Another Legacy 1.12

Blooming cherry trees

On Love Day, Case and Ira meet up at the garden center. He gives her a rose from his garden, which he just picked that morning.

“This?” Ira says. “This is what you think I’d like? I mean, why pick it! I can enjoy roses best on the bush. Geez.”

“Uh, I’m sorry,” Case replies. “I thought this was what people did on this day, you know…”

“Love Day,” Ira replies. “Yeah, I get it. But, you know, Case, we’re not exactly other people.”

He’s brought along another gift, which is not traditional but something he thinks she’ll really like, even though it’s only mid-quality, not top-of-the-line, and which he can’t really afford, a digital camera. She loves it.

“Oh, this brand!” she exclaims. “Yeah, it’s got this gauzy effect without any filters, even. This will be perfect for the bay view project I’m working on.”

She heads back to the garden area to begin using the camera, and Case wanders into the kitchen for a pot of tea.

“So, I see you and Ira came together,” Ulrike says. “Cheers for you!”

Ulrike talks with Case

Case doesn’t reply.

“Ah,” says Ulrike. “Sweet days! Those early days of getting to know each other. That heady time! I wish I had something like that going on right now.”

Case just leaves it be.

“I thought I might run into you,” Aadhya says. “How’s your day going? Love Day. Fancy meeting you! Here. Today. On such a special day.”

Aadhya talks with Case in the kitchen at the garden center

“Nice to see you,” Case replies, “as always. I hope you’re having a pleasant day.”

Aadhya giggles, and Case can’t quite think of what might be funny.

Over the chess board, he meets Alexander Goth.

“This isn’t exactly how I imagined I’d be spending Love Day,” Alex says, “sitting here, alone, in the garden center, playing chess with some old dude, no offense.”

Alex Goth and Case play chess

“None taken,” Case replies. “Did you consider E5 in the last game?”

“Hmm, no. I wasn’t really thinking about chess.”

But Case doesn’t ask what he was thinking about.

In the evening, Case harvests fresh peppers, mesclun mix and micro-greens, and puts together a spring salad. This is what spring is about, he thinks. Fresh growth! All those nutrients!

Case making salad in the garden center kitchen

He and Ira walk back to his place together.

“People were weird today,” Case says. “Or rather, weirder than usual.”

“It’s the expectations,” Ira adds. “Everybody builds up Love Day to be this big everything.”

“I fucking hate Love Day,” Case confesses. “I hate it. It’s just like–if you’re not romantic with someone, you don’t count. You don’t matter. To belong, you have to be pursuing, or being pursued, or already caught.”

Ira laughs. “And I take it you’re not into the great pursuit?”

Case complains about love day to Ira

“I’m really not,” Case says. “I mean, what’s wrong with friendship? People make romance out to be the big all-and-everything, the ultimate goal. But it’s friendship that’s the real thing.”

And Case has a point.

The Atlantic, in October 2020, published an article by Rhiana Cohen titled, “What if Friendship, Not Marriage, Was at the Center of Life?” The article profiles individuals who place their close friendships equal to, or even above, their marriages. Cohen also mentions ways that polyamory and asexuality help us reimagine the roles that friends can play in our lives.

And let’s not forget about aromanticism. For an aro-ace, like Case, the pressure around romance can feel coercive. In “The Terrifying Power of Love–the Pressure Aromantic People Face,” Steph Farnsworth reports survey results indicating that 74.60% of aromantic people had been pressured to enter into a romantic and/or sexual relationship. Furthermore, 30.16% had experienced stalking, and over a third had experienced attempts by others to “correct” their aromanticism.

For a legacy writer, navigating this coercion provides a tension. The entire thrust of the legacy (sexual imagery notwithstanding…. or maybe withstanding….) is courtship and mating. That’s what readers expect. Who will be the spouse? Isn’t that the main plotline for each generation? And let’s not forget about the genetics! Better choose someone beautiful! Or at least not weird. Maybe this sounds mean, and I’m honestly not intending to criticize readers and writers for following this plotline and cheering for the best-looking mate. I’m influenced by that same pattern myself, as a reader and a writer, and it’s the standard story we’re fed from the toxic romanticism of the Disney Princess mythos all the way through to Sleepless in Seattle.

Romance is pervasive. You’re no one until you’re with someone.

But Case will have none of it. Writing Goofy Love, I committed myself to autonomous or whim-driven romances and sexual liaisons only for my Sims. It required patience, but each of the heirs eventually fell into heteronormative relationships leading to nine generations of the founder’s genes.

But this time, something different is in play. Case rolls generic whims to woo-hoo in a tent, but it seems more to do with having a tent on the property than with actually wanting to have sex with another Sim.

And Ira is his best friend, whom he adores and values and loves to spend time with. And why should he want or be forced into anything other than this?

Aadhya clearly wants something different, though, and she can’t quite really grasp that Case wouldn’t also want what she wants.

After Ira leaves in the evening, Aadhya swings by, just as Case is getting ready for bed.

Aadhya arrives really late at night

“Come on in, Aadhya,” he says. “You’re always welcome. Care for some yogurt?”

But she passes. She just brushed her teeth.

Aadhya smiles while Case eats a midnight snack

“All right then,” he says, “I’ll be heading into my tent.”

She waits for, possibly, an invitation to join him.

Aadhya smiling in the kitchen

But the invitation never comes. The night feels less long when she pulls a book of fairy tales from the book shelf, and she lets herself imagine she’s a pauper of a princess, dressed in donkeyskin, unrecognized by the laborers around her. She has indeed had a pleasant day.

When she finishes the book at dawn, she can’t help but smile to herself. She achieved one dream, at least: she spent Love Day night at Case’s. Next year, she’ll just have to be more specific when it comes to wording that dream.

Aadhya finishing reading her book as morning dawns

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Another Legacy 1.11

Ira feeling flirty while she talks to Case at the grill

Case is deep in thought calculating the formula for non-carbon-based fuel (something dealing with the fraction of 1/137, that number that Feynman calls “one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding”–I mean, if it can make stars burn, can’t we somehow leverage it to grill a potato?) when Ira stops by on Boxing Day.

