Stress, illness, or ennui?

Living under shelter in place for two months has led to a general malaise in our household. Every couple days I feel a little off, with a headache or nausea or utterly exhausted. I have a slight tickle in my throat that comes and goes, a cough that appears a few times each day. Is it allergies? Is it some sort of spring cold?

Or am I suffering an asymptomatic case of COVID-19? I'll be lying on the bed, trying to read a book, and I'll suddenly become aware of every breath I take. Am I having trouble breathing? Or does every intake of air feel more intense and labored just because I'm paying attention? I find myself checking the CDC's list of COVID symptoms every few days, just to confirm that I don't match. I take my temperature; no fever. I read that young persons with no apparent symptoms can still have low oxygen levels, so I made Sean buy an oximeter so that we could check our oxygen levels. All reads normal.

Seanie just wandered in and said he's feeling more or less normal again. That's good. Last night was tough. I woke up and realized Seanie had been in the bathroom for a long time, sick as a dog. Food poisoning, we think, though we have no idea what caused the reaction. Eventually, it passed and he came back to bed, but the lack of sleep for both of us led to a rather listless Saturday. We did clean all the bathrooms and knock out some piles of laundry, but we'd had ambitious plans to deep clean the kitchen and unpack moving boxes, so it wasn't quite what we wanted.

Well, there's always tomorrow. It's not like we'll be going anywhere.

Two good things today:
1. I finished a Disneyland puzzle. It's been in progress for two weeks, so it was nice to complete it.
2. I watched the third episode of the PBS Asian-Americans documentary. It's such a good series. This episode focused on Asian-American life in the 1950s, as they recover from WWII, become the "model minority", and become more involved in American politics. I liked this episode because the time period is my mother's childhood, and it gives some insight into what it would have been like growing up Chinese-American in San Francisco.
makaiju - tee-hee.  orisinalee.

The unexpected winner of the season

At our bookstore, the one thing that everyone seems to be looking for isn't a new novel, or workbooks for their kids. While those things are in demand, what people really want is puzzles. Good ol' fashioned jigsaw puzzles. We've gotten at least one call a day, and often more, ever since the shelter in place started.

Unfortunately, we've had virtually nothing available. The sidelines buyer keeps promising that a big $2500 order is on its way, but it's been over two weeks and she doesn't even have a tracking number. I was able to supplement with a very small order from our distributor last week, but most of those puzzles have already sold and they don't have more for us to bring in.

I think I'm down to maybe ten different styles, with only one or two units of each design. 1000+ piece puzzles sell the fastest, but our kids puzzles have done well, too. If we had more, we'd sell them, but at this point it's such slim pickings left that it's hard to keep them moving.

Usually I'm not too concerned with our toys and sideline products, but lately I've been checking our shipments every day and poring over every invoice in the hopes that the promised order will finally appear.

Maybe tomorrow...
piranha - violently blue.

Left an important part of the day out...

When I was listing my daily routine in my last post, I missed something important.

The first thing that I do every day when I get home from work is take a bath. It's at Sean's insistence, because he believes that one way to  keep us both healthy is to wash all the potential virus away with hot water and soap. So whenever one of us leaves the house, for a quick run to the grocery store or a full shift at the bookstore, it's a full body immersion in the shower or the tub to get rid of it all.

Who am I to protest against a relaxing soak? It's the one time of day I can be pretty sure I'll buckle down and read, so I usually bring a work ARC in with me. I have a glass of cold water for hydration and, increasingly, a small snack like crackers or cookies. And in the water I wind down from bookseller mode...and then wind back up into sales rep mode so I can keep working.
bath & body works - c.o. bigelow

The daily routine

So here's what an average day looks like in my new home during these strange times:

Roll out of bed around 8:00. I used to sleep in a bit later, but our bedroom has a large glass door and once the sun rises I can't sleep anymore. We may eventually add curtains or some sort of screen to block the light.

I drink coffee and eat breakfast, usually a bowl of cereal. On the weekend, or if we feel fancy and have a few extra minutes, we have waffles. Seanie's mother keeps making batches of batter and dropping them off for us. It's her way of showing she misses us.

By 10:00 I'm showered and out of the door. I go to the bookstore to work. My focus has been on online ordering, which is becoming an increasingly critical part of the business now that customers can't come in and browse. I hunker down at one the store PCs and churn out lists of books to go to Ingram, our main book distributor, based on what customers request through our website. Once I've finished with the current batch of orders, or the clock strikes noon, I shift gears and spend the second half of my shift recieving books from the day's shipment, matching titles to orders, and collecting payment. I sort the books into piles to be shipped and piles to be picked up by customers at the curb. We can't let them into the store, per shelter in place guidelines, but if restaurants can allow carry out we think that the book equivalent is people taking bags from the doorway with their books inside. We close at 2:00 and usually wrap up by 3:30-4:00.

