% of 1% of the population. I’m a writer, so my math skills are shaky, but in a world of eight billion people, I’m one of four million with this particular antigen. That’s about the size of Oklahoma.

 

2022: My doctor tells me I have a low thyroid, which explains a lot, and puts me on medicine. It doesn’t work. He runs tests and tells me my iodine is “the lowest he’s ever seen” and the human body needs iodine to make T3 and T4, so get on som iodine. Apparently this is an unusual problem. I roll with it, because hell, I’m getting used to being the medical anomaly.

Three pills scattered
Rebound is rare, the doctor said. I should have known right then and there it would happen to me.
Intellec7, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Also 2022: I get COVID-19 and, because of my Rh- blood, I have no spleen, so the doctor prescribes Paxlovid. She tells me there’s an incredibly small chance I’ll relapse but, she assures me, it’s only 1% of the people who take Paxlovid. (It’s actually 3.53% for rebounding within seven days, and I was right at the edge of that window.) I woke up Saturday with a scratchy throat, but tested negative Saturday night and again Monday morning. I called the doctor, who said, “Well, you don’t have fever, and you do have sinus issues, so it’s probably a sinus infection. Test one more time inside the five day window of feeling bad, just to be sure, but it’s highly unlikely you have COVID again.”  
On the last day of the window where I could have relapsed, I tested positive. For COVID-19. Again. That’s twice in one month that I’ve had COVID-19. I’m twice vaxxed and twice boosted and apparently two is my lucky number.
I don’t know why I’m even shocked. 
I’m gonna go buy some scratchers now. I mean, it’s a 1 in 300 million chance. I figure I’m due.

Worried About Ian? Behold: Real-Life Hurricane Prep Tips For Floridians

Will Tropical Storm Ian make landfall along the Gulf Coast of Florida? My unpopular take: It’s too soon to tell. After years of following storms, not out of fear but a pathological fascination, here’s what I would do if I were in the storm’s path. Which, as it turns out, I am – although if history is any marker, I won’t be for long. Yes, I know Jim Cantore is coming to Clearwater, 40 minutes north of my home. That means nothing to me. By the time you read this, in fact, Pinellas could likely be out of the cone.

While I’m watching people panic-buy flats of bottled water and wine (seriously, Aldi was clean out of Winking Owl by noon yesterday, because, well, we like to mix panic with a little tropical storm partying, apparently), there are smarter ways to prep. Here’s what I would tell anyone readying for their first Florida hurricane.

A hurricane chart of Florida, showing wind speed probabilities for Ian
This, too, shall pass… either over us or next to us. Don’t panic.
National Hurricane Center
  1. Should You Stay or Should You Go? Decide NOW if you plan to evacuate. Deciding to evacuate 12 hours before landfall is a suicide mission. (We’re not evacuating, but we’re 38 feet above sea level and almost every window in our block home is a hurricane window.) Evacuating, I should note, is not always the best option.
  2. Gimme Shelter. Please don’t go to a shelter unless you’re told to evacuate and have no other options. Shelters aren’t fun, and they’ll be at capacity soon enough. There are plenty of elderly folks who can’t ride out the storm at home and don’t have the means to go too far. If you’re not in an evacuation zone, don’t go. Government errs on the side of caution, so they’ll tell you if you need to go.
  3. You Ran… You Ran So Far Away. If you are told to evacuate and choose not to, though, remember, 911 is not an option for you. Be prepared to be your own island – possibly literally – until the storm passes. That’s not always a bad thing.
  4. How Much is That Doggie in the Window? If you do plan to evacuate and have pets, remember that pet-friendly shelters often require you pre-register for a spot – you cannot simply show up with your pets. If you do bring your pets to a shelter that allows them, remember, they’ll have to stay in a crate the whole time. Another option if you can afford it: Red Roof allows pets at no extra charge; you have to tell them you have pets, but that’s it. Other hotels allow pets, too (we’re big fans of Home2Suites, although they do charge a pet fee), so that may be far more comfortable than a shelter.
  5. Song of the South Evacuating south can makes sense. Florida’s a big state. A hurricane can be well past the Florida Keys before it hits, say, Port St. Joe. Everybody and their sister will be clogging the roads north – if Fort Myers has power after the storm passes, head there. Or Fort Lauderdale. Or anywhere south that has power after the storm. (This might be cheaper, too.)
  6. You Spin Me Round If you’re staying: Wash your clothes now. Seriously. You don’t want to get stuck without power and clean underwear. There won’t be any a/c. Think on that.
  7. Red Solo Cup Please stop buying bottled water. Freeze jugs you have. Buy bleach tablets now (you can get them on Amazon if your store doesn’t have any) to disinfect water after the fact. If you feel as though you must buy bottled water, spring for a few 5-gallon jugs and buy a bottled water pump.
  8. Octopus’ Garden Go through your yard NOW and throw out unneeded items (just make sure you’ll have trash pick-up before landfall.)
  9. Our (Clean) House Clean your house. Waiting for a hurricane, someone one said, is like being stalked by a frightened turtle. Work off your energy by getting things put away.
  10. Kill Your Television And this is the most important: For the love of god, please turn off your TV. If you want the most reliable forecast, go to the National Hurricane Center (hurricanes.gov, and @NHC_Atlantic on Twitter) because they’re the only source not making money off the hurricane – they truly want to minimize loss of life. Everyone – my own newspaper included – makes money off eyeballs. Over at @gabbernews, we’re only posting prep and local advice, no forecasting, and we’re telling people to check with the National Hurricane Center for that.

