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Some of my short fiction can be found on Anthologybuilder.com

I’ll be at LTUE this week

LTUE begins tomorrow. For me it begins at 9am with my solo presentation: Structuring Life to Support Creativity. I’ve given this presentation at LTUE before, but it has been several years and I’ve re-structured the presentation to incorporate new thoughts and experiences that I’ve had in those years. So even if you’ve seen the presentation before, it will have new material in it.

In between scheduled panels and presentations, you’re most likely to find me in the dealers room at the Schlock Mercenary table. Though I won’t be there all the time since I have some meetings to attend and friends to catch up with that aren’t on my public schedule.

My schedule is as follows:

Thursday
11:00 am, Cascade A (UVCC): Structuring Life to Support Creativity
5:00 pm, Canyon: Collaboration and Coauthors

Friday
1:00pm, Elm: Fashion and Clothing Through the Ages
4:00pm, Maple: Normal Child Development

Saturday
9:00am, Arches: Balancing Platform and Artistry
10:00am, Ampitheater: How to Run a Killer Game KickstarterĀ²
12:00pm, Canyon: Working With a Freelance Editor

Introducing a Kitten

This is Kikaa. We named her Kikaa when we rescued her. Later we learned that her first home called her Calliope, Callie for short.

She’s been ours for eight years now. She’s fourteen years old, and beginning to show her age. As we’ve watched her slow down, we’ve been forced to face the fact that some day we won’t have her any more. Howard and I separately came to the conclusion that we wanted to add a young cat to our household before our beloved cat leaves. Kikaa was less likely to feel territorially threatened by a kitten or young cat. The question became one of timing and finding the right young cat. These were questions that my kids were eager to answer once they knew that a kitten was under consideration. I knew December was not a good month for adding a cat. Too much chaos happens in December, people are distracted and busy. Our house had an extra share of transition that needed to be managed. So I told the kids “we’ll talk about it in January when things have settled down.”

Of course my kids reminded me of this statement as soon as January hit. Fortunately they are all old enough to believe me and be patient when I pointed out there was still settling to do. January passed, no new kitty. I just didn’t have the brain to seek one out. Though I did put some thought into what sort of cat we would want. One thing was that I hoped for a cat who would be easier to photograph. Kikaa is more black than any other color. All of her detail vanishes unless she is well lit. But that was less important than having a cat young enough to be leash and harness trained. Kikaa is very distressed by trips in a vehicle, I’d want a younger cat to be taught that going places is fun and interesting, not scary. Also it would be nice if we could teach the cat to be friends with our back yard neighbor’s dog. The dog was raised with cats and is desperate to be friends with Kikaa, who is hostile to the notion. It would be nice if the dog could have a cat friend.

Then last Wednesday I saw the Facebook post on our church group. Someone was looking to re-home a nine month old kitten. The kitten had already received some service animal training, so she was flexible and friendly. I stared at the picture that came with the post. She was a tortoiseshell kitty named Callie. It seems the universe is determined to deliver torties named Callie to us. From the moment I mentioned the listing to Howard, things were set into motion. The kids fell in love with her picture. Callie arrived Saturday morning and charmed everyone.

Callie is about half the size of Kikaa. She is sweet, very friendly, and has been quite nervous ever since her prior people left her behind. We sequestered her into my basement office for the first 24 hours. It is a space where Kikaa doesn’t often go. The above photo was taken when we put her harness on for her first adventure into the rest of the house. I wanted to be able to have some control if she was frightened. She explored for a bit and then retreated into the darkest, safest corner of the room where she’s been staying. Which is good news, because it means she’s identified her safe territory.

Watching Callie, I can see how much of a baby she still is. She reacts on instinct constantly because she has very little experience to guide her. She hisses under the door at Kikaa, not because she is hostile, but because that is what instinct tells her to do. Kikaa watched the door for a while and then wandered off to do other things. We still need to let them meet without a door in between, but for now we’re just swapping brushes and belongings between the two so that they get used to each other’s scent. Integration has begun.

Eventful Week

Saturday: Twist ankle to the point where I can’t walk on it. Spend remainder of day on a couch with an ice pack.

Sunday: Miss church because ankle still not good for walking, but hobbling becomes possible by evening. Home teachers visit.

Monday: First thing in the morning call to set up some critical appointments later in the week. Register 17 year old for classes for her senior year. Take 23 year old to get a patch test, which means taping allergens to her back for two days. Discover that allergens-taped-to-back is misery. I’m able to limp places I need to go.

