The Worst See’s Candies Experience of My Life

I just had the worst See’s Candies experience of my life.

Once in a great while, I’ll pop in to buy one piece. Just a small treat. Of course, as everyone knows, it’s more of a buy-one-get-one situation since no one leaves without free candy. And if the line is long and you have to wait? You get another free piece.

They just give the candy away like that. It’s enticing. See’s Candies is the creepy guy in a van of candy stores.

The line was long today. I had been waiting for five minutes already when the cheery lady behind the counter came out with a tray full of what looked like vanilla cremes. Everyone behind me got one. I was denied. I really like vanilla cremes, but she didn’t care.

It was a sign, and I should have heeded it.

I ordered my candy. I had been in the line so long I’d talked myself in and out of many wonderful choices. Apricot Delight won out in the end, maybe the worst possible option.

Anyone ever go for a nice, juicy apricot? No, that is literally a thought no one on Earth has ever had. Apricots are the “I guess that exists” of fruit. So, why did I embrace the ‘cot and take a flying leap towards “Put it in my candy!”? The world may never know. I sure don’t.

The moment arrived. I’m opening up my wallet and the cashier reaches under the counter. She brings her hand back up, smiles, and says “Here’s your sample.”

And on the counter before me is…another Apricot Delight.

I walked out the door with three Apricot Delights (there’s two in a cup), none of which I actually wanted.

I had eaten them all before I’d even arrived home.

This was my worst ever See’s Candies experience, and the worst thing to happen to me today.And if the worst thing to happen to me today was getting free candy (of any sort), I guess that makes it a pretty good day.

Top Songs of 2021

I live in a weird music bubble. I don’t listen to the radio, and at my age I don’t really have any peers left who listen to new music with any kind of passion. So, I discover things on my own, either via browsing the Apple Music store or through the occasional bits of music news that leak through. I don’t even use Spotify or stream music–I purchase it. This makes me a throwback, I know, but it makes the music much less disposable and much more enjoyable for me. (And has the added benefit, I think, of putting more money into the artists’ pockets.)

I’m not going to pretend to have a particularly elevated taste or even know much about music. I really don’t. I have zero musical ability, and I actually quite like that. It’s one of the few artistic things I enjoy purely as appreciation and not so much examination. But I do have taste, of a sort. All the music I like is GOOD. Feel free to disagree (I know you will).

At the end of every year, I make two playlists. One is my Top 10, and the second is my Top 11-20. I segregate them this way because I want my Top 10 to be a TRUE Top 10. I force myself to make difficult choices to create a truly excellent playlist worthy of being revisited, and then the 11-20 list is what is leftover. Still great songs, but just not Top 10. Both lists are ordered for listening pleasure, not by ranking.

There are a few rules that govern these lists. They are as follows:

1. No artist may appear twice in one list, even if they had some truly excellent songs that would otherwise qualify.

2. Any song I discovered in the past year is fair game, no matter what year it was actually released. No matter how late I came to the party. (See: West, Kanye)

3. When trying to pick between two great songs, greater weight is given to the song released during the current year.

This year, a theme emerged in the songs I like best: being a jerk. Whether it’s identifying jerkiness in others or being self aware enough to recognize your own jerkiness, there’s a lot of reflection and regret going on in these songs. I’ll let my future self suss out whether that’s just the year in music or something I’m working out within myself.

Also, it’s a 50/50 split between male and female vocalists. That’s pretty cool. I like the variety.