As one of my favorite book covers advises, don’t panic. This too shall pass.

The Plastic Project: The Guest Bathroom

When you never use a bathroom, it’s remarkably easy to rid it of plastic.

Or so I thought.

This month’s Plastic Project: our guest bathroom. Easy peasy, right? We don’t use it, so there’s no personal products shrouded in plastic that will, I’m increasingly convinced, find its way to at least Boca Ciega Bay, if not the Gulf of Mexico.

We just returned from a trip to the Florida Keys, where the amount of plastic along the waterfront simultaneously reaffirmed my decision to rid our lives of single-use plastics (as well as multi-use plastic, if I’m being honest) and disheartened me because there is SO MUCH plastic.

Nevertheless, there’s a problem I’d hoped to kick down the road until I tackled our bathroom: Toilet paper.

rolls of toilet paper, arranged horizontally
This month’s challenge: finding toilet paper that doesn’t come wrapped in plastic. Suggestions welcome!
pixabay

Guests like to use toilet paper, it seems. I can’t fault them for that. So our choices here are to never invite anyone inside our home again, which seems drastic and also a dick move when we’re having a pool party (plus it will encourage people to pee in our pool), so I need to find another option.

Right now, our Amazon Subscribe-and-Save has us well-stocked, but as of today, I’ve canceled that subscription, because my beloved Angel Soft comes wrapped in plastic, so that’s a no-go.

No, we’re not giving up toilet paper. We’re just giving up the plastic. When our current supply runs low, I’ll choose one of these brands, because they’re wrapped in paper, not plastic.

Also, I didn’t realize it was Plastic-Free July, but it is. Never too late to take the challenge!

How the Plastic Project started

The Plastic Project: My Home Office

A Gen X History of Phones

The first phone I remember was in Port Chester, and I still know the number: 914-939-7520. It was in a wooden box and it looked like a phone in a very fancy coffin, and honestly, I think it was prophesying… something… about what would change in telecommunications over the next five decades.

When we moved to Florida, we had a wall mount phone and a party line, which we shared with an elderly German couple, the Mews, who lived down the street and never seemed to use their phone at all. We had the best phone number, which I’m certain a few friends remember but I won’t share here because it’s still my dad’s cell number.

Eventually, my parents bought an extra-long cord so I could have a little more freedom of movement on my oh-so-important calls to… I don’t know who I called at age 11, but someone. Lots of someones, actually. I made a lot of hesitating, embarrassing phone calls to boys who had no interest in me but at all from that kitchen phone. My dad remodeled the kitchen a few years back and there’s a refrigerator where the phone used to be.

My first phone of my own was a trimline phone in my room. It was mint green. It had buttons instead of a dial and I thought that was perfection. The biggest problem was that the buttons made noise when I dialed and that made it hard to spend as much time on the phone as I wanted to spend, because my parents were all, “you need to study because algebra matters” and while I’m still not sure it does, I see the larger point now.

As a teenager, I also had one shaped like a piano and the keys were the buttons that made a played a somewhat corresponding note when I dialed. If I wanted to make a call without my parents knowing, I had to take the batteries out of the phone so the keys wouldn’t make noise. This was an oddity: Batteries in a phone. Yes, gather ’round, little ones, because in my day, most phones didn’t require power. You plugged the phone into the phone jack (like an outlet but linked to wires that went to every building in America) and the phone just magically worked. No charging. No power insecurities. No “you now need to replace every charger in your house because you bought a phone that’s one-half millimeter smaller.” We didn’t even know what chargers were. You may as well have talked to us about Google or iPods. Simpler times.

