Today I’m spending an 18 hour work day up in Salt Lake at a massive comic convention. I expect to have no brain for blogging, so I thought I would re-share this essay that still matters quite a lot to me. This is a post I originally wrote in 2011 and then revised for my book Cobble Stones 2011. You can find the paper book in our store for only $5. We also have it in e-book form for $3.
Red Shoes and Wishing
“You’re allowed to want things,” I said to myself. I didn’t quite believe it. If I began wanting things then there would be conflict between the things that I wanted and the things that my husband or children wanted. The simplest way to avoid the inevitable conflicts was to remember that what I wanted most was my family and to either let go of, or fold away, the other things. So I pressed myself small, trying to take only the spaces in our lives which no one else was occupying. I got quite good at it. Unfortunately the process squeezed from my life those things which re-energized me. I was less and less able to meet family needs because I had less and less to give. It came to a crisis, and I formally told myself, “You’re allowed to want things. Even if they are silly. Even if they are impractical. Even if logic dictates that you’ll never have them, you’re still allowed to want them.” I breathed a big sigh and tried to believe it.
I was out of practice at wanting things. It took time for me to remember how. I began by creating small things, a pressed flower picture, a clean space in my house where my things could live. The process is ongoing. I’m still seeking which things call to me, feeling the call, and then waiting patiently to see if my brain will explain to me what these symbols mean. My long-neglected Amazon wish list has begun to fill up. I don’t know that I will actually buy most of these things, but collecting the list of wishes has been fascinating. I can see how the physical objects are actually representations of qualities I want in my life. The stationery box with all the little compartments appeals to my sense of organization and to my connection with the teenage letter writer I used to be. The journal with the faux aged leather cover speaks of connections with things that last and with words. The movie Julie and Julia appeals to my desire for transformation into something stronger. It isn’t things I want so much as qualities. If I happen to acquire the things, they can serve as reminders to seek the attached qualities, but I can accomplish this without spending money if I am mindful.
Layer by layer I unfold these pressed-together parts of myself. Each layer unfolds some new thing I want as a part of my life. Some of them are quite surprising. One day I discovered a desire to own red shoes. I’m mostly a brown and black shoe person. I like being able to wear shoes with many different outfits. Yet I wanted a not-at-all-sensible pair of high-heeled, red patent-leather pumps. Not any particular pair, or rather I haven’t yet found the perfect pair. But I’m looking. Red heels are for women who are beautiful and unafraid. They walk confidently, with their flash of color which often doesn’t match anything else they are wearing. They are like one of those Japanese paintings with a single spot of bright color as a focal point. Dorothy wore red shoes, and they gifted her with the ability to travel home. Other fictional red shoes danced their wearer to death. I feel cautious about red shoes, but I am allowed to want them. If I find the right pair, with the right fit, at the right price, I will buy them. In the meantime I will try to gift myself with the qualities that are represented by red high heels.
Allowing myself to desire things has led to conflict. I’m learning to live with that. I’m learning that sometimes the process of navigating a conflict is better than creating a peace which only exists because everyone is careful not to bump in to each other. I’ve been surprised to discover that three quarters of the conflicts I must navigate are me against myself. Howard and the kids are quite happy to shift around and make space for me. I have a hard time making space for myself. I agonize over which desires matter more, where I should spend my efforts, what I should do. My frantic scrambles to get it right disrupt the flow of what could be. Many of my wish list items, and my growing collection of quotations in my journal, carry themes of peace and courage. “Be not afraid,” I am telling myself in hidden ways. “It is okay to make mistakes. It is okay to fail. It is okay to be ordinary.” But also, “Seek beauty. Seek small happiness. Stop. Breathe. Feel.”
I am trying. I’m collecting more things on my wish list to see what qualities my deep self would like to have. I’m also watching for the right pair of red shoes.