She’s making funny faces at Case, cocking her head to the side, pursing her lips, squinting her eyes, and putting all her weight on one leg. It’s humorous, and Case feels like his purple sweater–all playful inside.

Case becomes playful while Ira flirts

They talk for a bit–even her voice is kinda funny, high and then low. Case jokes about penguins and llamacorns. Before she leaves, while Case dishes up the roast potatoes, she swipes the Winterfest decorations lying outside the front door. Case sees it in his peripheral vision.

It’s not the first time he’s seen her steal things when she thinks no one is looking, or even if she thinks they might see, but that she can get away with it anyway. He accepts this about her. It’s not something he’d confront her with, but if she ever wanted to share with him the thrill of the steal, or even some of the deeper reasons that might lie behind it, Case would listen.

After the first time he saw her swipe something–a pack of seeds at the garden center–he did some research on kleptomania. He wanted to be able to understand and support his friend, if she ever came to him for help.

He found he could understand it pretty easily–he could even relate to it, somewhat. It’s a brain chemical thing–issues with serotonin and the brain’s opiod system, and these imbalances lead to impulsive behaviors. That’s something Case can relate to. He organizes much of his day, including diet, schedules, and actvities, managing the neurochemical functioning of his neurodivergent brain. So he gets this. In fact, it helps him understand why he and Ira are able to be such good friends and communicate so well. They’re both neurodivergent.

He doesn’t have a lot of confidence in treatment methods–they sound too much like ABT to him. But knowing how his own brain works, he’s pretty sure that keeping the stress down and providing a safe, accepting environment will help.

At any rate, her neurodivergence makes him love her more. And he really doesn’t care what she swipes, as long as she’s safe and feeling OK, and if she’s not feeling OK, then he’ll do his best to be there for her.

Screenshot of Case's sentiment panel for Ira

On New Year’s Day, Case meets up with her on the boardwalk. It’s an unplanned meeting, which makes Case feel like the new year is getting off to the best possible start, with his kismet best friend.

Case talks with Ira on the boardwalk

She wanders off to check the community board–Case has another proposal up for voting, about eco-friendly appliances, and Ira wants to get an idea of how much support it has.

“My mom says that you’re the reason everything’s blooming here,” says Olive Tinker, Tinker Tailor’s daughter.

Olive talks with Ira

“Ah, no,” Case replies. “Not the reason. One of the reasons. I mean your mom is the original greenie of the community. She got it all started here.”

“Yeah, but she didn’t plant the flowers. You did.”

Case and Olive look out over the bay

“Well, me and a lot of other people,” Case says.

“Yeah, but it was your idea.”

Even that is not technically true, Case realizes. Ideas have lives of their own, and if you’re lucky, one visits you, and if you’re in the right situation, maybe you can do something about it.

But he was the one who got to select the plantings, aside from the donations of the ornamentals from the local nursery.

He he chose the blue salvias, which bloom in winter.

Butterflies over the salvia blossoms

When he turns to check on their growth, he spots a blue morpho butterfly hovering over them, his first sighting.

Case realizes he is very fond of Ira

“The butterflies have returned!” he tells Ira. “When I first moved her, five years ago, I met this little girl–well, she’s probably a teenager by now–she said that if we have flowers, that butterflies would come. And look! She’s right!”

“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen, ever,” Ira says. “Case, nobody could’ve done this but you. Nobody would’ve stuck with it, or researched and found the right plants, or been able to inspire an entire community to step up and make these changes. You’re the most impressive person I know, Case.”

Butterflies in Port Promise

Case doesn’t know about that. He thinks she’s trying to swipe his heart. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s already hers, and he’s already pledged just to be there for her, no matter what she steals, and, anyway, the butterflies have returned.

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Another Legacy 1.10

The garden center lit up with holiday lights

The reckoning of time always poses challenges for SimLit writers, especially those of us who tend towards game-driven stories. The feel of a day in the Sims 4 is quite realistic, with familiar patterns of preparing meals, cleaning up, garden and household tasks, work projects, hobbies, development of skills, socializing, and leisure–it all fits into a day. The one-to-one correspondence breaks down when it comes to seasons or what we might try to interpret as a year. A Sim may enter the first day of autumn a young adult and emerge from spring in their late thirties.

Enter the gap, which is how many SimLit writers account for this ellipsis in time. So, let’s say several years have passed, maybe five. In this time, Case and the NGO team completed the community planting project, and the ornamental and native trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, grasses, and ferns have become established. Case is hard at work on his new assignment, which is promoting and implementing sustainable energy sources in local businesses and residences. He’s been working so hard that, to him, it feels more like 10 days have passed than five years.

To celebrate the greening of the community, the board of directors for the garden center decide to host a Winterfest celebration, at the center, of course. Moira, the board president, coordinates the event. Case wants to go, of course, but he doesn’t want to have to worry about what to do while people are standing around talking, so he volunteers to cook the brunch and evening feast. He’s become a skilled chef in these past five years.

Case making a holiday meal

The best time is before people arrive, when he has the kitchen to himself, and he can plan the special touches–cranberries in the walnut bread, fresh sprigs of rosemary from the garden on the roast veggies, a drizzle of honey from his hives in the berry sauce. 

Catarina Lynx watches Case cook

But soon the center is full, and as people tend to do, they wander into the kitchen to see what the chef is up to. Maybe there’s a pretense of offers to help. 

Case has it under control.

“I could make the tea,” Jesminder Bheeda offers.

“Sure,” Case replies. It’s easier than saying, no, you might be in the way when I need to take something out of the oven. Besides, it’s WinterFest. More the merrier.

Other people come into the kitchen to see what looks so good

“That smells so good,” Catrina says. “I admit, I was worried at first. Cranberries in the fruit salad? But I think it will be fine, right? I mean, you know what you’re doing.”

Catarina talks with Case while he cooks

Case can’t really reply. He’s right in the middle of about five processes, and if he pauses to listen, process, and think of something appropriate to say back, he’ll forget the next step of the twelve queued up for completion.