So, here, by no demand whatsoever, is my Top 10 and Top 11-20 playlists. All songs are either the clean versions or homemade edited versions. If you choose to wade in, I highly recommend the following listening order:

TOP 10

1. All My Favorite Songs – Weezer

2. Ringside – Julien Baker

3. Runaway – Kanye West feat. Pusha T

4. brutal – Olivia Rodrigo

5. Amy Shark – Amy Shark

6. Better If You Don’t – CHVRCHES

7. Locust Laced – Sleigh Bells

8. Needle – Middle Kids

9. I Lied – Lord Huron & Allison Ponthier

10. In My Room (At My Piano Version) – Brian Wilson

TOP 11-20

11. True Seekers – Sleigh Bells

12. Extreme Ways (Reprise Version) – Moby

13. Somebody Desperate – The National

14. Happier Than Ever – Billie Eilish

15. I Made It – Andrew W.K.

16. Flathead – The Fratellis

17. Bad Neighbours – Middle Kids

18. In the Car Outside – The Killers

19. Sometimes – James

20. Funeral – Phoebe Bridgers

The Crippling Fear of Creation

When I was an illustrator, every single time I sat down at the drawing table, I was overcome with the crippling fear that I’d forgotten everything–how to build a figure, how to put down a line, how to turn a blank piece of paper into a finished piece. Every. Single. Time.

I know this is not uncommon.Now that I’ve pivoted to writing, it’s the same thing. Whenever I begin something new, there is that voice in my head that pushes against all my past work, all my confidence, and says, “The words will not flow.”

It’s terrifying, but I push past it.

And it’s never true. The words are always there if I but put the fingers on the keyboard and begin. You’d think, after all this time–after 30+ years of actively making art of one kind or another–this would not keep happening. But, it does.

At some point I guess you either accept the fear as part of the process or you let it cripple you. It makes me wonder what function that universal, personal terror actually has. Is there a misunderstood friction necessary for creation within it, or is it an essential anti-force without which our tenacity and determination to create would wither?

I dunno. I just keep going.

2021 – A Very Good Year

I feel like I’ve been sprinting since 2021 began, and it’s only looking back that I realize I was running a marathon this whole time. You can’t sprint a marathon.


But we all kind of have been anyway, haven’t we? It’s not just me. Whether it’s been dashing towards the ever-moving pandemic finish line or trying to keep up with the pace of this new world and our own changing personal circumstances as the result of it (tell me your life is the same as it was when the year began and I’ll show you the liar in the room), it’s been hard to keep up. Here at the end of the year, I’m not feeling so fleet-footed anymore.


(I’m moving on from this running metaphor now. I’m out of synonyms, first of all, and second of all I’m tired. We’re all tired. Let’s slow it down and talk about walking instead.)


It’s been a good year, hasn’t it? Not entirely, and maybe not even mostly. Maybe this is your worst year ever. But there have been good things, because there are always are.


Always.


I have seen people reaching deeper this year. Within themselves, within their relationships, within their faith. Calamity and uncertainty are so important. They are the test or correction we pass through to remove the fogginess and make our path clear.


A clear path is so, so important. The promise of a path is that you’ll get where you’re going, so long as you stay on it. Speed is unimportant. No need to run. Stay on the path and you’ll get there, no matter what may come.
It’s so easy to stray from the path when we are unbothered. When we walk the path with ease, we may think the way unimportant, as though it is our very footsteps that define the landscape, and not the carefully cultivated direction in which we are headed.


The mistake easily made, then, is to wander. To blaze our own trail as though any path will do so long as we are the ones who walk it. To think ourselves the source of our fortune or grace, to not recognize the already-been-there trailblazers and helping hands of friends, family, co-workers, systems, history. God.


Ever change your walk? I don’t mean “in life” or “with God,” I mean literally change the way you walk? I’ve done it consciously about 5 or 6 times, each time to temporary, embarrassing effect.


I don’t remember the specifics, but there have been a handful of times in my life when I was feel really, really full of myself. Maybe a girl I liked smiled at me or I won tickets to a concert on the radio or…I dunno. The reasons are forgotten, but I can remember these few times when I was feeling pretty cool and decided my walk should reflect that.
So, I held my head a little higher and sauntered about with a bit more… Crud, “more” nothing. I sauntered, okay? I don’t normally saunter.


And, every time I have ever done this I have tripped. I have stubbed my toe on a crack in the sidewalk, I have rolled my ankle coming off a step, I have banged by head on a low-hanging tree branch. Every time. It’s pathological.


