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Me, Jacob, and Hermione on her last day
My precious baby Hermione

Following the Paths of Grief

(kick me under the table all you want, I won't shut up)

Grief has kept me away from this newsletter, away from engaging in the writing I love, and away from what seems like the barest minimum of human connections. A grief that shuts down, just as much as it can hone.

I didn't write here, but I did write a lot about organic electro-optic materials in photonic computing, coming to a website near you. Even in grief, you must pay the bills.

My cat Hermione died. Her cancer came back, and there was nothing we could do. Hermione knew it was time, even if I still don't want it to ever be time.

I stay in my house with my partner Jacob, who's at incredible high-risk of stroke and death if he catches COVID-19. I watch this country's leadership and their inability to express grief and sadness over 149,000+ people dead. I know the grief will swallow me if I think about it too much or expose Jacob. No one we know has died of it yet; friends have had it, and at least one friend lost a parent to it.

With privilege, we stay in our house, collectively only making trips into 8 not-home buildings since March. One was the vet to put my cat to sleep, so that's what essential means, assholes.

My schedule is the same, and I've never known what "normal" was. Even if I do miss randomly browsing in shops in my neighborhood on my walks. I busy myself with evening virtual appointments to watching media with my friends or discuss politics with the neighbor ladies. Next up: Star Trek: Discovery and Biden's VP pick.

I don't grieve for "normal" because Black lives have always mattered. I didn't need a glut of snuff films (or a single one) showing murders of Black people by police to believe the raw grief and pain of the victims' families, friends, and community. Abolish the police. Every interaction my privilege white femme self has had with them, they've either done nothing or the bare minimum. Besides giving me a speeding ticket, my privilege is that they never made it worse.

My grief won't extend to the feelings of my fellow white people. I've long lost contact with the (white) people who unfollowed you for saying Black Lives Matter, and they certainly all unfollowed me during Mike Brown's murder in Ferguson when Obama was still POTUS and racism was "solved." If these maskless fools — because the Venn diagram between white racists and assholes protesting masks is a circle — catch COVID-19, well, my grief bubble is already on full.

I struggle to finish a book, but I can listen to a never-ending stream of podcasts and some music. Fiona Apple's new album lives on repeat. And I think about how she's 40, and I'll be 37, and how she says, "fetch the bolt cutters/we've been here too long." She doesn't say it in a desperate cry; she says it like she's asking for tea. Like it's a fact. It's time to literally cut the systems of oppression down. Like we've been unleashed.

And maybe both of us extend our grief and compassion to the younger people we once were too as it all comes to a reckoning.

"I used to march down the windy, windy sidewalks
Slapping my leg with a riding crop
Thinking it made me come off so tough
I didn't smile, because a smile always seemed rehearsed
I wasn't afraid of the bullies
And that just made the bullies worse"

Nothing has described the world of my younger person self better and it's fitting that they're song lyrics. A month ago, I was supposed to travel to my hometown for my middle brother's wedding. A landscape littered with grief and the memories of those bullies and a place I struggle to tell why I left.

That's the pizzeria where he called me a whore. That was the greasy parts room where we exchanged our secrets. That baseball field they called me a lesbian during gym class. That's the desert sage smell when we curled up in your bedroom and fell asleep together. That's where I learned to play Apple's early songs on the piano. That's the chill in the air when the slut-shaming boy called me to tell me you were dead. That's the parking lot where I last saw you and wanted to tell you that I still loved you, but that seemed absurd.

And with potential COVID-19 grief in mind, I changed our wedding RSVP to no. More drama, more bad associations, more fodder for the bullies that high school graduation doesn't cut off. Not that it felt even like a whiff of home after my cat Monday died.

No, I'd rather not be in a place that's 92% white during massive Black Lives Matter protests. Yes, my white skin and blonde hair look like the people in my hometown, but they've always been able to tell that I was different. My vigilant nerves are shot to hell when I see a runner without a mask in Seattle. I could not take MAGA signs on oversized trucks and Confederate flags in a state with a horrible racist history, just not slavery. My great-great-great-grandfather was a Union soldier who went MIA, only to be found in a Confederate POW camp, and I feel like burning down a Target or punching a maskless, screaming white lady in a Trader Joes and my ancestors weren't enslaved. Fuck those racist losers.