But brunch turns out beautifully, and Case has the excuse of preparations for the evening meal to be able to eat his in the kitchen.

Aadhya washes the dishes, her own handy excuse to spend some time in the kitchen, where Case is, and after she dries and puts away the last Blue Willow plate, she turns to Case and says, “I’m supposed to decorate the tree, and I need some help.”

“Oh,” Case says. “I see. There are lots of people out there, so I’m sure that someone will help out.”

“Ah, well,” says Aadhya, “They are all playing board games or chess or cards or dancing.”

“OK,” Case says.

“No,” says Aadhya, “I mean, would you help me?”

“Oh, sure,” Case replies. “I would be happy to.”

Aadhya and Case decorate the tree

Decorating a tree is a satisfying project. You can arrange the ornaments, just so, in patterns or lined up or seemingly strewn at random. Of course we know that there’s no such thing as random and that patterns will emerge regardless, but the skill, the art, lies in letting the patterns emerge organically, noticeable on a level that lies beyond our conscious awareness but is detectable, nonetheless.

If Aadhya says anything to Case while they work together, he doesn’t hear. He is fully in it.

“It’s a beautiful tree, Case and Aadhya,” Ira says when she and the others come to admire it.

Everyone stands around the beautiful tree

Fortunately, there’s the supper feast to prepare, and this time, everyone is too occupied with the tree and the games and the carols and the pots of tea and coffee and the sweet rolls and plates of chocolate, cookies, and confection to wander into the kitchen.

But after the feast, after the last bubbles from the dishwashing soap have expelled their tiny bursts in the big stainless steel sink, after the pot of water for the evening tea has boiled and the tea has steeped, there truly is no excuse to remain in the kitchen.

Case finds refuge at the chess table.

Case is not sure what to make of Father Winter

But the thing about chess is that it’s a two-person game, and soon it’s Clement Frost, in his Father Winter get-up, who joins him.

“Well, I know you’ve been a good boy this year,” Clement says. “In fact, we all chipped in to get you something!”

It’s a fridge. Which runs on electricity. Which won’t be much use on Case’s off-the-grid lot. But, he can recycle it, and it’s sure to provide all sorts of components that can be reused in ways that would be practical for an off-the-grid home.

“Thanks!” Case says, and he means it.

Soon, everyone shifts seats again, and now Case is sitting across from the mom of that little girl who, way long ago, wished she might see butterflies here in this neighborhood, and the mom, being a nice mom, is talking with some other person’s little kid, who, like most kids, is being cute enough to bring a smile to everyone within his radius, but Knox, just outside his radius, looks sad, from remembering Geeta, and Ira and Aadhya, sitting at the same table with him, both try to cheer him up.

People sitting at tables, talking and laughing

No one is trying to talk to Case just then, so he does what he loves best when he has to be in groups–he lets his focus diffuse and he floods his senses with the rhythm of chat, the carols on the stereo, the lingering scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, and rosemary, the flickering lights from the tree, and he can make sense of it in his own way, with the patterns overlapping to make a whole that creates meaning for him. 

And then suddenly, he’s tired, from the full day and all of it, and the sound picks him up and carries him towards the door, out into the frosty night sky, and the walk through the town that he helped transform, back to his own cozy down sleeping bag, in his own tent, on the NGO’s off-grid lot.

Case walks home, tired and very happy

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Another Legacy 1.9

Geeta hears Grim call her name

I’d forgotten how quickly death comes when playing normal lifespan. It seems our game has just started when Geeta succumbs.

During my first legacy, the train of death tried my resilience. I was at the tail-end of a decade-long spell of grief for my dad, and Goofy Love, in many ways, became a canon of eulogies. But it helped me, too, to tell the story of the ultimate departure and the sadness of those left behind.

Geeta collapses on the floor while Case, in the background, researches a mushroom

How did I get to feel that I was immortal? It’s a trick of consciousness, that buzz of energy that fills the space within and without. Wittgenstein saved me, I read his insight: “If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.” And that was a gift my dad gave me, especially during my last visit with him, in his last few weeks. At one moment, I felt that he really saw me, as he never had before, and we shared timelessness.

I remember standing in the garden, watering the red salvia, and realizing that writing the repetition of legacy deaths had brought me to that moment.

I refused to use the word “death” then. I used “passing” or “a visit from Grim.”

People gather around Geeta

But the pandemic, and the daily totals I’ve been checking every morning for the last eight months, have brought the word “death” into my daily vocabulary.

Today, in my county, 5 new deaths were reported, bringing the total to 722. In the county to the north, 39 were reported, bringing the total to 4,119. In our state, the total is 6,885.

One of those 722 in our county, one of the first deaths, back in April, was an acquaintance of mine, a potential friend, a coworker, the librarian of one of our schools. Writing this now, I can’t believe that we have continued on. I don’t know why the world didn’t stop then. It did stop for her daughter, for her grandchildren. I keep thinking of her grandson.

One bright winter day last year, in my office, the fluorescent lights off as the sun poured in through the south window, we sat at my computer, shoulder to shoulder, and she told me, “We always leave the lights off at home during the day when my grandson comes to visit. If we don’t, he turns them off and tells me, ‘Use Jesus light, grandma!'”

So, I think of her grandson, and what does he think now, when he stands in Jesus light pouring in through the window? Does it bring to him his grandmother?

Her last name was Sims, curiously enough. I told her, that same bright day, that I played a game called Sims. She laughed, and she listened while I told her about it–I mean, she really listened, like Moira and Ira listen to Case. I had that same sentiment towards her–she got me.

We had a cultural connection, too, having both lived in the Bay Area. In fact, when she lived there, she worked for the same company my brother did. It’s a huge statewide company, but it’s likely they knew each other and had even been in meetings together.

She moved out here to go to the university, where she got a PhD in Cultural Anthropology.

Each time I helped her with her school library website, she would send me a card–an actual paper card, not an email–to thank me.

She was gracious and regal and full of light. And I can’t believe she’s gone.