There it is, the thing which has consumed all of my thinking hours since Monday morning. Okay, that’s a bit of hyperbole. The kids got some of my thinking too, but not as much as they usually have. When the thinking runs out, I’ve been diving into watching the episodes of House that I previously skipped. Because unless I bury my brain in some diversion, it will continue to attempt to think about show or booth, only it will do it badly. I will be able to tell that I’m thinking badly and then I will be stressed because what if all of my booth thinking was bad? What if the whole thing is a terrible idea? What if I messed everything up? It goes on from there, not particularly helpful.
So…House, this is a show that I both like and dislike. Many of the characters are pretty terrible people and yet the writers manage to make them sympathetic. Over and over they build the most amazing character arcs, but then in order to build a new arc, they completely dismantle everything done by the old one. I’ve started just pretending the show is a multiverse and what I’m watching are alternative realities that are possible for this set of characters. That way I can imagine the married couple stays married and are happy even though in an alternate reality things are different. I can watch the addict tear all his relationships apart in irreparable ways and then jump to an alternative where those people are still able to be friends. It is working for me, because they really do manage to make unsympathetic characters likeable. Each episode is pretty formulaic, but the characters are compelling to me. Even when I don’t like them.
See? Watching House gives my brain non-fretting thoughts, and that is really valuable this week. Tomorrow FanX begins. It is going to be a long and tiring day, but hopefully a good one. I won’t have brain for blogging, so I scheduled some posts in advance. In hindsight, I should have done that for all of this week instead of just for the three convention days. I can’t think of everything I guess.
Between now and next Wednesday morning
Create a display with prices and marketing text for Schlock-related small shiny things
Modify and spray paint a cardboard box so that it becomes a useful bin for people to peruse art and posters for sale.
Make and laminate price signs for the booth. Be clever and entertaining with the marketing text while also being clear.
Make fliers with maps that go to Tracy Hickman’s booth and Travis Waltons artist alley table.
Print out labels for each individual art piece and affix them to the backs of the art pieces.
Figure out how much inventory to haul to FanX then stack all of that inventory in the test booth.
Make card sets for Strength of Wild Horses.
Assemble boxed sets for sale at FanX booth
Accept delivery of Strength of Wild Horses at the warehouse.
Make sure the point of sale system is updated with everything that will be on sale. Make sure I have back up means of managing if internet goes down while we’re trying to sell things.
Set up all the things in the booth, including lights and signs. Make it look like a welcoming little store where all the bajillion people at FanX want to shop.
Disassemble the charming little store in such a way that I can remember how to set it back up. Stack all of it to see everything will fit into my car or if I’ll need to borrow/arrange for an additional vehicle.
Begin putting things in motion on promotional pushes for LOTA and SWH. The SWH push is imminent because I’ll have books next week.
Make carpooling arrangements so that I can be in Salt Lake all day on Friday.
Stock the house with sufficient food that the kids can feed themselves Friday evening and all day on Saturday.
Set up the little store in the Salt Palace.
Run the little store amid masses of people. Hope they buy enough things to pay for the expense and effort.
Re-stock the store as needed each morning. (I really want to have to re-stock things, because that would mean that we sold things.)
Beyond next week
I need to package and ship SWH to my lovely backers. This will be about 300 packages.
Fix up the basement room so that Kiki can live there over the summer. Most notably we need to put up sheet rock on one wall so that she has a place to hang her whiteboards and the calendars she needs to track her work.
Challenge coin PDF
Cobble stones book cover redesigns, and the 2013 book. Maybe a Cobble Stones holiday book.
Promotional push for LOTA and SWH.
Mounting original art for sale on Ebay, timed with the promotional push for LOTA.
Other stuff. I know there is more stuff. Hopefully I’ll remember it once I’ve cleared some of this stuff away.
Howard was anxious and stressed on the drive to our vacation spot. He was relaxed on the way home, as was I. We talked over the next six weeks, which are so full of things that juggling will be necessary to accomplish them all. This is normal. After those six weeks will be summer and the rhythms of our lives will be different.