This piano phone was the phone I was on when I realized my parents had ponied up for call waiting, because I heard the beep while I was on the phone with one of my friends. It’s also the phone I spent a lot of time on with my friend Neil, who now lives in Korea and I communicate with solely via Facebook, largely because I spent so much time on the phone instead of studying that I struggle to calculate time zone math. I also talked to my friend Russ a lot. Russ and I now communicate on occasion via text, but mostly by tagging his wife on Facebook and she relays the message.

Sometime during my high school years, we bought a phone with an answering machine. This, young ones, was the precursor to voice mail, but it was physical – a teeny, tiny cassette tape that fit inside the base of the phone (Because phones used to come in two parts) and – this is the best part, and I miss it – you could listen to people leaving messages as they left them, so if you decided you wanted to talk to them, you could pick up mid-message. This, of course, led to a lot of messages that started with, “Hey, are you there? Are you screening? Pick up. Pick up! No? OK, well, call me.” (And then, of course, if it wasn’t close family or friends, the person would have to leave a number because – get this – we had to dial phone numbers. One number at a time. We didn’t have to dial all 10 numbers, though, unless we were calling long distance, which we only did on Sundays unless someone had died, because we paid by the minute to talk long distance. Sounds crazy, I know, but that’s how it worked.)

And then I had a cordless phone, with buttons, with the answering machine built in, without tape. It was digital! No one really knew what “digital” meant but it was snazzy and we wanted it. We also had no idea where the messages were kept, but we suspected the phones had a sort of sympathetic magic thing happening: The phone kept the messages safe for us until we were ready to retrieve them, much like pagans would bring tree boughs inside during the winter to keep the tree’s spirit alive until warmer weather arrived.

In the mid-90s, I bought a phone for my car that I paid by the minute to use. I could talk for 30 minutes a month before I paid something like 60¢ a minute if I went over, and whether you talked for one second or 60 seconds, that was a minute (except for one phone company, Aerial, that became part of T-Mobile and that is one of the reasons I love this company today, even though paying by the minute to talk is so 1999) and yes, I did have an $800 phone bill one month, although for a brief while, if you called someone who used the same cellular service as you did, you could talk as long as you wanted, for free, with no minute restrictions. This, of course, is back when we actually used phones to verbally convey information.

Next, I owned a Tele-Go, a phone that functioned like a cordless phone in your own home, then cellular when you moved too far away from the base station. Felt like an early adapter with that one, I did. If this sounds quaint to all y’all who grew up with a cell phone, well, just remember my friend Linda’s older brother had a cordless phone once that wouldn’t get static-y until he hit the end of the block and his family was quite excited.

For a good long stretch, I stayed loyal to the Nokia 3390 gold brick. Bought replacements on eBay when Nokia stopped making them (yes, children, the early cell phones were not sturdy and if you dropped it or threw it or dipped it water, there were no cell phone repair places to go, or bags of rice for drying out your phone.) I switched only when I bought my first iPhone, which was a marvel: My iPod, my phone, and text messages… all in one place? What kind of dark magic was this? Voicemail you could listen to – wait for it – out of order? Yes, kids, 20 years ago, before the wonder that is Visual Voicemail, you had to listen to your messages in the order you received them and make a decision, right then in there, whether you wanted to save or delete the message. It was a lot of pressure, and I credit this for a lot of bad decisions many of us made in the early aughts.

A phone in a wooden box
This was the first phone I remember. Yes, it did look like it was in a coffin.
ATLIER Props

And now, many, many iPhones and many, many dollars later, here we are. From my simple beginnings with that phone-in-a-coffi) to me trying to decide if I want to buy Apple Care that costs more than every phone my family owned from 1972-1998 *put together*, plus the very real struggle of trying to decide if I want the phone with two camera lenses or three, or whether I’ll need that extra four hours of battery time, and then – and then – when the USPS leaves the most expensive five-inch package I’ll get all year in plain view on my front patio, and I get an email that my new phone has arrived and I rush home to get it before someone swipes it because the delivery driver couldn’t be bothered to stuff it under the door mat because thieves never look *there*, and I rip open the package, the first thing I will do is swear because it has the wrong USB connector for literally every single power block we have in the house. The next thing I will do is try and figure out how the hell to work the phone without a home button, which wasn’t even a thing a few years ago and honestly, Douglas Adams was right when he suggested maybe we never should have come down out of the trees.