I learned of her death when I was preparing the audio file of the Governing Board meeting for posting on the Board website. The superintendent, in his report, after cheerily talking about plans for remote learning, way back in the spring when all of this was new, somehow segued into mentioning that a pandemic death had taken one of ours. I couldn’t believe it when he said her name.

It still hasn’t sunk in.

Geeta has passed and people weep

I know others who’ve been affected by the pandemic, too. We all do by now. The spouse of a blogger I follow has long Covid, which is affecting neurology and cognition.

What are we doing writing legacies during a pandemic?

Similar to the eulogy my first legacy became, this legacy, perhaps, will become my sadness hotline. Playing The Sims and writing in conjunction offer a way to process. They offer escape, too–until they don’t.

Case calls the sadness hotline

And there is so much to process. Today, the person I hired to clean out my office delivered six cardboard boxes and a boombox, carrying 23 years of my career. Just like that.

When shutdown first started, I was worried about my office plants. I couldn’t get anyone to plant-sit them for me. If they die, I realized, I will not go back to the office. They died. Other people have gone back to the office. I’m not going. Maybe a year from now, or two, when there are no cases in our state or neighboring states, I’ll venture back to say goodbye to everyone.

But thinking about it right now, I don’t want to say goodbye. There’s a walk I used to take, along the quiet, straight, residential street our office building stands on, with mesquite-lined sidewalks and wildflowers that bloom in the sidewalk cracks. I don’t want to admit that that walk isn’t part of my day anymore.

Before I got on the plane to visit my dad the last time, I told my boyfriend, “I don’t want to tell him goodbye.”

“Then maybe you don’t have to,” he said.

So I didn’t. I told him I loved him. I told him I’d see him around.

And I do–whenever I catch the flicker of light off the wing of a bird, when I look at a pine tree, when my eyes water from the bright yellow and orange of a lantana blossom.

Olive Tinker walks through the garden center

Somehow our lives have been disrupted, and our insane belief that we are somehow immune to death has been shattered.

In many ways, I don’t mind the seismic change that the pandemic brought to my life. It’s a reminder of the significance of this. It’s a daily acknowledgement of those we’ve lost, of my friend whose grandson sees her in the Jesus light that pours in through the window.

Case walks home, very sad

I’ve stayed home. I’ve been that privileged. I’ve retired. I’ve been that lucky to be able to. I’m sad, I’m afraid, I’m experiencing separation anxiety at the idea of leaving one of the main ways I’ve integrated into society. But I’m alive. And it’s not fair, that I’m alive and my librarian friend is not, that I’m able to retire and others have to choose between staying safe or having money for rent. It’s not fair, because none of this is, and the cognitive dissonance of living through this time has stretched me beyond limit, to where sometimes, the only place I can reside is timelessness.

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Another Legacy 1.8

Ira standing looking sad outside of Case's home

The community planting project that Case is in charge of takes up so much of his time that a few days go by before he sees Ira again. It’s not that he forgets about her–she stays safely tucked into that cozy drawer in his mind where he keeps his favorite people. It’s just that he’s focused, entirely, on the project. They’d ordered native plants–sages, grasses, salvias, composites, and so many conifers. But a local nursery offered up several ornamental trees, and it’s fallen to Case to figure out where to place them.

He’s read that if ornamental non-native trees and plants are interspersed with natives, the ecosystem is sometimes even more robust, even more supportive of biodiversity, than if it were natives only. This happens in well-planned gardens. He finds it hard to believe on a scale as large as he’s in charge of. But it could be. So he’s been riding up and down the neighborhood planting areas, scouting out places where these new additions would be surrounded with a sturdy understory of native shrubs, flowers, ferns, and grasses.

Returning from one of these scouting trips, he finds Ira waiting for him at the edge of his lot. She breaks into a smile when she sees him.

Ira breaks into a smile when Case rides up on his bike

“Have you been waiting?” he asks.

“Well, yeah.”

“For me?”

“Um, yes.”

“Oh. Well, you don’t have to wait. You’re welcome here any time. Here,” he says, handing her his spare house key, “now you’ve got your own key, so you can just come on over whenever. Make yourself at home.”

She does. She finds a book to read and sits on the cooler, reading about the theory of light, while Case pulls out his tablet and marks the locations he’s found for the flowering cherry, the Japanese maple, and the daffodil and tulip bulbs.

Case develops plans on his tablet

By the time he puts his tablet away, he looks inside for Ira. The book is open on the table, but she’s left.

Oh well. She’s got her own key now. She’ll be back.

Case strolls down to the boardwalk to check on the grasses that were planted there last week. Trash still litters the place. He and some of the planting crew will pick it all up again tomorrow. Maybe this time it will stay picked up.

He wonders if it’s odd to find to friends, Moira and Aadhya, chatting with each other on the bench, at the same time that he happens to walk by.

Moira doesn’t seem to think it’s odd at all. She greets him as if it’s perfectly normal for him to be there. Maybe he could ask her. He gives it a try.

“Of course it’s not odd!” she laughs. “I mean, you live right down the way, and you work in the neighborhood. I’d say it’s normal to run into you!”

He knows why he’s here–that’s not the question. But he doesn’t ask what she’s doing here. It’s nice, though. Her smile makes sense, like she’s glad to see him and interested in talking with him, and when she starts talking about her garden and the new shipment of bulbs that just arrived, he’s interested in what she has to say, too. It’s easy to listen to Moira. Everything about her makes sense.

He can’t figure out Aadhya, though. How come she’s not joining into the conversation. Why is she sort of staring at him? And is that even a smile? Her eyes don’t look happy, and her hands look nervous. In the past, when he’s asked someone how they’re feeling when they look like that, they’ve gotten mad at him–or they thought he was rude. So he doesn’t ask.

He just stores it away–a piece of evidence. Maybe as he gets to know Aadhya better she’ll start making as much sense to him as Moira and Ira do. Hmm. It’s odd, he thinks, that the two people who make sense to him have names with I R A as the final three letters. And if Aadhya’s name were Aadhira, would she, too make sense?