The store's looked better. Every day the shelves are a little barer, the displays a little more destroyed. I keep waiting for the day when it slows down enough that we can do some dusting and deep cleaning before making the store look pretty and appealing again, but so far there have been too many immediate challenges to tackle. The owners are over 60, so they're ordered to stay home and can't come in. (One tried and stayed a whole day, but had to put up with constant scolding from the other booksellers present.) There is a disconnect between what they'd like to see done and what we are physically capable of doing with a reduced staff of three or four people.

When I get home from the bookstore, I still have my regular job. Luckily we're in a quieter portion of the season right now, so I answer e-mails and try to get a head start on next season's books. No one is ordering - how can they when all my bookstores are closed to the public? - so there hasn't been much to do. But I worry about this season and the next. Should I be making appointments now? There are a handful of stores I never managed to see this season so will I try to re-sell spring when we meet for fall? If we meet. Who knows how many bookstores will not reopen at the other end of this pandemic.

Seanie works from home now, so when he wraps up we make dinner and eat. We eat lots of rice and pasta dishes because it's easy to prepare. Meat's expensive, and by the time we get to the supermarkets in the early evening there isn't much left to choose from, so we're experimenting. Sometimes when we're tired, it's easiest to throw something frozen in the oven, so that's when we get to enjoy a pizza. We haven't eaten restaurant food since this all started.

In the evenings, we might watch an episode or two of TV. Right now we're working through Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Ever since Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released on March 20th, we play. What greater escape from daily life than the quiet normalcy of building a home, making friends with the neighbors, and going on quiet little shopping adventures? Nintendo couldn't plan a better environment to drop their new game.

It's a busy day. I somewhat envy the folks I see on Facebook or Instagram who use this time to practice their drawing skills or learn a new music technique, or the book friends I see knocking through great piles of books each week. But I don't suffer from cabin fever or boredom. There's always more than enough to do. On weekends, Seanie and I have boxes to unpack as we continue moving into the new house.

One small benefit: the pressure is off to have a housewarming party quickly since group gatherings are off the table for the immediate future. I appreciate that.

I'm back.

It's been well over a year since I last logged into my Livejournal. I didn't mean to abandon it for so long, but life got busy and crazy and well, here we are.

I was inspired to get back into the spirit of a daily diary after hearing multiple podcasters and authors encourage others to write for a few minutes every day. Between the plague COVID-19, the cratering economy, and the election year, aren't we living in interesting, historic times? Won't it be interesting for future heirs and historians to look back and read about how we coped with it all?

Well, why not?

So here we go. Let's start with sheltering in place. Santa Clara County declared it mandatory on March 16th for all non-essential businesses; the entire state of California followed a few days later. Just like that, my entire industry folded up and went into hibernation, and my income disappeared with it.

Luckily, my old bookstore has decided to carry on as a mail-order business, so for the immediate future I'm behind the ordering desk, Monday through Saturday, processing online orders. It's a strange, busy time that I'll try to document to the best of my ability.

Other major life changes since I last journaled in January of 2019:

  • I touched on this briefly above, but last April I stopped managing the bookstore and became a traveling saleslady, representing about a dozen publishers to Northern California bookstores. I work from home (glorious!) and travel throughout the state twice a year, selling books. I absolutely love it. I still work at the bookstore as the off-site sales manager, meaning I sell books at author speaking engagements and conferences.

  • In November, my landlady asked my husband and me to move out by the end of January. After an offer to buy our old duplex was declined by her realtors, we ended up buying a charming home about ten minutes away. By "we", I mean my father, who rents the house to us. It was a whole saga that I'll try to write about in greater detail on another day.

  • Seanie still works in San Francisco and was commuting by train every day until the coronavirus put a stop to that.

  • My parents are healthy and well, as are Seanie's.

Tomorrow I think I'll write about my daily routine, the new normal as shaped by COVID-19.
Spoiler alert: I haven't managed to bingewatch an entire season of anything on Netflix or Hulu or Disney+.
piranha - coming up roses.


I feel like I reach a new stage of adulthood today because Seanie and I bought a mattress, which seems very important but also so very grown-up and boring.

Our current mattress is an old thing from the late 1970s or early 80s, a hand-me-down from the guest room of some friend of a friend. It's hard and lumpy and terrible, although it was an improvement over the mattress before that. That horror was a mattress that bumped amongst the Buckley boys for who knows how long, and was a truly miserable sleeping experience.