I stopped trying to change my walk years ago because the lesson was finally learned. Well, a twofold lesson:


1. I am not cool.


2. I am not the builder of the path.


I have seen people succeed wildly by thinking the path unimportant and straying from it. That can happen. Some people can walk all cool like and not trip and fall down, but they can doom themselves just the same if they mistake the path as an inconsequential thing or something they control and then walk where they please. Success can be such a test in that way. In many ways, it’s the ultimate test.


This is why this year–this cruddy year full of disappointments, unfairness, injustice, and that dude down the street whose dog keeps crapping on your lawn–THIS year, is good. It is good to get knocked down into the dirt. To get down eye level with the path, search for it, and get back on.


This year, I think, is our opportunity for examination. For looking down at our feet and assessing where we are in relation to the path. Are we on it? Or far from it?

That’s the ultimate good all this bad can do. That, I would submit, is precisely how God works in our lives. He knocks us down sometimes to allow us to build back up properly. He hits us smack in the face with a low-hanging tree branch to help us to stumble back onto the path.


My own personal examinations this year have been difficult. I have become acutely aware in recent months of how inconsiderate I can be. How bullheaded. How unaware of what seem to me to be innocuous, unimportant moments of distraction or dismissiveness that affect those I care about and rely on most. I’m old enough now that I’ve removed a lot of guile from my being, but within all my good intentions, I have not always necessarily been intentionAL. It’s a hard lesson, and a nuanced one at that. But crucial.


So, I’m glad for 2021. It’a been a good year. And look, I know that my 2021 has been probably better than most–it’s not even in the Top 10 of my worst years–but I know from a bad year, and I can also tell you this: your best year and your worst year can be the same year.


And if not the literal best, then something adjacent to that. All this bad can work for good. It can help you stay on or get back to the path.


Think about that. Think about the math of that. Even the bad can be good? If I were the devil, that would really piss me off.

I Have COVID-19 and I’m Not Mad. I’m Just Disappointed.

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

I’m sitting here, my head all stuffed up and my body aching with fatigue, and I’m looking over at my wife who is feeling the same way but worse (she always gets it—whatever it is—worse than I do) and I’m thinking: How did we get COVID-19?

And I know the answer and it’s a simple one and I’m going to tell you and I’m also telling you, right now, I’m not inviting your opinion or your debate. Not on this one. What I’m doing is telling my story, my perspective, and what I know in the hopes that it can do some good. Maybe it won’t, but I’ve got to try. And in trying, I’ll do my best to not scold or make anyone feel bad, but I also can’t guarantee that won’t happen. Because:

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

We have COVID-19 because not enough people have gotten vaccinated. That’s it. That’s the truth. That’s the reason Erin and I are currently locked up in our house together, coughing for the first time in 18 months, nose dripping for the first time in 18 months, and head swirling and sinuses draining for the first time in 18 months.

You might be thinking, “Well, that doesn’t sound so bad.” And you’re right, it’s not that bad. Any other year, I’d have thought it was allergies or a head cold, but a test yesterday proved otherwise. We have COVID-19. It finally got us.

We locked down in March 2020. We did the full year and change of staying away from family, friends, restaurants, and public spaces mostly for the sake of our middle daughter (who is immuno-compromised), but also because it was wise and we could do so without suffering economic hardship. Believe me, I know how fortunate that makes us, and I’m grateful to and understanding of those who showed up to work during that time anyway.

So, why and when did my family finally come out of isolation? Once we were vaccinated. Two shots.