Tuesday: Work on bonus story. Help 14yo with homeschool and also organize so he can make up work from last week when he was out sick with the flu. Take 20yo to dentist where we discover that he has beautiful teeth, including the four wisdom teeth that are beautifully trying to grow in sideways and are thus the source of the pain he’s been feeling when chewing. Inform 20yo that he has an appointment on Friday to get them removed. Purchase flowers so that 14yo can dissect one as part of a make-up biology assignment. Have a notary come to our house so that Howard can sign a document in front of a notary and two non-related witnesses. (Florida laws are really picky about estate-related documents.) See on Facebook that someone is looking to re-home a nine-month-old tortie kitten. Remember we promised the kids we would discuss adding a kitten to our household in January, it is now February. Inquire about the kitten, thus setting in motion a chain of events where a kitten is coming to meet our family over the weekend and our kids have already half fallen in love with this kitten before even meeting her. Our fourteen year old cat is not going to be pleased at the incursion at first. But we’re likely to have a second cat shortly.

Wednesday: I was going to say this was the only day all week with no appointments scheduled, but then I remembered the appointment for patch test removal. The large red welt suggested a significant allergy to nickel. Everything else was negligible. My ankle functioned normally, but the entire ankle and foot were shades of purple. 20yo reported that chewing hurts again.

Thursday: This is today. I had a tax appointment this morning where I turned over two folders full of relevant tax documents. I’ve still got three more documents to chase down and acquire. I also got to talk to my accountant about how the changes in tax code might affect me. Verdict: we’re not sure yet. Might be to my benefit, might not. It really depends on the inflows and outflows in 2018. Then I ran errands to pick up prescriptions and groceries. There was a special emphasis on picking up soft and drinkable foods since wisdom teeth removal happens tomorrow. Homeschool is running right now, and that seems to have finally hit a rhythm where I can just hand the kid an assignment list and walk away.

Friday: In the morning my son has surgery. The entire rest of the day will be shaped around taking care of him for his recovery.

Saturday: Continuing care for wisdom teeth recovery. Also we get to meet a kitten who might become ours.

That is quite enough things for a single week.

Ice Castles

In Midway Utah there is an ice castle. They build it every winter and it melts away in the spring. On years like this one, when it is warm and dry, they have a harder time maintaining it and keeping it open. But this was the year when I decided to buy tickets for our entire family to go see it. This was also the year when 50% of my family foiled my plan by catching the flu during the week we were scheduled to go. So I left the sick bookend kids (oldest and youngest) home with Howard while I took the middles with me to see a castle.

It wasn’t quite what my kids were expecting. I think they expected carved blocks of ice built into a classic castle shape instead of the icicles and mounded shapes. I know they weren’t expecting the lights inside the ice which lit the structures.

They rode the slides and explored the nooks and crannies. They delighted in finding narrow passages and following them.

Also hidden in the walls were speakers playing music. It turns out that when one is wearing a cape-like poncho, and the music is from How to Train Your Dragon, that dancing is a must.

It was a lovely outing.

Pieces of a Day


This was one of my birthday gifts. It is an Aerogarden, which is a hydroponic system for growing plants indoors. They’ve simplified everything from planting to feeding to timing the lights. In theory I could grow plants just as effectively using dirt and grow lights, but I haven’t actually done that. Ever. And when I have attempted to grow seedlings, the results were unimpressive. This little garden makes me happy, even though it has only been planted for two days and there is not a sprout to be seen. Soon there will be sprouts. I’m looking forward to that. Green things are a joy during the midwinter months.

Flu has arrived at Chez Tayler. It is not a particularly welcome visitor, but there is no denying that it is here when I’ve got two kids running fevers. Howard just hit fever territory this evening, so he’s on the way down. I’m taking lots of vitamin C and hoping that at least some of us will be able to use the tickets we have for tomorrow to go see the ice castle in Midway Utah. Twenty four hours will tell.

I spent most of the morning doing accounting. I have now finished Stage 1 taxes. That is the part of taxes where I behave like a responsible employer and issue both 1099s and W2s. I also file all the accompanying reports with both the federal government and the state of Utah. Stage 2 taxes have already begun. They are where I accumulate incoming 1099s and K1s to make sure I have all the info in hand for actually filing tax returns for both our business and our personal taxes. Stage 3 is when I hand everything over to my tax accountant and she works her magic to turn everything into returns. Stage three begins in early February, but will have to sit around twiddling its thumbs while Stage two dawdles along to completion. It always seems to take until the end of February to track down all the loose papers.