Case talks with Moira and Aadhya on the bench on the boardwalk

Eventually, Moira and Aadhya have to head out. He doesn’t think he kept them too long. They were the ones talking, after all, well, Moira was. Aadhya just sat there with the sad-eyes-sort-of-smile-nervous-hands. He reviews the interaction see if he did anything to detain them, but no, he just listened. It was a nice conversation, too. It’s easy to process garden-talk.

The sun sets and the cool air rises from bay. It smells clean now. When it blows over the grasses, he can smell sweet oat mixed with heavy soil.

“The neighborhood’s starting to look good,” Faye says. “I guess we have you to thank for that.”

Faye shares good news with Case

The next morning, jogging to the garden center, he comes upon a stretch of the path where there is no trash. The plantings were completed here last month, and for the last three weeks, he hasn’t found a scrap of litter.

Case jogs home, feeling happy

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Another Legacy 1.7

Ira scrubs the grate on the grill

Case hears a scritch-scratchy noise he can’t identify. A carpenter bee digging at the door frame? A piece of wire blown up onto the eaves somehow, scraping against the window? The tent zipper flapping in the wind?

But no, it’s Ira, cleaning his grill.

That was nice of her to come by, he thinks.

It takes him a minute to realize that they’re both wearing turbans.

“I don’t know why I put this on today,” he says. “I don’t wear it all the time.”

Ira and Case both wear turbins

“I do,” Ira says, “when I’m not working or taking a bath. Or sleeping.”

“I guess I wear mine when the it’s cloudy like this,” he says. “I like having my head wrapped when the barometric pressure is changing.”

“That makes sense,” Ira replies.

The structure on this property is so tiny–just a bathroom and a room for sitting and reading.

“You have a great library,” Ira says.

Ira and Case, reading comfortably together in his tiny livingroom

“What do you do here, anyway?” Ira asks. “You don’t own this place, do you?”

Case explains about how the environmental NGO owns the lot, and he works for them, and part of the job entails living here, so he can be part of the community he’s working to change.

“I’m starting to have second thoughts about these changes,” he says. “I mean, not about the actual changes. I know it’s our only recourse, if we even want to have a livable planet, that we make major shifts in economy, population size, and sources of fuel. But I’m starting to think about the costs of those changes.”

He counts off on his fingers. “One: it puts people out of work. Two: people need to change their source of entertainment. That’s not a simple thing! People love their TVs. Three: people really should change how they eat, transitioning to plant-based diets, and nobody wants to be told how to eat,” he says, “I’m starting to discover that.”

Case counts out issues on his fingers

“But are you here to make everybody happy?” Ira asks.

“Well, no,” replies Case. “I guess I’m here to help with the grass-roots efforts to get certain Action Plans adopted and then to help implement them.”

“And are you doing that?” Ira asks.

“Well, yes!” says Case. “That’s what I was hired to do, so yes.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“I guess, nothing?”

Ira agrees that the world is a mess

“I think you can leave people to manage their own discomfort,” Ira says. “It’s not really something we can moderate, anyway. It’s sort of up to them.”

Ira follows Case into the tiny bathroom where he repairs the sink

They spend the day talking. Case has never talked with anyone as much in one day as he and Ira talk that day. But it’s nice when they’re quiet together, too.

By nightfall, the barometric pressure has adjusted, and Case unwinds his turban. He pulls his hair back in the tiny pony-tail so he can still feel some slight pressure on his scalp.

Tinker Tailor drops by just as he’s dishing up grilled fruit for a late supper.

Tina Tinker comes over to find Ira and Case still visiting

He’s not really paying attention to Tina, but I am. She seems a bit surprised at first, to see Ira there, like she’s not quite sure of her. But when she sees the way Case looks at her, she relaxes.

Look at Tina’s closed eyes while Case and Ira smile at each other–is Tina thinking of her sweet family at home and hoping that same warmth would fill this small room? Is she making a wish, saying a prayer, bestowing a blessing?

Tina thinks they make a cute couple

Maybe all of the above.

And when she opens her eyes, they’re eating in silence, like good friends do.

They enjoy a grilled meal

But soon they’re talking again.

Ira’s describing this plan she has for a sort of celebrity exposé. She calls it “Without a Filter.”

No-filter photos of Cho and Ward and all the others that the periodicals pay her to shoot.

“The idea is to show them how they are,” she says, “without the gloss.”

Ira has a lot to say about everything

“I don’t know,” says Case, “without the gloss they’re not really celebrities, are they?”

“Exactly,” says Ira. “Without the gloss, without the special filter, they’re just real people.”

“Like us,” says Tina Tinker, “which is what we knew all along.”

“But the people who swoon over them don’t know that. Maybe I’ll lose my job, but it’ll be worth it. Go out in a blaze of unfiltered glory!”

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Another Legacy 1.6

Moira Fyres walks into the garden center kitchen

The garden center has an actual kitchen, which Case thinks is pretty cool, so when he wants a break from the cooler food of yogurt, cereal, and granola, or grilled plantains or veggie burgers, he heads to garden center. It’s there that he meets Moira Fyres. She’s the first person he feels actually gets him, like can follow his cadences and the rhythm of his logic, and grow more interested, rather than less.

Talking to people has never been easy for Case. It hasn’t been easy for me, either. In fact, one of the greatest gifts of the pandemic, if a horrible thing can be said to bear gifts–well, no, it can’t. So let’s rephrase this: One of the byproducts of working remotely and staying at home for the past seven months is that I only have to talk in-person to one other person, my partner, who knows me well. And even if he doesn’t have the capacity to follow my talk at the moment, he never looks at me like I’m weird, and I know that later, when he does have the capacity, he’ll listen. And through all our decades together, I’ve pretty well figured out how to talk to him, at least when I’m not overwhelmed by stress, and he’s figured out pretty well how to listen, at those times when he’s not occupied with other thoughts or also overwhelmed with stress.

At any rate, I find it a tremendous relief not to have to try to talk to people at the office every day. I am all too familiar with the look that Avani Nair is giving Case here. Yeah, he’s just been talking about veggie dumplings and the process of making them, describing how to get those little crinkles on the edges, and you can tell from Avani’s expression that the way he said this, the particular details he selected to mention and notice, which are so important to him, but which aren’t really anything that a neurotypical would notice or even pay attention to, lead her to one conclusion: weird.