The Plastic Project: Making Kitchen Hand Soap. Sort of.

I’ve started de-plasticizing my kitchen, because it’s becoming clear it’s going to take more than a month to do it. I’ve had some small victories; for example, I can bring my reusable container to the local produce market, Spiros Pasadena Produce & Deli,  to get feta and brine (also mozzarella and brine), so that’s nice – they don’t mind at all and, in fact seemed pleased to do it.
Other things take a little more time, like hand soap. Bar soap gets gross, especially on a kitchen sink, plus I really like liquid soap. Once upon a time, I was a Bath & Body Works junkie, but the price, the plastic, and the ongoing discussions about whether or not their products could contain harmful ingredients (I’m not endorsing this site, but linking to it to make the point that it’s one of many speculating and suggesting that yes, the stuff at Bath & Body Works may not be the best choice for your health) has led me to find alternatives.
Instead, I’ve started making my own hand soap. I make large batches – it isn’t hard – and save it in an old container so I can refill my countertop soap dispenser as needed.
A quick – and then, a more protracted – search for “how do I make liquid hand soap” gave pretty basic results: equal parts water and Castile soap, then almond oil and, if desired, vitamin E oil. Add essential oils, mix, and – supposedly – voila: handmade liquid soap.
Sort of.
The liquid soap was runny. It worked, sure, but I didn’t like the consistency. The answer, it turns out, is glycerin. Another Google search assured me I could use as much glycerin as I wanted in my liquid soap, and it would give it a better texture.
That did the trick.
Sort of.
It’s still runnier than I’d like, so I went on the hunt for thickeners. Apparently the answer is salt. Specifically, a salt solution. My first two attempts at a basic salt solution were… not good. Apparently you can’t use kosher salt and also the website that suggested a 2:1 ration of water to salt was generous with the salt.
I tried adding some olive oil but that didn’t work as well as I hoped.
Runny or not, it does seem to clean my hands, which is really the point.
There is, of course, one more problem: Glycerin, Castile soap, almond oil, and Vitamin E oil all come in – you guessed it – plastic bottles. So now, of course, I’m on the hunt for places that allow you to refill these, and I’m not finding any. I’m choosing to focus on the positive: Even the smallest of these plastic bottles (the Vitamin E oil) will help replace at least 10 single-use plastic liquid soap bottles.
Ingredients for making hand soap on a counter
Making kitchen hand soap (instead of buying plastic bottles) wasn’t tough, or particularly expensive, but it doesn’t quite have the same texture. After much experimenting, I’m OK with that.
Cathy Salustri

Oh, here’s the liquid hand soap recipe if you want to give it a go:
1 c. Castile soap
1 c. water
2 Tbsp. almond oil
2 Tbsp. Vitamin E oil
30 drops tea tree oil
25 drops lavender oil
20 drops lemon oil
1 c. glycerin
Olive Oil to desired thickness
Salt solution to desired thickness
Add the soap to a refillable bottle, then add all other ingredients. I use a funnel, and add the glycerin last to make sure all the oils get washed into the bottle.

Advice for New Writers

My friend and fellow writer Arin Greenwood once said in interview that people who want to write should “have realistic expectations about what the writing process is like.”

