One day of laying down and watching shows all day with breaks only for eating and sleeping. A second day of slow-paced work where I’m not particularly efficient, but things get done. Then on the third day I feel normal again. Thus does the regular pattern of our lives reassert itself after the massive strain of FanX. News reports put the attendance at the show as over 100,000 people. This means it is the largest show that Utah has ever seen and it begins to rival San Diego Comic con for size. We only saw the portions of the crowd that made their way past our booth. Since the aisles were wider than last year, it actually felt less crowded. The show went much better, but we’re still not convinced that a massive show like this is a good return on investment for us. When I finished all the math on hours and dollars, we made around $10 per hour. That’s much improved over last year’s $0 per hour, but still not great money. We may give this one more shot with yet another experimental configuration of booth and people.
But that is not my focus for this week. I’m just trying to re-establish normal patterns, because we haven’t had them for two weeks between spring break and massive convention. I’m also fighting the spring impulse to just let everything slump because we only have five weeks left in the school year. Instead I’m trying to re-establish healthy eating, homework, and chores for all of us. I’m also looking at the plants growing in my yard and remembering that I should really get out there with some tools to beat back the weeds.
I’m also looking at fulfilling Kickstarter promises. I’ve got Strength of Wild Horses to ship. (It arrived last Wednesday while I was in Salt Lake setting up the booth. So I didn’t get to greet the truck or write a lovely post about happiness and triumph. Hopefully those words will come to me when I’m doing the shipping days.) I’ve got challenge coin stories to sort.
The third thing on my plate this week is prepping for Kiki to come home. Nine days and she’s here for the summer. This makes all of us glad, as evidenced by the fact that when I’m on a skype video call with her, all the other kids come flocking. Kiki and Link got nostalgic for our old Nintendo 64 during their portion of the conversation, so now Link wants to pull it out and see if he can make it work. I recall that it was flaky because it had been accidentally pulled off the cabinet a few too many times back in the days when all controllers had cords.
So that’s how things are here.
When I wrote Married to Depression I mentioned Robison Wells whose experiences with mental illness were pivotal in convincing Howard to seek help. The severity of Rob’s struggles far outstrip what Howard and I deal with, yet Rob continues to turn his struggles to good purpose. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Rob is now insured for the first time in years, unfortunately he spent most of his diagnosis and treatment cycles with no insurance at all. His mental health related medical debt is large and the weight of that debt increases his struggles with panic disorder. As a person whose anxiety is heavily linked to finances, my heart goes out to him.
This is why I’m supporting the Altered Perceptions anthology. The book will contain my essay Married to Depression. It also has a very personal piece from Howard which illustrates his depression from inside his head. Howard was a little afraid to let me read his piece, because he worried it would make me cry. It did, because it so accurately portrays moments that we’ve had. Most of the anthology will be filled with alternate endings and deleted chapters from many popular book series. The list of authors involved is impressive. I invite you to go take a look and please consider supporting this fundraiser. It can change lives.
Howard and I are both exhausted from FanX. Our bodies and brains have no reserves left and we’re ready to hibernate until we’ve replenished. We keep having small conversations about the show and all the smaller events that were part of it. Sometimes we’re exploring the shape of a thing that was hard. Other times we are recalling a moment that was rewarding. Bit by bit we’re sorting our experiences into the pile of good things and the pile of hard things. Over all, I think the “good thing” pile is bigger, but we still need to figure out how to manage a massive event like this without it costing us so much. That “good thing” pile is not winning by enough. The “bad thing” pile needs to be smaller. We’re beginning to have ideas about how to make that happen, so I guess there is a third pile, the “ideas for Comic Con in September” pile. Some of the bad things we have no control over, like the show floor hours. (11 hours is an insanely long time for the dealer’s hall to be open.) All the piles are accumulating, we’ll still be sorting for awhile.
The other thing my brain is trying to do today, is remember where I left off with all the other things in my life. Everything was put on hold for a week and now I’ve got to find all the loose ends and get moving again. My brain sorts that, while my body just wants to lay still and sleep.
On this third day of the massive comic convention in Salt Lake City, I expect I am completely brain frazzled, which is why I’ve scheduled this post in advance. Since I wrote this post, I’ve written Married to Depression, which covers the topic more thoroughly, but in this one you can see I’m trying to get a handle on how to manage Howard’s depression in the era before he went to a doctor. I originally wrote it in 2012 and then revised for my book Cobble Stones 2012. You can find the book in our store for only $5. I don’t have an e-book edition at this time.
Sympathetic Vibration and Depression
If you slowly press down the C key on a piano so that the hammer does not strike the string, and then you keep the key pressed so that the dampers remain lifted, that string is now sitting free inside the piano. Take a different finger and play a different C somewhere on the keyboard. Just push and let go so that the second string plays and then is dampened. You can hear the free string still vibrating in tune with the other. This is resonance, also known as sympathetic vibration. The two strings vibrate at the same frequency, which means that they can cause each other to sound.
I am in tune with the people in my household. I pick up whatever sound it is that they are playing. I have my own music, naturally, but if two or three members of my family are playing mournful songs, I pick up on that. Even when I am trying not to, my heartstrings will vibrate sympathetically. Sympathy is a good trait to have in a relationship, yet often what is needed is not sympathy but harmony or counterpoint. When Howard is depressed, he doesn’t need me to sing along in tune. He needs something else so that the tune of the day will not be all bleak. This is one of the hard things about dealing with depression. I must have enough sympathy to feel compassion and still have enough detachment to play a different music.