Another portion of my day went into figuring out how to set up the new storefront for our online store. Because we assembled our sales mechanisms back in 2007 when small-scale e-commerce was barely getting started, our solutions have been a bit…clunky. Particularly since in order to accomplish all the functions we had to add services. For a while we had separate software for our online store and point of sale. We had two different merchant accounts to go with both of those services. Then my postage program was also a separate account. None of my programs communicated well with each other. And each thing was billing separately. Its been messy for years, but at least it was messy that I understood how to make work. But there comes a time to completely scrap the old messy system for something complex but fully integrated. I’ll be spending much of this week hiking the learning curve that is necessary to setting things up. Then there will be oh-so-much data entry as I’ve already figured out that my old system will not export in a way that lets me import into the new system. Data entry is tedious, but the clean start is good.

This day also contained quite a lot of email, some grocery shopping, and too much browsing of social media.

Defensiveness


I met this fellow yesterday. He’s the lone cuttlefish who lives at our local aquarium. Note his bumpy red coloration and lifted tentacles. That is his threat display. It means he is either angry or scared. I visited him several times during my multi-hour aquarium stay. He always looked like this. I began to feel very sad for him, worried that the crowds were causing him stress. But even when no one was nearby, he would turn and display to various corners of his tank. It turns out that this particular cuttlefish is very old and has a form of dementia. His entire existence has become one long defense against a threat that doesn’t exist.

I feel great sympathy for this little guy. I’ve been in an emotional place where I was spending huge amounts of energy reacting to threats that were only imagined. It is an exhausting way to live. I wished there were some way to soothe him, tell him it is safe to relax. The aquarium staff have done everything they know how.


This is a shot of the exact same tank from a year or two ago. It might even be the exact same cuttlefish, though that seems unlikely. This cuttlefish is relaxed and content. Several other cuttlefish share the tank and while sometimes they were agressive toward each other, for the most part, they were just doing their thing. I remember watching this cuttlefish and thinking how beautiful it was as colors pulsed under the surface of its skin.

I would like at this point to have a larger connection to make. Perhaps something about how I sometimes feel like everyone on the internet is reacting like that poor demented cuttlefish, displaying aggressively against threats that aren’t there. Or perhaps I could draw an analogy in which I explain how I’m trying to be like the relaxed cuttlefish after spending years like the upset one. I think the connection that resonates most comes because today my heart is tired. Someone I love is miserable and the only way for that person to become less miserable is for them to be willing to accept proffered help that they’re currently rejecting. My loved one is keeping everyone at a distance, not with a threat display, but with a plastered-in-place cheerful countenance. But cheerful or angry, the result is the same. Others are held at a remove and the displaying person is all alone.

So I am left, wishing there were more I could do to help the little fish (or loved one, or person on the internet) find a happy place.

Two Twitter Conversations

I participated in a couple of twitter conversations this morning and I wanted to elaborate my thoughts in a slightly longer form.

Conversation 1:
My friend Jim Zub posted the following thread:

I woke up this morning to a half dozen angry anon messages on my Tumblr. Nasty insulting stuff about me, my appearance, my work. It happens a few times a week and usually flares up around new project announcements. With a new D&D mini and Champions announced, it happened again.
If I go after every single one, I’ve given those people what they want – my attention. They learned what it takes to get a response from me and look forward to ringing the bell and doing it again.
If there’s valid criticism, I’ll take it on the chin. Absolutely. If it’s just insults and flailing, I’m happy to move on and get back to doing the work.

His thread hit a whole series of thoughts that I’ve been trying to articulate about attention, rewards, and how to extinguish unwanted behavior. Attention is a reward, high energy attention even more so. Outrage and anger are extremely high energy. If I post outrage at a thing, I have rewarded that thing with high energy attention. Sufficient quantities of outrage from enough sources have the power to blast a thing out of existence, but usually what happens is that the attention just rallies support to the thing which outraged me. So when I see a thing that makes me angry or upsets me, I go through an evaluative process.

Am I angry because I feel defensive about the thing? If yes, that is a moment for introspection about why I’m defensive instead of confident/secure.

Does the thing directly affect me?

If it is an attack aimed at me, does it have power to actually harm me or something I care about? (Note that my reaction to an attack may feed energy into it, thus helping it gain enough power to harm me; power it didn’t have until my reaction granted that power.)

If it does have power to harm me, what actions can I take to undermine that power? How can I secure my reputation or defend others in the splash zone?

What cause can I support which comes at the issue from a constructive and healing way instead of an angry/hurt/criticizing one?

The usual result of this evaluation is to ignore/block the person or thing which made me angry, perhaps take a step to secure my safety, then take a deliberate action to make the world a better place.