That’s why our symptoms aren’t that bad: we’re vaccinated. Fully. Have been for a while. What a miracle that vaccine is. We still obey the CDC protocols and mask up when necessary and restrict our contact with the unvaccinated (particularly for the sake of our youngest, who is not old enough to receive the vaccine quite yet), but it has been nice to return to something resembling normalcy. A prophet of the Lord, Russell M. Nelson, who leads the Church I belong to, said this:

“With approval from our physician, my wife, Wendy, and I were vaccinated today against COVID-19. We are very grateful. This was the first week either of us was eligible to receive the vaccine. We are thankful for the countless doctors, scientists, researchers, manufacturers, government leaders, and others who have performed the grueling work required to make this vaccine available. We have prayed often for this literal godsend.”

Nice, right? “Godsend.” But then he took it a step further. The Church he leads donated $20 million to COVAX, a global campaign to provide 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines to people in low- and middle-income countries. That’s quite the endorsement. $20 million. Wow.

Then, he went even further. The same day he made that statement on his personal social media, the Church issued an official statement urging members to “help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization” because “vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life.”

Then, because perhaps a lot of people still weren’t getting it, on March 31 of this year, a change was made to the Church’s General Handbook, Section 38, where it reads: “Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life. Members of the church are encouraged to safeguard themselves, their children and their communities through vaccination.”

Why do I quote all this? Because, number one, I’m so grateful to be led by a prophet of God, but also because I have a diverse friend group and I think it’s worth pointing out to some of my non-believing friends that while defiant churches get all the press, there are other churches out there that are a little more sober-minded.

And yet…still I know there is hesitancy. Even within the Church I belong to…even with all this unmistakable instruction out there…there is hesitancy. There are those who have not taken the time to get vaccinated.

And that is why my wife and I have COVID-19.

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

See, there’s this little thing called “herd immunity.” It’s what you get when either a) a virus has worked its way through a significant portion of the population and antibodies are super present, or b) when you have enough of the population vaccinated that the virus can’t spread. Our grandparents understood this stuff way better. They beat back polio not by dying off, but by vaccinating.

“Hold up,” I hear you saying. “You’re vaccinated. What gives? Herd immunity is for the weak, right? For those who can’t get vaccinated? So how did you get COVID-19?”

Well, funny thing. When a population doesn’t have a vaccine or chooses not to get vaccinated, they’re giving the virus the very thing it wants most: time. Time to mutate. Time to develop into something more powerful and stronger. Time to become something that can resist vaccines.

Enter: The Delta variant.

Good ol’ Delta Variant. It’s a fighter, that one. Recent mutation. Stronger, faster, more agile. Able to penetrate even the double vaxxed in a single bound.

And boy, does it love YOU. You, with your mask under your nose or not on at all (same thing). You, with your conspiracy theories. You, with your busy schedule. You, with your politics. You, with all your reasons.

You, with your fear.

“Faith not fear.” It’s something I’ve heard a lot lately. You know, I can’t say I’ve been fearful even once in the past year and a half. I trust my God and I trust the experts He inspires. I know that the very worst thing you can imagine can happen at any moment, and I know that because life has thrown me that kind of curveball more than once. So, I don’t live in fear. That’s a waste of precious time between tragedies. I live in gratitude.

But I also put on my dang seat belt.

It’s not fear that motivates mask wearing and vaccinating. It’s common sense. Fear is resisting a thing that’s trying to save you because it might rewrite your DNA, give you 5G, put a microchip in you, cause infertility, or take a piece of your pride.

Remember Moses and the Israelites? They were plagued by venomous snakes. Moses created a brass serpent, stuck it on a pole, and told them to look at it. If they did, they’d be healed. If they didn’t, well…a lot of people died. They friggin’ died because they wouldn’t look at the thing. Can you imagine?

Of course you can. You live in 2021.

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

I don’t pretend to know everything about the virus, but I trust the people who do. Steve Jobs died because he thought the opposite way about cancer. My favorite quote on this is from Bill Burr. He was a guest on the Joe Rogan Show, and he said this:

“I’m not going to sit here with no medical degree, listening to you with no medical degree, with an American flag behind you, smoking a cigar, acting like we know what’s up better than the CDC. All I do is I watch the news once every two weeks. I’m like ‘Mask or no mask? Still mask? Alright, masks.’ That’s all I give a f**k about.”