So for Christmas, Seanie's parents gave us a gift certificate to Mattress Firm. It might have made more sense for them to give us the cash, so we wouldn't be locked down to a particular retailer, but lets' be honest: if we had cash, we would have stashed it in savings and never purchased anything. The gift certificate forced us to stop putting off the chore of buying a mattress. So we went in and tested out mattresses, with a saleswoman constantly trying to get us to buy. It didn't bother me too much - it's her job, after all - but after a while it really felt like she was trying to rush us. We left to think about our options, and while searching for reviews of the Tulo mattresses we realized that there was a huge discount on the exact model we were considering online. The Tulo website had the California King mattress marked down to $599 from $850, which was significantly cheaper than the deal we'd been offered.

We'd also noticed that there was a free bed frame with purchases over $500, which was cool because the bed frames are the kind that can be moved into a sitting position with a remote. Since I like to read in bed, that seemed super handy - and while we hadn't factored in the cost, it was a fact that if we did upgrade to a Cal King we would need a new frame because our old one was sized to a queen.

Annoyed that the saleswoman hadn't told us about the bed frame sale or offered us a better discount, we ended up going into another Mattress Firm location and asking the staff to match the online price and throw in the bed frame. They agreed without hesitation, which makes me suspect we might have been able to negotiate even more, but no matter. The price was good enough and thanks to my uncle's generosity at Christmas, the balance after the gift certificate was already paid for.

The mattress will be delivered next Wednesday. I'm excited. This is the first really big purchase we've made as a couple; with the exception of my bookcases, all of our pieces of furniture and appliances have been gifts or hand-me-downs. (Or cheap thrift store finds.) I'm a little nervous because the new mattress is significantly larger than the current one so space is going to be a bit tighter in our bedroom, but it'll be worth it. Poor tall Seanie will finally be able to stretch out without his feet dangling off the end of the bed!
now - eye see you.

"It must be so relaxing to work in a bookstore and read all the time."

Inventory is coming up on Sunday. It'll be our first time attempting an inventory count with IBIDie, with new machines and procedures. I've done what prep I can: talked through the process with our tech support staff, tested the machines, charged their batteries, and walked through each step as far as I can without actually initializing the inventory process.

I'm a little nervous about it, but I can't really guess at what problems may come up until we muddle through the first time. Yesterday, I made the mistake of saying as much to the bosses, who immediately turned aggressive. One insisted I should be doing more to prepare, and the other countered that she was sure I was coming in the next day (my day off) to do exactly that. When I replied that no, I wasn't planning to come in because there wasn't anything else I could do, they just stared.
"How can you not come in? It's not as if we ask it all the time. Inventory is only once a year, and the least you should do is prepare for it properly."

This comment really got under my skin. Officially, I'm only supposed to work four days a week; that's what I negotiated instead of a pay raise last year. It hasn't actually worked out that way. Due to "once a year" events like inventory and Educator's Night and off-site marquee authors, not to mention in-store weekend author events, tech support, employees calling out sick, payroll deadlines, and just keeping up with the store's communication has me working in the store on weekends at least once a month, and several hours each week off-the-clock from home.

I'm the only one expected to work this much and this hard - to the vast majority of the staff, this is just a fun side gig to help fund a fondness for reading. There's no drive to try new things or hustle. It makes the job unsustainable. My pleas to hire some sort of assistant manager to help with the workload fall on deaf ears even as the owners continue to step back from the business. I'm not sure they even realize how much they've let go, but they can't even operate the cash registers anymore. I'm just exhausted all the time, and at the end of the day it's still not enough and for what? What am I really getting out of this?

First, we get through inventory.
Then, maybe I need to sit down and really think about what this bookseller thing really means. I love this store and this field, but I don't know if I can keep doing this job.
piranha - in a blue period

A celebration of Music for Mister Moon

It was about time for a triumphant return from Trader Vic's.

I was nervous, of course. Ever since my fall and subsequent hospital visit I haven't really been able to drink alcohol the way that I used to. I don't know if I'm having some sort of allergic reaction or if it's entirely psychological, but I start feeling sick so easily. I don't want to stop going to Trader Vic's and other tiki bars just because drinking makes me nervous, but I also don't want to find myself face-planting on the tile floor again.

Especially not at a work event.

But it all went fine. I skipped a cocktail and had something fruity and non-alcoholic so I could focus on the purpose of the evening's dinner: meeting author Philip Stead and learning about his newest picture book, Music for Mister Moon . Legendary editor Neal Porter also spoke for a few minutes about the book, but he kept the focus on the Steads as much as possible.