Learning that was hard. Even harder was learning that I can’t fix someone else’s depression. Not really. I can succeed in alleviating bad moods or cheering up a child. I can get quite good at it, but I have not actually solved a problem in a lasting way. I’ve just acquired a never-ending job as the make-it-better person. This job burdens me and prevents anyone from taking the long, hard steps to seek out a true solution.
So I sing my own songs. I do my own soul-searching to figure out why some of my songs are sad or scared. I find ways to be happy. And I try to sing in harmony with those around me. Because sympathetic vibration works in both directions. Sometimes I’m the one who gets lifted by it.
Twelve hours in the small 10×10 space that we set up and stocked with Schlock things. Lots of lovely conversations. Handing out flyers to people who have never heard of us before. Selling starter books to people who have never heard of Schlock. Greeting returning fans and helping them find shiny merchandise they love. Long stretches of time where people walk past and don’t even look at us. Watching the sales numbers slowly inch past the point where the endeavor is profitable in a strict sense, but knowing later we’ll have to evaluate whether the profit is sufficient to pay for the time and stress. Watching people in costumes pass, many of them impressive, some of them delightful. Exhaustion. Sore feet. Being extra careful on the drive home because of the tired. Another fifteen hour work day tomorrow.
All of that.
But there was one moment today… I was talking to a woman, I can’t even remember which one. But in the midst of talking Schlock or maybe talking about one of my picture books, her eyes flickered over the booth. I turned to see what she was looking at, what had impressed her. I saw three tables covered in books, pins, dice, coins, posters, and other things. She was impressed by the extent of our creations and for a moment I saw what she saw. We’ve made enough stuff to fill a little 10×10 store, and that is an accomplishment in itself.
This is day two of the massive comic convention in Salt Lake City. If you’re at FanX, please stop by booth 2017 and say hello. This is another essay that I’ve read aloud during events and feel has things to say that are worth re-reading. I originally wrote it in 2012 and then revised for my book Cobble Stones 2012. You can find the book in our store for only $5. I don’t have an e-book edition at this time.
How to Raise a Strong Girl
Last week I saw several social media campaigns urging people to go see the Pixar movie Brave on opening weekend. “Let’s show Hollywood that girl-led movies can make money!” they said, as if increasing the number of girl-led films would make the world a more fair place for women. I did see Brave during opening weekend, but only because Howard writes reviews and needs to see films early. I wanted to love it, but I didn’t. It managed to gut punch me in my emotional baggage about motherhood roles. I came home feeling like the movie told me that being a mother meant being the person who ruins all the fun and enforces all the rules. I was sad because my heart is Merida climbing the rocks and riding through the forest, but my life is Elinor imposing order onto the lives of others.
Today I decided to spend my afternoon seeing Brave again. My kids had not yet seen it, and I wanted to re-view the film leaving my emotional baggage at home. I bought tickets and then hurried to finish my work; before we could leave I had to make progress on my shelving project. I donned my work gloves and plugged in my borrowed electric sander.
There is a sort of magic in watching a power tool turn a sharp wooden corner into a smooth, round one. I glided the sander over the edges of the boards, and dust blew away. I was careful to keep the sanding surface away from all my limbs and thought gratefully of my grandpa, who used to take me into his big garage and let me work on projects with him. With Grandpa, I soldered, repaired bikes, used a lathe, sawed wood, and hauled rocks. Grandpa let any grandchild who was interested participate in the work; there was no distinction based on gender. Because of Grandpa, I am not afraid to pick up a power tool and make things, even if I have never done so before. This shelving project is my first time using an electric sander.
Afternoon came, and we all trekked to go see Brave. The kids loved it. They laughed out loud at exactly the slapstick moments which didn’t work well for Howard and me. I loved it too. I loved it as much as I wanted to love it the first time I saw it. The mother character, Elinor, has to be rigid in order to provoke Merida into taking action. A more balanced representation of motherhood would have ruined the film. The scene where Elinor quells the room full of brawling men is critical to a hero moment later in the film when Merida turns and faces down the woman who turned all those strong men into jelly. Yes, the brawling scene plays to a stereotype, but it gives power to the moment that I think is the epitome of Brave: mother and daughter staring angrily into each other’s eyes because they have mutually exclusive plans for the future.
I’m glad I took my kids to see it; they now have a new princess story in their minds which is in many ways the antithesis of a classic Disney-type film. But, if I were to weigh what I did today for gender equality, the most important thing I did was sand boards. My grandpa is not around to haul my kids (both boys and girls) into his garage to use power tools, but they can see that Mom fixes stuff. For every movie where the girl character exists to scream, there is a time when I am fetched to slay spiders. For every movie with true love in it, they see a hundred days where Mom and Dad snap at each other grouchily in the morning and then laugh together later in the evening. For every movie where the dad is helpless to manage the household, there are the days when Howard cleans the kitchen and makes dinner.
Seeing a movie present a different perspective can be truly powerful, as when a young Whoopi Goldberg saw Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek and realized that black women could be on television without being maids. These powerful, pivotal moments in entertainment matter. Perhaps Brave is one of those moments and can change the world for some girls. But if I want to raise strong girls of my own, I just need to live as if the equality I hope for them already exists. I need to gift them with pocketknives, bows, arrows, hair ribbons, power tools, and nail polish as their interests warrant. My actions should say, of course they can be what they choose to be, so long as they are willing to work hard to get there.
Life is not fair. It never will be. No movie can make it so. But strong girls can see the unfairness and do what they want to do anyway.
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.