No, Arin. Nooooo. It’s like tattoos: You never admit to people considering getting one how much the damn things hurt.
Seriously, how can you give honest advice about writing? Because this is what that sounds like:
“Be prepared for lousy pay, more work than you can imagine, and never really being ‘off the clock’ like normal people. And make no mistake, you won’t be a normal person ever again. Because you’re going to love writing just enough to do it, but then when you get to do it – once you have to do it if you want to eat – you will hate it. You’ll still love it, but you will also hate it.
“You will organize your spices instead of writing. You will start a jigsaw puzzle instead of writing. You will take on new home improvement projects weeks before a major deadline.
“Your friends will never understand why you’re struggling to write. ‘Just sit down and do it and get off the internet’ they will tell you, not realizing that advice is as useful as giving a cat a tuxedo and screaming ‘WELL? PUT IT ON!’
“You will find yourself in cold dark moments of despair, aware that your friend just won a Pulitzer while working full time and raising a child, and you’re all of a sudden middle-aged and you don’t have any assurances that you can even finish your next chapter and if you do you damn sure know it’s not going to win a Pulitzer.
“You will hate yourself for not writing when you know you should be and you will learn to ignore the way your stomach does a slow roll to the left when someone asks you, ‘hey, how’s your book coming?’
“You will wake at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat because you realize if you die, not only is your internet browsing history remarkably suspect, people are going to read your half-finished manuscript and realize you are a fraud, a total charlatan and a waste of your publisher’s energy and time – and then they’ll pity you for ‘losing your edge.’
“And then, despite all that, despite feeling perfectly trained for a stone age where you didn’t have to possess social media skills that only a modern two-year-old could reasonably be expected to have, despite all THAT, you won’t ever be able to do anything else again.
“It’s a vicious cycle, worse than alcoholism, worse than heroin addition, worse than anything, because no one looks at an alcoholic and says, ‘What are you complaining about? you’re so lucky’ and you want to throttle them because sweet jumping baby Jesus, this is not luck. This is a goddamn disease you’re fighting as you trudge across a battlefield of misplaced modifiers, late nights, and self-doubt.”
So, no, young writers, don’t listen to Arin.
Writing is great. It’s easy. It’s fun. You’ll love it. I pinky-swear.

The Plastic Project: My Home Office


Office ink.

I’ve never thought so much about ink. That was, not until January and my resolution to rid my life of single-use plastic. Then, I thought about ink a lot. I thought about ink so much, in fact, that I didn’t get this post written and posted until, well, now.

The 2022 plastic-free experiment started in my home office, where I have little plastic. Actually, almost none  – save two things: Printer ink and my fountain pen.  Let’s start with the easy one: Find a replacement for fountain pen cartridges.

I’ve used a fountain pen for most of my writing – some 20 years – and I love the way it feels to write with one. I’ve always used the disposable plastic ink cartridges for ink, and my first task for the Plastic Project involved finding a non-single-use replacement. In the recesses of my dusty mind, I remembered seeing something in the new pen box called (I’ve since learned) a converter. 

Fountain Pen
I love this pen. It cost me $75 at a GeckoFest almost 10 years ago and it’s been worth every penny.
Cathy Salustri

While trying to find a converter that fit my pen, I learned a bit about the history of fountain pens, something I was not expecting from this project. But what I didn’t learn was what size I would need, because when I bought my pen roughly 10 years ago  – at one of Gulfport’s annual street festivals, GeckoFest – I either didn’t get one or threw out the converter because I didn’t see myself using it. 

Thankfully, although the company who sold me the pen, WriteTurnz, hasn’t returned to GeckoFest in quite some time, the company still has a website. I emailed Jason asking what size I needed and if he could suggest a company, and he calls me almost immediately and offers to send me one that fits. He also offers to repair my much-loved, much-used, much-abused pen.

(This pen, incidentally, has wood that came from a cabbage palm that fell during Hurricane Charley in 2004, cost me $75, and has been worth every damn penny. I use it for everything and it’s on my person almost every time I leave the house. I highly recommend this company if you want to move away from disposable pens.)

As for printer ink… We have plenty of cartridges right now, but when we re-order, I’ll order refillable cartridges, and this has caused much consternation and stress, because one, I suspect refiling the cartridges won’t exactly be a tidy process, and two, I have remarkably little faith in how they’ll work. If anyone has any guidance on refillable inkjet cartridges for a Canon TR8500, I’d love to hear it!)

Next up: The guest bathroom (I keep looking at all the plastic in our main bathroom and it overwhelms me… I’m going to have to work up to that one.)

The Plastic Project

Can I rid my life – and my home – of single-use plastics by New Year’s Eve 2022?

The first draft of this post started with “It started with my pandemic walks” but that’s not true; my issues with single-use plastics started long before that, when I would take my kayak out and see plastic bottles floating in the water, or when I’d walk along Fort De Soto and plastic grocery bags caught on the sea oats.

My obsession with single-use plastics did intensify during the early stages of the pandemic, when I started taking lengthy walks, often through the Gulfport alleys. Our alleys fascinate me; I love the hidden art and Easter eggs you can find on the backsides of our architecturally diverse homes.

The secret side of one of Gulfport’s lovely homes. Not everything I find in the alleys is this picturesque. Photo by Cathy Salustri.

As I walked, I noticed more and more trash on the ground – on the streets and in the alleys. I started walking with hand sanitizer and gloves so I could pick up the trash, and I never took a walk without finding plastic trash.