Music for Mister Moon, which publishes in March, goes something like this: A little girl is practicing her cello when a noisy owl upsets her. She throws her teacup out the window and knocks the moon out of the sky. She and the moon become friends, and he confides that he'd really like to go on a boat ride on a lake he's seen from the sky. She's happy to help him fulfill his dream, but his other request, to hear her perform her music, makes her far more nervous. It's a quiet, gentle picture book, the sort of thing one reads at bedtime to calm children down into sleepiness.

Philip wrote the book with his wife, Erin. Well, he wrote and she illustrated, but they're such a partnership that I tend to imagine it's all collaborative. She is a talented illustrator, and for this book she had nearly finished the art when she decided to scrap the whole thing and start over with a new printmaking technique. It sounds like madness, but when you see the images they're so lovely and perfect for the story that you can instantly see why she'd feel so strongly.

Instead of a traditional sit-down dinner, the event was more of a cocktail reception, so there was plenty of time to chat and socialize with other booksellers. Honestly, this is my favorite part of these author dinners. Don't get me wrong – I love meeting creators and hearing about new books! But there's something about being around other people in my field and remembering what an interesting and vibrant community we are that's simply wonderful.

Each bookseller was given a print from Mister Moon to take home, signed by the Steads. I was able to bring an extra print home for V; she LOVES the Steads and wasn't able to make it to the dinner. She'll be so excited.

My photo doesn't do the print justice.
piranha - study hard.

Work Party

Tonight was the bookstore's staff party. The bosses host one every year after the holidays are over at a local cafe. They rent out the upper level and feed us and cap the evening with a gift exchange, a white elephant-style free-for-all with the twist that V&M provided all of the gifts. It's always a fun night, a chance to get everyone liquored up and relax a bit.

Now that I've been at the store for a few years, it's fun to see how new employees will react. We had two newbies this year. One is a quiet mother of two, the sort of woman you might pin as a Mormon with traditional family values. Turns out my coworkers and I missed the mark on that a bit because she drank quite a bit and was quite tipsy all evening. The other new girl is still in high school and looked a little overwhelmed, but she's quite mature for her age and always manages to hold her own with the older staff members.

We've gone to this restaurant for several years because the owner knows my bosses, but in the past few years he's been transitioning away from the restaurant's management. This year was the first time he wasn't at the party, and to be honest the lack of personal touch showed. On previous occasions, he acted as bartender and ensured that no glass ever went empty. This time, I walked in to find a selection of wine bottles on a table and not a waiter in sight. The food was less exciting, too. My first holiday party I had a delectable lamb chop that I still remember with a happy, longing sigh; this year's salmon or steak offerings were far more pedestrian. Throw in overcooked greens and bread rolls straight from a Costco bag and it wasn't the most inspired menu. I suppose I shouldn't be a snob about it, though. The recent minimum wage hike is probably hitting them just as hard as it's hitting us, so corners must be cut when they can.

V&M assign seating at these dinners, and sometimes you end up sitting with people you otherwise don't see more than a couple of times throughout the year. This year, though, I was tucked in-between a sweet old lady who cusses like a sailor to the delight of the millennial staff, and our school visits manager. I work with both of them frequently and it was quite fun.

Every year, as we wrap up dessert the bosses perform some sort of little song or rap about the store. They try to recognize each staff members' contributions to the success of the business, which is very sweet. They sang high praises of our sidelines buyer, who leaves at the end of the month, and welcomed the two new hires. My line in the song tied in with my role acting as tech support, which seemed very accurate for 2018.

The holiday party highlight is, of course, the gift exchange. I had a low number this year, so I was one of the first to go. I picked an oddly-shaped present, and it was an enormous, ugly bird feeder. It was metal and looked like a small umbrella with a dinner plate attached to the bottom of it. I couldn't imagine anyone wanting it, so I was resigned to trying to figure out a place to prop it up in our backyard, but one of the ladies actually stole it for her garden! I was so relieved.

The second gift I picked out was a massage kit. It was an aromatherapy-style one, similar to what I used to sell at Bath & Body Works back in the day. There was a plastic massage roller and a couple of essential oils bottles, a perfectly pleasant set. I once again assumed I was stuck; who would want massage oils when there were far more exciting offerings like exotic orchid plants, kitchen supplies, and fancy candles? But before long our tipsy Mormon mother stole it with an expression of pure delight. I didn't dare chance unwrapping a third present and getting stuck with something truly bizarre, so I stole a ceramic composting unit from one of my coworkers. It sounds so boring – I mean, compost? - but it'll look much nicer in our kitchen than the broken rice pot I've been using to store food scraps when I'm too lazy to carry things out to the compost bin.