We unpacked the car and then the suitcases, amassing a large pile of clothes which need red dust washed out of them. For each bag I sorted and put things back in the places they belong. If I don’t do this task on the day that we arrive home, then we end up stepping around half-unpacked bags for weeks. Many of the things I unpacked were never used during the trip. Settlers of Catan went back on the shelf, box unopened. Each vacation is different, affected by our changing family dynamics and by our moods. This time we barely watched any movies. Instead we spent time together out at the park swinging in hammocks and floating sticks down the little stream. Afterward the kids hovered over Howard’s shoulder as he narrated his strategy for a video game. They watched the game’s story unfold with every bit as much interest as they sometimes give to movies.
Some of the things I put away were used quite a lot. The binoculars were carried on all the hikes. The file of maps proved very useful. Most of the stack of books were read. The cameras took many pictures. Those pictures will soon be the only tangible evidence of our trip. All the rest is memory.
I did one thing more after all the bags were empty and put away. I carried our hammock and our hammock swings out into the back garden. I hung them in their usual places. The air was mild and a warm breeze blew. Spring is not so far advanced at our house as it is in Moab, but it is definitely here. The time has come for us to spend portions of our day outdoors. Tis the season for hammocks. I sat in one after it was hung and felt the same peaceful repose that came to me sitting next to the wisteria on vacation. I don’t have to leave that behind, I can bring it home.
Our vacation spot is a pocket paradise, so is our house and the garden that surrounds it. Yes I can hear the cars on state street. An apartment building overlooks the yard only partially blocked by the evergreen trees we’ve planted. Over the back wall is a landscaping company that sometimes leans tall poles against the wall. The list could go onward naming the flaws of this little plot of land, why it is not perfect. Or I could make the opposing list of all the ways in which it is lovely. Both are true and which I see on a given day is far more dependent on what I carry inside me. If I carry peace, then any place can be paradise. Going on vacation gives me enough space to remember that.
I swayed gently in the hammock and thought on all of these things while the sun warmed my face. Soon my wisteria will bloom and that will be lovely too. Tomorrow I need to unpack all my business thoughts. Accounting must be done and I’ve got a booth to prepare for the convention next week. Then next Monday I need to remember how school days go. One week until FanX. Two weeks until I can begin shipping Strength of Wild Horses. Three weeks until Kiki comes home. Beyond that there are more things. It is enough to get started.
The other mother at the pool reclines in her bathing suit. She reads a magazine, often looking up to engage with her children in the pool. Other times there have been more people, today it is just me and her with four children in the water. I sit in the shade, fully clothed. My laptop is open and I type. I don’t don’t know if she is judging me for the choices I display. It hardly matters. My imagination supplies judgement for her, giving her a critical voice. I am obviously a workaholic who can not leave her computer at home. Or I am the disengaged mother, more interested in updating facebook than spending time with my kids. She has no way to see that I am a writer. I’m stealing this time to craft stories, because all writing time is stolen from something else. Each moment I am aware of what I neglect.
Along with the guilt for not treasuring each splashing moment with my children is the litany of how I should write differently. If I write fiction, I’m aware of the blog post that did not happen. If I blog then some part of me mourns the fiction time. Then there is the incessant knowledge that I ought to write more letters to my Grandmother, my daughter at college, my parents, siblings, friends. My head is so noisy with self-judgements, it is a wonder that I can find words at all.
That tanned mother on her lounge chair with her magazine likely has no thoughts about me, other than to tell herself what I think of her. So young mother across the pool, enjoy your quiet hour, because motherhood does not often supply hours when the kids are happy and need nothing. They can entertain each other for a time, my kids and yours, while you read words and I create them.
I try to clear the decks and tie up all the business things so that nothing will need attention while we’re gone for our family vacation. So far I’ve succeeded one year out of five. This year several time critical tasks relating to FanX next week, GenCon in August, and the LOTA release in May all sought me out and demanded attention. This meant I had to engage my work brain, which was then hard to disengage.