Hot boiling anger swells over my grief. I edit my email to my city councilors five times for tone. I run another test on my company's product. Another bug report. Another swing at the finances and bookkeeping and another bill. I do some more dishes that breed themselves and cook more food because it's always mealtime again. I listen to the Bechdel Cast podcast's back catalog because there's something simple and comforting about taking down blockbuster movies for poor representation. I make drafts of tweets and disappear into my garden. Plants are supposed to be healing or something. Or so they keep telling me. Smashing slugs with a rock is both cathartic and tedious.

I have 19 books I'm reading, but I can't read anything except explicit Fraser/RayK due South fanfic. (Yes, I know it's copaganda, and it's messed up, but I'll take what quiet I can get. In most of them, RayK has quit the Chicago PD to follow Fraser to Canada…so???) I need to change the itchy bandage on my second-degree sunburn. I'll probably cry over my fucking cat again tonight, even as two kittens, Fern and Octavia, curl in my lap, and the full-sized Zeta cat sleeps on my feet.

And maybe my dead cat is both a metaphor and a literal representation for all the things I feel, but I cannot say. That I cannot tell you when you ask me how I feel, or how I'm doing, or what I ate for breakfast. Record the times you are living in, and this is my record of my grief — my messy grief colliding with a pandemic, a recession, a POTUS election, and a Black Lives Matter movement.

Bookworm corner 📚

Come Hell or Highball (Discreet Retrieval Agency #1) by Maia Chance 3/5 stars
This book was fun, breezy read, and very who-done-it comedically leaning 1920s romp until the very end. It falls apart to get the most drama, and the villain's motivations are a played-out trope. Especially when, like all who-done-its, there were multiple characters with major motivations.

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #1) by Tamsyn Muir ⭐ 3/5 stars
Parts of this I loved. Parts were a giant mess. Where the book leaves Gideon was predictable. I dug that it was a puzzle and mystery over other genres.

Grave Surprise (Harper Connelly #2) by Charlaine Harris ⭐ 2/5 stars
A summer read, but I figured out the killer and the motive almost immediately. Harris laid on the het attraction incredibly thick.

How to Make a Plant Love You: Cultivate Green Space in Your Home and Heart by Summer Rayne Oakes 3/5 stars
Oakes' meditation on plants has some lovely writing and sentiments about looking differently at plants and how we humans interact with them. However, she seemingly always keeps the reader at arm's length. Oakes shares more about the struggles of others (through submitted takeaways from other plant enthusiasts) than anything of herself to connect with the topic. I don't think she needed some tell-all, but even the brief parts about her struggle to move from the countryside to Brooklyn were somewhat shallow and left this book a bit empty.

The Moons of Jupiter by Alice Munro 4/5 stars
No one captures the reality of how life is lived like Munro and her short stories. Each of them feels so lived in.

Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries #5) by Martha Wells 5/5 stars
Murderbot doesn't lose their way as Wells moves out of novellas into novels to bring more emotional resonance and some beloved characters back into the action.

Rosemary and Rue (October Daye #1) by Seanan McGuire 3/5 stars
An urban fantasy about what it's like to finally deal with your trauma head-on, but also magic, faeries, San Fransisco fog, and cats.

Stumptown Vol. 4: The Case of a Cup of Joe by Greg Rucka and Justin Greenwood 5/5 stars
There was something too perfect about a coffee-centric mystery set in Portland. Full review coming on my comic book blog.

Sunstone Vol. 5 by Stjepan Šejić 3/5 stars
Since we already know what happens to Allison and Lisa, there are zero stakes for all the emotional build-up from Šejić and climax of this graphic novel.

The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O'Neill 5/5 stars
A prequel to the lovely Tea Dragon Society (though you don't need to read that one first), and this was is just as heartwarming and beautiful. Full review coming soon.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston 4/5 stars
This book made me reconsider a lot of media about black women I've enjoyed, especially the TV show How to Get Away with Murder and the character of Annalise Keating.

Things I wrote recently

Reviews on my comics blog:

Green thumb update

Oh geez, lots of gardening as its summer now. This also means I've been harvesting peas, strawberries, kale, cucumbers, radishes, and lots of herbs. My big bet this year is my tomatoes, which my cherry tomatoes have just started ripening.