There were some pretty nice gifts this year. A pretty turquoise teapot. A soft, fuzzy scarf. There was a bit of a fight over a cute Indian lunchbox. The high school student initially opened it, and you could tell that she just loved it. My f-bomb droppin' seatmate straight up stole it from her, though. Everyone was a little bit shocked that the nice li'l grandma stole from a teenager, but hey. Gift exchanges are seriously business, and these ladies don't mess around.

Some items were kinda neat, but I wouldn't know what to do with them. A desktop waterfall fountain is cool, but who has space for one? There were five or six large orchids, but I'd kill them just like I kill the miniature party favor plants we get at the end of each year's holiday party. In fact, I really need to research the care of orchids since this year we each received a little yellow orchid in a metal pail. I'd like to keep it alive, if possible. There's gotta be a first time, right?

All in all, another fun party and another year at the bookstore is wrapped up and done.
Good times.
kid - shuu-chan.

A singer, an actor, a songwriter, an author...is there anything LMM can't do?

Just when I thought I couldn't adore the man any more than I do...

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Friends Purchase Drama Book Shop
By Michael Paulson
Jan. 8, 2019
Original article link:

Lin-Manuel Miranda is already a composer, a lyricist, an actor and an author. Now he’s going to be a bookseller.

Mr. Miranda and three of his “Hamilton” collaborators have purchased the Drama Book Shop, a century-old theater district purveyor of scripts, sheet music and other stage-related reading material.

The surprise move is an effort to sustain the store, which is a mainstay of New York’s theater scene — in 2011 it was recognized with a Tony honor for excellence — but has struggled to survive the brutal Times Square real estate market and recently announced that it was being forced to move from its current location.

The rescue plan is a joint venture between the “Hamilton” team and the city, which has pledged to find the store an affordable space in Midtown.

“The store is a gem and a cultural institution in New York, and we want to make sure it’s saved,” said Julie Menin, the mayor’s media and entertainment commissioner. As precedent for the arrangement with the bookstore, she cited the city’s work with the Berklee College of Music to save a Manhattan recording studio.

The Drama Book Shop, which currently sells about 155,000 items a year, will close at its current location, on West 40th Street, on Jan. 20, and will reopen at a new location, not yet being named, in the fall.

The new owners of the store are Mr. Miranda; Thomas Kail, the director of “Hamilton”; Jeffrey Seller, the lead producer; and James L. Nederlander, the president of the Nederlander Organization, which operates the theater in which the show’s Broadway production is running. They purchased the store from Rozanne Seelen, whose husband, Arthur Seelen, had bought it in 1958. (He died in 2000.) Ms. Seelen said she sold it for the cost of the remaining inventory, some rent support in the store’s final weeks, and a pledge to retain her as a consultant.

“It’s the chronic problem — the rents were just too high, and I’m 84 years old — I just didn’t have the drive to find a new space and make another move,” she said. “Lin-Manuel and Tommy are my white knights.”

The new owners all frequented the bookstore at various points when they were seeking to build careers in the theater.

“When I was in high school I would go to the old location and sit on the floor and read plays — I didn’t have the money to buy them,” Mr. Miranda said in a telephone interview from Puerto Rico, where he is preparing to star in a three-week run of “Hamilton” in San Juan that opens on Friday. “After college Tommy Kail and I met in the Drama Book Shop basement, and I wrote a good deal of ‘In the Heights’ there.”

In 2016, after a burst pipe caused damage to the shop, Mr. Miranda came to its aid by urging his fans to patronize it. The store needed a lot more help this time.

“They’re like family to us,” he said, “and when we heard that the rent increase was finally too precipitous to withstand, we began hatching a plan.”

The store is particularly important to Mr. Kail, whose post-college theater venture, Back House Productions, was a resident company at the store. “I was in many senses professionally born in that bookshop’s basement — I spent the first five years of my career there,” he said in a telephone interview from London, where he was checking in on the “Hamilton” production there.

Mr. Kail and Mr. Miranda both said that they were also inspired by “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which townspeople rally to save an endangered family banking business. “There was no hesitation,” Mr. Kail said. “The Building and Loan was struggling, and we could do something.”

Mr. Seller’s office, which is already running a “Hamilton” merchandise store in Midtown, will oversee the day-to-day management. He said the book shop would have a revamped website and expanded programming; the goal, he said, would be to break even, which in recent years the store has done occasionally but not consistently.