Today we traveled beyond the reach of cell phone and data service. Canyonlands National park is a place without reception. We hiked until we reached the point of diminishing returns on hiking. Fortunately we hit that point when we arrived back at the car rather than halfway through a hiking loop. We all agree that the best spot was the Cave Spring hike. It was challenging enough to be interesting without ever feeling dangerous.
Last night I wondered if we should just shorten the trip and go home early. It seemed easier somehow. Today I’m very glad that we stayed. Though some part of me is listing the places we need to take Kiki when next we have a chance. She would have loved the Cave Spring and Newspaper rock. Newspaper rock is a section of cliff face with doodles on it from the past thousand years, proving that graffiti is not a modern invention.
Or perhaps it is an older, slower, more permanent version of twitter. People throwing notes out into the universe hoping that someone else will see them and respond. I find it comforting that while humans long ago had different resources, they were still driven by the same human impulses that we have today and that we will have a hundred or thousand years from now.
Tomorrow we pack up and head home. Then vacation will be just a memory until this time next year.
Not every moment of vacation is lovely. I’ve written two posts that are mostly about the lovely bits. They are true and accurate portrayals of portions of this vacation. There are also the times when Howard and I sit at a table and count the costs. Sometimes I wish to be at home having a normal work week, because I like my work (mostly) and even for the parts I don’t like, I don’t want to fall behind schedule. Sometimes close proximity means we get on each other’s nerves. Sometimes I look at the kids all playing games on their electronic devices, which is exactly what they could do at home. There are moments when I’m tired or bored, because watching kids swim and catch fish has limited entertainment value. Sometimes I want to eat something that we don’t have in the fridge at the condo. The kids squabble or stress each other. Beloved items get lost in the stream and can’t be found again.
Vacation is never just about wisteria and beautiful moments. It is a blend of all the things, which hopefully ends up being more positive than not. I’m writing this post in one of the tired moments. It’ll pass.
Bees are good company. This counts as surprising news to all of my children who tend to run screaming at the first sound of buzzing or glimpse of black and yellow in flight. But I have been sitting for most of the afternoon in the shade of a blooming wisteria and the bees have never once bothered me. They’re too busy digging into the flowers to find the sweetness hidden within. I particularly like the giant black bumblebees the size of my thumb because it seems like they shouldn’t be able to fly at all, but they do. I once followed one in it’s search along half the fence line. She sought nectar. I sought to capture a picture of her in flight. I think she was more successful than I.
Frogs are good company too, sort of. They’re the kind of company that I don’t know I have because they sit quiet right until the moment that I’ve come too close, then the cry out and leap into the water. At first that was all I saw as I walked along the edge of the pond; A motion, a noise, a plunk, and then ripples on the water. It made me laugh. I laughed because I was startled to not be alone with the trees and water. I decided to walk along the circumference of the pond, to see if I could spot a frog before he jumped. I never did. Twenty times I was startled by sound and motion. Half the time I laughed. The frogs were more wily than I. Though I did learn how to turn quickly and watch the frog stroke through the water to hide in the leaves on the bottom. I wish I could tell them not to be alarmed, that they need not fear me. But I’m not the only visitor here and not everyone just wants to look.
This place that we stay is only a pocket in the red rock desert. It is tucked between rock ridge and highway. At night headlights on the highway light the windows of our condo. While the kids swim I can hear trucks as they drive by. There are also other people here, which is sometimes nice and sometimes I wish they would go away. We have to share the space. Share the pool. Share the pond, the frogs, the fish, and the lizards.
We have to share the national parks too. This morning we drove into Arches behind a long line of cars full of people who’d chosen the same hour that we did to enter the park. Many of them turned off at the first big attractions. We drove toward the far end where our planned hike began. This time we carefully selected an easy hike. In fact that was a major feature of our selection process. Each kid wanted to know how this hike compared to that one long hard hike we did two years ago, the one we’re all glad we took, but none of us is quite ready to repeat. We passed people on the trail and listened to the music of their languages. Arches is filled with people who have traveled half a world to be there. It is three hours from my house, tucked into a desert that is mostly boring. A pocket paradise.