The houseplants are also growing and needing more water than ever. I have something like 220 houseplants, and well, let me just say it does feel a bit that I'm spending all my spare time watering them as my house heats up to 80℉.

Yeah, all I am doing is watering.

Southern garden bed
Nothern garden bed
Left: The south bed is full of tomatoes, flowers, onions, eggplant, and peas.
Right: The north bed features pumpkins, peppers, kale, flowers, radishes, herbs, and corn.

Introducing: Fern and Octavia

Yes, you did read right, I did get two kittens. Meet Fern and Octavia, two sisters, who are making themselves at home, annoying Zeta, and want lots of sweet snuggles.

Octavia is in the back with the orange stripe on her noes, and Fern's in the front with the lightening bolt on her forehead.

Recipe: Lemon Poppy Seed Bread

My friend Anna made a poppy seed cake, and I spent a week wanting poppy seed sweetness. Good thing I had a couple lemons in the fridge. This recipe is from Cooking Classy.



  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp poppy seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Lemon glaze:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice


1. Butter and flour an 8x4-inch baking dish. I used a standard metal loaf pan. Set aside.

2. Whisk together flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.

3. Mix together sugar and lemon zest until the mixture is moist and pale yellow. I used my stand mixer.

4. Add butter to sugar mixture and whip until pale and fluffy. Mix in eggs, one at a time, adding in vanilla with the final egg.

5. In a microwave-safe liquid measuring cup, whisk together the milk with sour cream. Microwave until room temperature.

6. In three separate batches, mix and alternate in flour mixture, milk mixture, and lemon juice, using a third each time.

7. Pour into the baking dish.

8. Bake at 350℉ in the oven for 45-55 minutes, tenting with foil for the first 40 minutes. Remove from oven when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

9. Remove from the oven and allow to cool 5 minutes in the loaf pan, then remove the loaf to cool on a wire rack.

10. Combine lemon juice and sugar in a pot and heat on the stovetop. Whisk together and continue to heat until the sugar and juice have dissolved together.

11. Brush the top of the bread with the lemon glaze. This takes several coats, and it may need a rest between layers to absorb.

12. Let the loaf cool on a wire rack and enjoy!

Other things

[COVID-19] In This Pandemic, Personal Echoes of the AIDS Crisis by Alexander Chee — When you live through one pandemic, you have perspective.

[RIP] Rest in Power, Larry Kramer. Kramer was the founder of Act Up, the HIV/AIDS organization, who's public actions were responsible for helping slow the spread in the LGBTQ+ community and getting politicians and health officials to act in the US. Hear Larry speak about his own work.

[RIP] The late great Civil Rights hero and Rep. John Lewis. Read the comic book series March about his good trouble.

[GET TO READING] You know I love to read, and honestly believe in the power of books to expand your world. Here's my Instastory list of excellent books by Black authors, some that teach and some that just celebrate and share joy.

[MEDIA] Shut down all police movies and TV shows. Now. by Alyssa Rosenberg — As much as we all, including me, watch these shows, they aren't good for us. Someone suggested they just make Brooklyn 99 now about firefighters, which I like.

[FANDOM] A Feud in Wolf-Kink Erotica Raises a Deep Legal Question. by Alexandra Alter — It may happen. Wolf-kink erotica may make a SCOTUS legal case.

[GRIEF] Addressing Grief Inclusively in the Workplace by Eden Connelly Tallarico — Addressing grief in all aspects of life is a skill we all need to level up on.

[STAR TREK] The Sexist Legacy in Star Trek’s Progressive Universe by Eleanor Tremeer — Justice for so many of these actors and what they had to endure. And I know there are stories that haven't even been told.

[WORK] I'm leaving Sleeping Giants, but not because I want to: How my white male co-founder gaslighted me out of the movement we built together. by Nandini Jammi — An all to familiar story.

[USA] I was arrested, jailed and assaulted by a guard. My ‘crime’? Being a journalist in Trump’s America by Andrew Buncombe — Chilling. His jailers: the Seattle PD.

[FOOD] The secret resistance behind the world’s most dangerous cheese by Mark Hay — I won't be trying this cheese anytime soon.

And with that, friends, Black Lives Matter, wear a mask, and take care of yourself.


Erica McGillivray

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