Avani Nair and Case sit at the table the garden center kitchen

She likes him fine, and she thinks he’s cool, and he has a job that makes a real contribution, but when she gets right down to it, when she listens to what he says and how he talks and where he looks and the way his mind works, she can only conclude that he’s weird. Atypical, to be polite.

Well, no. He’s autistic. And he’s not an atypical autistic, at all. And the way his mind works, and how he talks, and interacts, and that he sometimes wears noise-cancelling headphones or might look over your shoulder, rather than in your eyes, and that he’s so into what he’s doing that he sometimes doesn’t notice anything else, isn’t really weird. It’s actually quite typical, for someone who’s autistic.

At any rate, Moira Fyres gets him. She can listen to him and not roll her eyes or give that combo puzzled-judging look that Case came to believe was people’s default expression. When he talks with her, it’s like a load off–he can actually talk, and she will actually listen. And then she’ll talk. This is what social communication is supposed to feel like, he thinks. Double-empathy.

The garden center has become a hang-out for celebrities looking to bolster their reputation for being green. And that’s how Case comes to meet Ira Mahajan, the second person he’s ever met who gets him.

Ira’s not a celebrity. She’s a paparazzi. (If you read Deira’s Strannik Legacy, you wouldn’t be amiss to be thinking that paparazzi are the new mailmen–or mailwomen, as the case may be.)

She’s not really a paparazzi, she explains. She’s a photographer, but you don’t make much money taking photos of rusting cranes and stacks of containers. You can make money taking pictures of Judith Ward and Brytani Cho.

She joins Case at the chess table after Judith Ward leaves.

“I used to play this game all the time when I was a kid,” she says.

Ira and Case play chess

She falls right into an end-game trap.

“Don’t feel bad,” Case says. “Since you played chess as a kid, your chess-mind probably hasn’t kept up with the rest of your mind.”

Check mate, Case says

She doesn’t look at him like he’s weird. She doesn’t misinterpret what he said and take offence.

Instead, she thinks.

“You know,” she replies, “you’re right. All my chess synapses haven’t really been developed since I was around ten years old.”

Ira studies the position

Later, while she’s playing blick-block, she calls out, “Do you think that blick-block synapses transfer to chess synapses? If so, then the next time we play, watch out!”

Case looks at the pieces, all lined up. It’s the beginning, everything in place, before the moves and the variations. And after every game, no matter how messy it gets in the middle-game, no matter how much conflict in the end-game, you always go back to this: lining up the pieces, with all that potential at the ready.

Case thinks about Ira, who is in the background playing video games on the computer

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Another Legacy 1.5

Case rides his bike in the clean air--but the street is lined with trash

Trash still lines the parking lots and allies, but the air is clear enough to breathe in deep when you pick up the pace on a fast bike ride.

Case spends a long ride thinking of a plan to help curb the trash. Port Promise still has an industrial feel. Case doesn’t want to lose that entirely, for it’s history, and he thinks the rusting cranes and containers add color to the place. You don’t want to cancel culture as you transform it, he decides. You gotta keep some of it, so you know where you’ve come from. Out of respect, too, to the labor and lives that came before.

But at that same time, the heavy industrial feel seems to contribute to this attitude that the place was trashed, so it doesn’t matter if we leave our trash laying around it.

Whenever Case picked up bags full of litter, passersby looked at him quizzically, as if cautioning him that next day, the trash would be back, as it always was.

So, yeah, people will trash a dump.

But who would trash a garden?

Case riding at night and all the fences have autumn decorations

So Case begins thinking of ways that Port Promise can be transformed into a five-block garden. There’s so much open space, and it’s been neglected for so long that many native plants have established themselves. That’s a good backbone to build on.

Ballots are coming up soon, and Case thinks he’ll put up a proposition to put this plan in motion.

He needs support for the measure, that’s for sure. And if he can line it up before he even approaches his supervisors at the NGO, before the proposition is even put forward for the ballot, so much the better.

“What do you think about neighborhood planting measures?” he asks this guy who’s heading towards the garden centers. Yeah, Case hasn’t much charisma yet, and his approach to politics is about as straightforward as he is. He doesn’t get small talk, like, at all.

Case meets Darrel Charm

But the guy he asks… whoa. Who is this beautiful Sim?

He seems too perfect to be a random-created townie. Everything about him fits together to make a whole package. Those violet eyes… that eye liner. Is he wearing lipstick? That hair! I’m not sure if you can see here, but he has tiny freckles. And his  see-through shirt.

I had a student who looked and dressed like him once, so long ago, in 1994, at a small community college in the Intermountain West where three towns came together on three rivers, and the college campus was situated on the most redneck of the towns. The other students gave him a wide berth, especially when he wore heels and carried a pink purse. But I loved his attitude. I adored his writing. I loved his voice, a falsetto, that would, now and then, break out in a tenor laugh. In spite of it all, a lifetime of bullying and rejection, he was a badass with strength and sweetness that ran through and through. What a history! I wonder what he’s doing now.

Darrel Charm is so perfect

His name wasn’t Darrel Charm, which is this Sim’s name, which I jot down and google later to discover, of course, that he is another premade, from Realm of Magic, living in Glimmerbrook with his mom, sister, and fiancee.

I still think he’s one of the most perfect Sims I’ve seen.

At any rate, Darrel thinks the idea sounds pretty good–he’d support it and maybe even make a contribution. Plants are good, right?

Case explains some of the details of the proposal to Aadhya, and while he’s right at the point where he describes how mycelium can be re-established, even if it’s been wiped out by toxins or lack of conifer roots, she walks off, smiling over her shoulder.

“I’m sure you’ll think of everything,” she says.

“But I didn’t get to the part where I explain how mycelium is like the Internet of the ecosystem.”

“That’s OK,” she says, “I’ll take your word on that.”