I overheard one older gentleman saying he hadn’t seen any arches yet and he’d been there all morning. He was pondering a walk to Sand Dune Arch and wondered if the walk was worth it despite his arthritic hips. I spoke with him for a moment, suggesting the double arch and windows arches as the most spectacular sites with the least amount of necessary walking. We saw him again at Sand Dune Arch. I congratulated him on making the walk. He smiled and gave me a thumbs up, then looked up at the arch. It is tucked in between massive fins of rock, a hidden arch, not often photographed. The man said “I thought it would be redder. I haven’t seen any that look like the pictures.”
Pictures, stories, and social media posts are all curated for point of view. We only see what someone else chose to put into the frame. That gentleman had traveled a long way, and he might never get a chance to see what he expected when he started that trip. I hope that he found ways to be happy with the experience he was having instead of always wanting it to be different. If someone came to our preferred vacation spot based on my descriptions, they might be disappointed at the smallness of the pond, pool, park. These things are not large. There is just a small green place created first by a natural spring and then later by people who wanted to turn this into a place to stay. It is only a pocket paradise, but it is sufficient for us. I notice that there is plenty of wisteria for everyone and no one asks me to share the company of the bees.
“This may sound strange, but it feels like we’re almost home.” Howard said at the end of more than four hours of driving. We’d traveled south from our house, made a stop in Goblin Valley State Park and were only minutes away from arriving at the rented condo in Moab.
This is our fourth year spending spring break at a condo in Moab. We don’t always get exactly the same condo, but it is the same complex with the same swimming pool, pond, stream, and park. I remember our first arrival. I was so tense because we’d never rented a condo before and I was terrified that it would be a huge mistake. The kids pinged all over the place and we were constantly telling them “don’t touch that, don’t jump there, be careful, we’re only renting this place.” It got dark and stormy that first night and Kiki was in tears because she just wanted to go home and be in her own bed with her kitty. We ended up calling the neighbor who had the cat meow into the phone for us. I hardly slept that first night, my head full of stress trying to make sure our vacation would work and stress because work email had followed me and I knew we had looming deadlines.
The next day we visited Arches and started to have all the things we hoped for when we booked the trip. Two days later we were happy to go home, but all of us wanted to come back. So we did.
We’d only driven a mile or so further when Gleek piped up from the very back of the car. “It feels like we’re almost home!” Howard and I laughed.
We pulled into the familiar gravel drive with the rocks popping under our tires. I directed Howard to unit 2, which will be our home for the next three days. We waved at the park and pool, knowing we’d go there soon. The kids all jumped out and quickly unloaded their packs. There were no arguments about who would sleep where, the kids just claimed their preferred beds. Then Howard and I sent them outside to catch fish in the stream while we did our survey to figure out what cooking implements this kitchen had and lacked. There was no need to follow the kids to make sure they were safe. We all knew the safety rules and boundaries.
Link wandered through on is way out to the back patio. “I like this place.” He said. I smiled. Link is not a person who is relaxed or happy if he is uncertain about how things will go. Coming to the condo removes so much of the stress from vacation because we have familiar patterns to fall into. There is real value in going new places and seeing new things, but there is joy in the familiar too. I watched Link, Gleek, and Patch swimming in the pool. The three of them were playing a cooperative game in a way that they rarely do at home, but they always seem to do when we’re here. It is as if the game waits for them along with the pool and the stream. I watched them as bees buzzed in the wisteria behind me and I breathed the scent of the blossoms. It is so lovely to go on vacation and feel at home.