As boaters, El Cap and I see no small amount of floating plastic jetsam, and as kayakers, it’s even worse. When we traveled the state this past September, camping our way across the northern and central parts of the state, I find plastic at every campground. Early one September morning, at the final campsite of our Florida road trip, I walked along Flagler Beach. Every morning just before sunrise I’d walk the beach. It’s the best time of day, because there’s usually no one on the beach and it’s just me and the sand and the rising sun. And, of course, the plastic.

On this particular morning, I saw a flash of color where the sand met the sea grass. I moved closer, toward a marked turtle nest. I saw a trio of deflated balloons, nestled in the sand. The hatchling turtles would literally have to crawl over these balloons to get to sea. The horror of this – sea turtles often mistake plastics for food and eat them, which can be a death sentence – left me angry and sad.

This was within striking distance of a marked turtle nest. Photo by Cathy Salustri.

In October, we spent a week camping at Bahia Honda State Park, home to arguably one of the most pristine beaches in the United States. We couldn’t walk more than 20 feet without stooping to pick up plastic trash and, when we happened upon a large plastic container (think: larger than a five gallon gas container but not as big as a 55-gallon drum) we couldn’t lift, I flagged down a park ranger and he and two others came to remove it. He told me they saw this sort of trash all the time, and that it washed in from the boats out in the Atlantic.

No matter where I looked, it felt as if plastic had conquered the planet. It was like a B-movie horror film, only more along the lines of Creature from the Bag Lagoon. My walks along the beach meant picking up plastic bottle caps, bottles, bits of broken sand pails and shovels, and whatever else had washed up onshore or been abandoned by the beachgoers the day before.

As I wander along Florida’s beaches, I keep flashing back to a 2016 video with Jeff Bridges, where he talks about plastics and the futility of recycling. Bridges suggests humanity has to find a better solution.

“Recycling is not a sustainable solution,” Bridges says in the video, produced by the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Since returning from the Florida Keys, the idea of eliminating single-use plastics from my life has danced through may brain. We already do some things: We have reusable bags for shopping; we use silicon or glass leftover containers and baggies; we don’t keep paper or disposable plastic plates, flatware, or drink ware in the house; we try to buy vegetables loose (rather than shrink-wrapped); and we look for foodstuffs like peanut butter, jelly and other staples in glass, rather than plastic, bottles.

That’s not even close to enough, though. I realize that. Over the past two months, I’ve found myself looking at my bottle of conditioner, my face wash, my dish soap… you name it, it’s in plastic and it’s probably in my home.

Which is why I’m committing – publicly – to get single-use plastic out of my life over the next 12 months. I’ll spend a month on each room, looking for ways to replace plastic with something more sustainable. I’ll look at what’s in our camper, on our boat, in our yard, and at the newspaper office, too. For one month, I’ll focus on swaps that our lifestyle – and our wallet – can sustain. I don’t have mountains of time, so I’m not about to do anything as severe as buy my own cow so I can milk it into a tin pail instead of buying milk in a plastic carton. I’ll have to find another solution.

I’ve thought about how to do this, and I have some ideas, and I have a loose set of rules:

• No throwing out something just because it’s plastic, or contained in such. When it breaks/ runs out, replace it with something not made with plastic.

• Don’t be an asshole. When a friend brings over a veggie platter for a party and it’s arranged on a disposable plastic tray, I’m not going to proselytize. I’m going to smile, dip a carrot stick in the ranch dressing, and remember that the goal is progress, not perfection.

• This does not extend to medical care. I’ve been fortunate to make it out of my thirties alive and will, in fact, would love to escape my forties alive by the end of 2022. This means that I have prescriptions. Those prescriptions come in little plastic vials. I’m not going to go blind because I won’t use the glaucoma drops that come in single-use plastic bottles.

• If I cannot find a sustainable material to replace the plastic item, I’ll find a way to reuse the plastic item. This does not mean bird feeders made of shampoo bottles; it means I’ll find a use for those pill bottles (Will CVS let me bring them in for a refill?)

• I’ll remember that not everyone in my home (read: El Cap) may be as committed to this as I am. The man loves English muffins, and they come in a plastic bag. Oh, wait… those are fantastic doggie poop bags. Nevermind!

Follow along over the next year. Every month I’ll post my successes (and failures) in ridding my life of single-use plastics. Happy New Year!

Do you have a suggestion about eliminating single-use plastics? Email me!