Obviously, Burr said this way before the vaccinations came about. I can only imagine what he’s saying now. (He cusses a lot; I don’t make a habit of listening to Bill Burr. But that doesn’t make him stupid. Or wrong.)

My wife and I have COVID-19 because we, as a society, have given refuge to a virus that has killed more Americans than WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and 9/11 combined. That virus has been allowed to grow and mutate into something that is spreading faster and farther not because we don’t have the ability to fight it, but because too many of us have chosen not to.

I don’t get it. I thought we were fighters. More, I thought that in this country we looked out for each other, not just for ourselves. I thought we were smarter and stronger than this. I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

Okay, maybe I’m a little mad.

But I’m mostly just disappointed.

My wife and I are lucky. Our symptoms are mild and because we’re vaccinated they are not likely to last long. After 10 days of quarantine, we should be able to see our kids again. We just got back from Georgia, so that’s a total of 15 days overall. We’ve never been apart from them for that long. Worth it to keep them safe.

My wife and I are lucky. We’re vaccinated and though the Delta Variant got to us, it could have been far, far worse. If you’re not vaccinated and you’re not persuaded by the responsibility you have to us and to your fellow man, then please, please get it for yourself. Don’t make the foolish mistake of thinking you’re super healthy or you’ve already had it so you’re good—that’s not how herd immunity works with mutations on the rise, and plenty of people—some of whom I know personally—have gotten this thing twice. It’s not a hoax, it’s not an imaginary story. It’s real and it’s infecting new and younger and repeat people all the time.

My wife and I are lucky. We know we’ve been doing all we can. I may have COVID-19, but my conscience is clear.

Please, please clear your conscience if it needs that. I genuinely am not trying to make you feel bad and I will embrace you with open arms and a hearty “Good job!” once you do. I would love to do that.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely my friend. Please know that this issue—while important to me and one I have a lot of feelings and sinus pressure on (soooo much sinus pressure)—will not divide us. I won’t let it, for my part. I won’t trade one bad thing for a greater evil.

But, please, let’s do this together. Let’s look at the brass serpent and head over to the promised land together. I hear it’s awesome there.

We Did Everything Right and My Daughter Got COVID-19 Anyway

We did everything right. We’ve been quarantining since March 2020. We maks up when we go out. Sanitizer is always on hand. No in-person association with friends or family indoors, and six feet apart when we do see them outdoors.

So, how did one of our daughters get COVID?

We’ve been strict. Our middle daughter has special needs and is immunocompromised. We’ve been making adjustments to our lifestyle to accommodate Cami since she was born 16 years ago, so in that way we were better prepared than most to roll up our sleeves and say, “Okay, well, life is gonna look a little different for a bit and we’re gonna isolate. We can do hard things, so we can do that.” Cami trained us for this.

So, we knuckled down. Given the choice between what the CDC says and what that dude on Facebook who swears he knows better says, we went with the CDC. It was tricky, as everyone knows. Initially, we were pretty alone. I remember the first time I walked into the grocery store with a mask on and felt so conspicuous and foolish even though I was pretty sure it was the right thing to do. “Two weeks,” we were told back then. But not enough people bought into even the reality of the virus (much less the protocols) for that to ever be true.

Two weeks turned into two months turned into 200 days. Until that point, we celebrated as a family with an ice cream party or a movie marathon or service in the community every ten days to both mark the time and create our positive within the big ol’ negative that was 2020. After day 200, we pared our celebrations down to once every 20 days. Like I said, we’re lucky enough to be pros at this stuff. Hard to hit us with enough lemons we can’t find more new and delicious recipes for lemonade. (That’s not a challenge, God.)

And all the while we kept pace with the protocols. We did everything we could for the sake of Cami and I’m happy to say there hasn’t been any real complaining. Even our youngest daughter—who hasn’t played with a friend in person in nearly a year now—is on board because she gets it. This is what we do. Virtual schooling? Check. Not eating in restaurants? Check. Buying lots of board games and even resorting to puzzles to entertain ourselves? Check.