Several years ago Howard and I were in the midst of last-minute planning for running a booth at a local convention. I don’t remember what the moment of stress was about, but I remember vividly that the words “I hate this” slipped from my mouth. I was shocked to realize that I meant them. It made me scared, because I was feeling such an emotion about the life we’ve so carefully built together. After consideration, I was able to come to the conclusion that it is okay for me to dislike some of the aspects of my job while still loving the work as a whole. No one expects parents to love changing diapers even if they enjoy parenting. There was something about running a booth that I did not like, and that was okay. The knowledge let us rearrange so that the booth running was done by other people more often than by me.
Today I enlisted help and used some of our warehouse space to set up a test booth for what we will set up at FanX. This is a luxury that we’ve never had before, having space to set up the booth and plan how it will look ahead of time. In the process I discovered something astonishing, it is possible that I don’t hate setting up and running a booth. It is possible that what I hate is the stress of showing up at a location and having to make all of the set up decisions on the fly. I particularly hate the part where Howard visualizes things one way and I visualize them differently and then we snap at each other because we don’t have time to think it over. Everything has to be decided right at that moment. FanX is going to be different. We’ll be agreed ahead of time how everything needs to look and all I have to do on the set up day is cart things in and set them up.
I’ve found another way that Howard and I were working at cross purposes around convention booths. For years Howard has requested to know how much we need to make in order for the show to break even. For years I tried to detach Howard from that information, believing that if a convention was not doing well, it would add to Howard’s stress. I thought it was better to just let conventions be what they were and to not measure success with dollars. I still think that the success of a show should not be measured only in dollars, but that was never what Howard wanted to do. He wanted to be able to evaluate the monetary component of a show quickly and easily. He wanted data so that we could decide later whether the convention was worth attending again.
So I sat down with myself and tried to figure out exactly why I was so resistant to making sure that Howard had numbers. The core of it is that some deep part of me believes that my job is to prevent Howard from feeling stress. This is a thing I identified in myself years ago, but apparently I’ve still not rooted out all the tendrils of habit. The belief structure goes like this: I’m the booth captain, therefore if the convention booth does not succeed, it is my fault. Booth failure to make money = my failure at my job. I don’t want to fail Howard. I want him to always be glad that he trusts me with his business. So if the booth is doing well, Yay, but I must still de-emphasize money as a measurement tool because some other time the booth not doing well will cause stress. If the booth is not doing well, I must de-emphasize money as a measurement tool, because then we can be less stressed about the show.
When I pull this thought pattern out into the light I notice some ridiculous things. Hidden in there is a belief that Howard’s good opinion of me is dependent on what I do in my job as business manager and is therefore in jeopardy if I make a mistake. If that is true then, instead of us being able to just suffer together if things go badly or rejoice together if things go well, I have to try to spin all of the information in as positive a light as I possibly can. Fortunately I have iron clad rules about honesty and full disclosure, so this twisty thought path has not led us to a place where I started deceiving to make sure things look good. Instead, Howard had to work far too hard to get some simple monetary metrics that would make his life easier, and I felt extremely anxious about setting up for and attending big conventions with Howard.
This is the year when I will stop doing that. “That” being trying to not stress Howard with the business aspect of the work that we do together. Sometimes the numbers are going to be unhappy and Howard needs to know about it. I need to stop interposing myself to prevent Howard from feeling stress. Howard needs reports, convention reports, book profitability reports, monthly profitability reports. He needs to be able to look at these things so that he can make strategic and tactical decisions about our business. Funny thing is the lack information was constantly stressing him. I was causing stress by trying to prevent stress.
I’m looking forward to FanX, which is not something I would have expected last September when Salt Lake Comic Con was such an emotional drain on us. However we’ve implemented a very different booth plan, we’ve partnered up with some friends, and we’ve got some very different sales strategies. I still expect the show to be exhausting. I really want it to be profitable because we could use the influx of money this month. It could still be a financial failure despite all our efforts. Sometimes experiments to not yield the hoped for results, a good experiment is still worthwhile. Perhaps big comic conventions are not the place we want to spend our effort, but until we give this another try, we can’t know. The experiment begins in two weeks.