Aadhya gives another sidewise glance at Case

Later that evening, Tina Tinker comes by. Case has taken to calling her Tinker Tailor. He calls her wife Soldier Spy. He hasn’t met her daughter yet.

“I brought you something,” Tinker Tailor says, “out of gratitude. And because I think you’re cool.”

Tina brings Case a gift, because he is cool!

“I’m cool? What are you talking about?”

But Case is cool, and Tina Tinker has noticed. She’s noticed that he’s got the eyes to see what’s wrong in this community, and he’s got the mind to think of what might be done to fix it, and he’s got the intelligence to realize that, none of it, is simple or without ramifications, but that doesn’t stop him, anyway.

The gift isn’t much–just five eco-upgrade parts. But it’s something he needed for some projects around the place, to make the solar panels a bit more efficient. It’s something that someone else who notices, thinks, and realizes might select to give to somebody like her.

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Another Legacy 1.4

Case meets Catarina Lynx at the Garden Center

The town voted to convert the community dump/recycling lot to a neighborhood garden center. It took a lot of work, and Case was assigned to be the Project Manager for it. He’d never worked so hard before–so many details, so many phone calls, so much to arrange and figure out, with late shipments and early deliveries, and mis-quotes and overall confusion. But at last it was done.

First it got a write-up in the San Myshuno Chronicle, then it received rave reviews in the Brindleton Times, and before you knew it, this was the place to hang out for people all up and down the coast.

The center had its own manager, so Case was given the freedom to develop other projects and plans.

Case works on the fabricator

He still drops by the garden center often. He can’t help it–he feels proud of this, his first real project, turning out to be such a success.

Living alone on his off-the-grid NGO-owned lot, he also found that the garden center was a great place to socialize.

Case meets Aadhya Mahajan

He wasn’t really looking for more than a friend, at this point, but that didn’t keep him from enjoying the type of attention he was receiving.

This is Aadhya Mahajan.

Aadhya eyes Case with a smile

I googled her to see if she was one of the new premades that I haven’t been keeping up with.  She’s not. She’s a random Townie. But I did get a lot of hits for facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn for real life people with this name. How cool! Aadhya Mahajan The Real, if you’re reading this, cheers! Thank you for being a namesake for a very cool Random Townie in TS4!

Case’s current problem that he’s trying to invent a solution for is off-the-grid cooking. Sure, he knows there are solar cookers out there, but he’s looking for something different. He hasn’t yet come upon the right way to address the issue.

But it takes a bit of the joy out of grilling veggie burgers when the process sends up big clouds of black smoke. Maybe the trick lies in a non-carbon-based fuel…

Case is grilling veggie burgers again

Thinking back on one of my all-time favorite legacies, I send Case over to greet the mail delivery person.

“Eh, sorry. I don’t really have time to chat,” she says. “Union rules, you know. New Postmaster General. Things are different now.”

Case meets the postal delivery person

The boardwalk in his neighborhood always has plenty of people walking by, especially now that the air is clear and the water doesn’t smell like tar and rotten eggs.

Case meets a young woman in a fast-food place uniform

Case checks the air quality report. It’s nearly in the green zone now. You can actually breathe it and not develop cancer. If you’ve got asthma, you can take a walk and not die.

Case checks the air quality report on his phone--it's good!

There’s still tons of trash lining the streets, sidewalks, and boardwalks, but that’ll make a good next-project, Case decides. In fact, he’ll get to work on a ballot measure to put up for the next voting cycle as soon as he gets home.

Some of the women Case meets at the community board

As if she could read his thoughts, L. Faba accosts him.

“Weren’t you behind that energy-saving measure on the ballot?” she snipes.

L Faba yells at Case

“The organization I work for was,” he says. “I worked to promote it, yeah, but I can’t take all the credit for it.”

“Credit! Credit? Blame! Blame is more like it! You and your green types! Messing up this world! Can’t you leave well enough alone?”

“Stop,” Case injects. “We’ve had quite enough of ‘leaving well enough alone.’ You’ve seen what ‘leaving well enough alone’ has done to this planet. I’m not going to take abuse from a stranger for taking right action.”

Case holds up his hand to establish boundaries with L Faba

This gesture here, that Case does, holding up his hand to assert boundaries and prevent L. Faba from yelling at him, it makes me love him. I’ve only seen one other Sim do that when being yelled at by a mean Sim, and that was Sugar Maple Bough, stopping her aunt Poplar from indulging in abuse.

Case has had enough, though L. Faba is quite enjoying herself. This is the type of trolling she was after!

L Faba smiles as Case and another woman are so tense

“Did I hear that you were messed up in that New Green Deal?” a passerby yells, inserting herself into the policy disagreement, much to L. Faba’s delight. “You were behind that ballot measure to reduce power consumption and put people out of jobs? My DAD lost this job to that! You fired my dad, you lousy green bum!”

The other woman yells at Case

“Whoa!” Case replies, but what can he say, really? The answer isn’t that simple, certainly not something you can shout back to someone who’s yelling at you. What do you yell back? Yes, but you can’t stake it all on short-term gain when there’s the big picture to consider, and yes, a few jobs might be lost, for those who aren’t transitioned immediately into other positions, but, you see, we’re working on economic stimulus, too, only it’s a lot longer coming, but you’ve got to look at the big picture, which is really, this wasn’t sustainable, and who, if anyone will even have a job if the entire planet is uninhabitable, which it’s on the course to be, for sure, in our lifetimes, and maybe even in your unemployed dad’s lifetime, too, idiot, did you think about that?

He settles for, “Fuck!”

And marches himself back home.

Case, back home, swears out of anger and frustration

At this point, I’m guessing Case has secret hot-head trait. He swears a lot. Of course, during his early days (or day, really), his foul mood could be attributed to the smog and feeling generally miserable. I curse, too, when the air is that bad. And it’s understandable that he’d feel upset when strangers yell at him about policies and changes he feels good about and proud of, especially when they’ll benefit, in the long run, the very people who are yelling about them. But I bet that he also realizes it’s not that simple: this person’s dad did lose his job due to the power conservation policies that he and his NGO worked hard to implement. It’s never that simple. If it were, we would have stopped burning fossil fuels back in 1977. But wait? Isn’t it that simple? Isn’t that exactly what we should have done, bitten the bitter bullet back then, made those hard changes, then, so that now, life would actually be sustainable?