So, how in the world did Elora, our oldest daughter, get COVID?

The short answer is: I have no idea. It makes no sense. She did everything correctly. We did everything correctly. It is one of the most unfair things to happen to us in a while now.

And yet, it isn’t at all. It does make sense. It is not unfair.

I’ll come back to that.

We knew something was up when Elora started complaining of “feeling sick.” None of us had had even an inkling of illness since February 2020. We took her temperature. Sure enough, she had a fever. How?

How!?

It didn’t really matter. We sent her to her room immediately and did not see her again for two weeks. For two full weeks, her only company was her turtle, all her meals were brought to her, and, I’ll be honest, there were days we kind of forgot she was there. It was harsh, it was cruel, and it was possibly unnecessary.

The day after sending her to her room, Elora went and got a local rapid test. Sure enough, COVID. So, we were all exposed. Her symptoms had only just manifested, but how many days had she had it now? Three? Four? A week? The damage, to all of us, had probably already been done. Crud, we knew of so many families where COVID-19 just rolled right on through the whole house. It was basically inevitable we would now all get it.

So, why isolate her?

Because we can do hard things. Because that’s what the CDC recommends. Because we don’t live in fear.

There’s a certain confidence that comes with knowing you’ve done everything you can. It’s not a confidence that everything will be alright, but just a peace in being able to say, “I’ve done what I can do, it’s up to God now.” Was there a moment of panic when Elora got her results back? Of course. But knowing we were acting responsibly on the knowledge and light given us meant a greater possibility of being blessed. Of having our diligence rewarded.

I don’t know about you, but the thing I’m afraid of most of all is regret.

The good news was: we truly had no reason to fear at all. None of the rest of us developed symptoms. Cami stayed safe. There was a day there when it seemed like every random tingle or small ache we might otherwise ignore was an indication of symptoms and that was weird and kind of maddening. When Erin’s allergies acted up and she couldn’t shake the thought it might be more, she went and got her own rapid test. Negative.

We all stayed healthy. Elora’s symptoms only lasted a couple days, and two weeks later she emerged. I’m telling this story for the first time now with her permission. While she was enduring her extreme isolation it was too lonely and too difficult emotionally to have her business out there. But she has things in perspective now. There’s no shame in getting COVID. She did everything she could to not get it, and even more once she did. Boy, are we grateful for her sacrifice.

So, are the protocols bunk? Everyone who knows us say that if they were to choose someone to hang out with during a pandemic it would be us. Because who else do they know who is more careful?

No one. And one of us got it anyway. So, the protocols are bunk. Stupid.

Right?

The reason COVID came to our house is the same reason why some children are born even though birth control was taken or a condom worn. You take what precautions you can, but eliminating all risk is impossible. The protocols are in place to give us the best chance at not getting this virus; they are not a guarantee.

But not being a guarantee is not the same as saying the CDC protocols are bunk. The same protocols that failed Elora also kept the rest of us—and, more importantly, Cami—from getting sick. How much worse off would we have been if we’d just said, “Eh, forget it. Elora, let’s party?”

I have no idea. And that’s the point: you don’t know what will happen, you only know what gives you the best chance. And that way…

That way lies no regret.

***Because this is the online world and I didn’t fill this little essay with a million caveats, let me just say here that this is not a political post. I mean, I hope that’s obvious, but I’m pretty sure you can post a cat video these days and be accused of being political. However, I do take certain things for granted that, for some reason, are political for some. Things like: COVID-19 is worse than the flu, COVID-19 kills a lot of people (see: “pandemic”), and wearing a mask is just the neighborly thing to do. So, just FYI, my goal here is not to engage in any of the debates of the day; I’m just sharing in the hopes it might be helpful to someone. That’s it. I learned in Kindergarten that sharing is cool. So, let’s be cool, okay?***