We put it off, claiming it was too complicated, and now, without doubt, the complications threaten to overwhelm us at an inconceivable price in biodiversity and even existence.

I guess if you’re angry, swearing can, at least, keep the grief at bay.

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Another Legacy 1.2

Case sorting through trash in a dumpster

One community lot sits at the far end of Case’s new neighborhood, perched at the edge of the bay, overlooking what would be a breathtaking view, if the sky weren’t orange and the water weren’t ochre. Well, it still is breathtaking, but in the choking, lung-burning, eye-watering kind of way. Case wishes his eyes would water from beauty, not from toxins in the air.

At any rate, it’s an odd type of community center–a combination dump, recycling center, and tech-innovator hub. Mostly it’s a dump, with a few cool gadgets, Case decides.

It’s where Tina Tinker hangs out. I like her. Case seems to like her, too. She’s all kinds of cool. Well, you know, geekiness is the coolest. At this point in game-play, I haven’t yet realized that the social bar at the top of the screen, that provides the name and age of the person, as well as their mood and their relationship bar with your Sim, also shows who their spouse is, when they’re married. I guess this is so that we can avoid accidental affairs. Turns out Tina is an Evergreen Harbor premade, married to Yasemin.

But I don’t know this at this point, and I’m thinking she’s pretty awesome, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if Case liked her, too?

The yellow-gray skyline over the bay

Case is too miserable from the way his lungs burn and his skin itches and his eyes water, with all this pollution, to even know how he might feel about anybody. It’s all he can do to even talk to someone without breaking out in cursing.

Case talking with Tina Tinker

“I can see you’re upset,” Tina tells him. “Have you tried breathing? Big breath in…”

Tina shares advice with Case

Case just glares at her. It’s the breathing that’s the problem, in this crap-hole.

Bess Sterling, feeling chipper as usual, is there, too. I haven’t yet discovered that she, too, is an Evergreen Harbor premade, living with her boyfriend, Jules Rico. At this point in game-play, everybody is somebody who could end up being more than a family friend, who might end up being the mother (or second father, if Case is gay and we adopt) of the heir and spare.

Case doesn’t care one way or the other. There’s just not much capacity to care about anything when you’re miserable, and Case is miserable.

Case talking with Bess Sterling

Until the next morning.

When he wakes up to rain pouring down from clear blue sky.

What?

Let’s not worry, for the moment, about the rain coming from a cloudless sky (the weather report did predict “mysterious weather”), but…. what happened to the smog?

What happened to my plans for a gritty, let’s-solve-this-problem story? What about my plans for a slow change to the environment that might occur over the span of generations, not overnight?

Turns out that, in Evergreen Harbor, three solar panels and one dew-collector are enough to move the environmental footprint from Industrial to Neutral.

On Monday morning (one Sim-day into the game), the sky is indeed blue.

The sky is clear!

And it is beautiful.

So, how do I handle this in my story? I grew up just north of the Bay Area in the 1960s and 70s, and that orange-gray skyline over the bay is something we sometimes saw in Oakland, California. That lung-burning air, contributing California’s “beautiful sunsets”, settled over the area whenever the wind stalled out.

But if the wind blew right, from the Pacific, it could blow the murky air east. Even in my childhood, days of poor air quality were interspersed with crystal skies.

When I returned to the Bay Area a few years ago, I had dreaded the pollution–but I was delighted and surprised to find that the air was so clear. California’s emission regulations worked. I felt excited to discover the environment had improved in the decades since I’d lived there as a child.

Last spring, during the shut-downs in March and April, within two weeks the air here in my desert town was the clearest air I’d ever breathed–even more pure than the mountain air of the Sierras of my childhood. It was so pure that it hurt to breathe it–but it hurt in a good way, like it was more pure than my system was used to, and breathing it, deeply, was filling me with something that my genes remembered, from pre-Industrial times. My eyes watered from the beauty, too–I could look at the mountains as if they were close enough to touch.

The air is clear now, too, though not as clear as it was last spring. And, considering what our air was like during the months when wildfires ravaged the West, seems miraculous. There were days this summer when we couldn’t be outside, due to the smoke in the air. The sun cast eerie orange light, as orange as the air quality indicator for our region.

But now the air is clear and I could reach out and touch the mountains.

So how do I handle this in the story? Let’s say that maybe six months have passed, rather than one Sim-day. Let’s say that six months before Case’s assignment sent him here, the government passed emissions regulations that applied to local industry, and the city passed regulations banning neighborhood traffic. Maybe in the story we’ll deal with some of the economic fallout from this. Certainly, it seems that all the industries in this neighborhood have shutdown. It has a post-Industrial feel to it.

That’s a good thing for Case, who’s happy grilling his veggie burgers on his off-grid lot. (Hey, Case, that grill is putting out some smoke, dude. Aren’t you concerned about burning carbon fuel?)

Case feeling better while he grills veggie burgers

And Faye Harris also doesn’t seem to mind.

“It’s a beautiful afternoon, isn’t it, Case?” Never mind that the rain is falling from a cloudless sky.

Case talking with Faye

“It seems pretty sudden, but I’m not complaining,” Case says. “The jet stream may be whacked, but it still blows, strong enough to clear out all that gunk, once we stop putting it back into the atmosphere.”

Faye is happy the air is clear

Faye grows thoughtful, gazing out over Case’s shoulder. She’s lived here long enough to see the region go through changes. Her own neighborhood, Grims Quarry, lies upwind of Port Promise. It’s been green since she and her family moved here. In fact, the activists in her part of town were behind the local restrictions on traffic and industry. This was what they wanted, to clean up the environment, make it livable for people and critters.

“And birds,” Faye says.

“What’s that?” Case asks.

“Oh,” says Faye, “sorry. I was just thinking that now Port Promise might become livable for birds, too.”

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