I don’t always manage to follow this process. I’m human and therefore prone to irritation and over-reaction. But when I do follow the process I have a lot less drama to deal with and a sense that I am participating in making the world a better place.

Conversation #2:
My brother-in-law Randy asked this question:

Curious: at what point did you guys realize that your cartooning had given Sandra a full-time job?

I answered:

It was part time by 2004, and full time by 2008. It took me until at least 2010 before I realized I was working full time. Work-from-home is sneaky that way.
Recognizing I was a work from home mom, not a stay at home mom was a revelation because it shifted all my expectations of myself. It was suddenly okay to not dive into PTA or school volunteering.

A guy named Kevin chimed in:

Congratulations on figuring that out. How long did it take you to convince the other moms?

I answered:

I’ve no idea when or if they became convinced. I was too busy to pay attention to their opinions and none of them attempted to impede my path.

The conversation continued a bit with Kevin saying something about the other moms gossiping behind my back, which made me stop and recognize that I’ve never really felt judged by people in my neighborhood about my parenting choices. It could be that I am fortunate enough to live in a place with exceptionally nice people. It certainly feels that way to me. I’m surrounded by neighbors who all desire to be good and helpful to others. Yet sometimes it goes wrong. I know people in this same neighborhood who have felt terribly judged and are wounded because of it. So I’m left wondering where the difference comes from. It could be that others get different treatment than I do. This seems probable, a college-educated, married, white woman receives far more benefit-of-doubt than someone without those advantages. It is entirely possible that the judgements bounce off of me simply because I’m so tangled up in my own thoughts that I am not paying attention.

The difference between the times when I’ve felt judged and the times when I haven’t felt judged have far more to do with my internal landscape than the other person. Usually when I do feel judged it is because something the person said connects with a pocket of self doubt that already exists in my head. It hurts when someone implies that my toddler’s misbehavior is a result of poor parenting, because I secretly wonder and agonize if I’m failing as a parent. Because the accusation strikes deep into my self doubt, the defensive shield of anger slams into place, leading me to want to rant about how that person really doesn’t understand what I deal with.

I see this exact dynamic play out on the internet constantly. People get angry and defensive, even when there wasn’t actually an attack, because the words said triggered the person’s self-doubt and the person projects that self-judgement onto the words of another.

I don’t have a conclusion to wrap these two conversations together. I just have ongoing thoughts as I pay attention to the way people interact with each other, particularly on the internet.

Interrupts, Books, and Star Gazing

Yesterday was not a day that went according to plan. The first turn was when my 14 year old texted from school because he was having a panic attack. I dropped what I was doing and went to help him. I’ve done it before, but this is the first time I’ve had to this school year. We went through more than half the year with no panic attacks at all. A huge improvement over last year when they averaged about one per week. My son’s current life is not his best life, his choices are still dictated by anxiety management. Yet we’re on the path that leads to a better life. Being able to see progress helps us to use this panic attack as an opportunity to examine triggers and coping strategies. We learn from it, we move on.

The second turn was when my 20 year old called me from the phone in the commons area of his school. He couldn’t call me from his cell phone because it wouldn’t stay on for more than two minutes without crashing. The phone is an essential life tool for him as he’s learning to track his own schedule and set his own alarms. The tech at the store confirmed that once a phone starts a crash loop like that, it is pretty much dead. Fortunately we don’t have any data to grieve, just a new phone to learn how to use.

Two turns doesn’t sound like a lot, but each one took several hours and in between them were a myriad of little tasks and errands. It meant the book was not finished yesterday.

But it was finished today. Random Access Memorabilia is done. I’m letting it rest over night. In the morning I’ll go through it one more time, then I upload it to the printer. It seems like a thing worthy of celebration. I rejoiced by immediately getting to work on the next two Schlock books. We’re ganging these two together in an attempt to optimize the process. We’ll see how that goes.

The day wrapped with a trip up the canyon. My 16 year old needed to count stars for an astronomy assignment. It’s an assignment that has been pending for more than a month because on the nights we remembered, there were clouds, and on the nights that were clear, we forgot.

Stars are counted. Book is done. Phone is replaced. Panic is managed and learned from. That’s a good score for two days.

The Measure of a Day

I was not an effective business person today. Instead my day was spent connecting with people in my community. I talked with Howard while driving him to the airport. I went to a lunch with a dozen women from my neighborhood. I spent an hour catching up with my back yard neighbor. I spent several hours listening to my son unpack his brain, taking him out for food, then listening some more. At the end of the day, my To Do list is the same length it was this morning, but that does not mean the day was wasted. On the contrary, this was an important use for a day. Sometimes I forget that lists of tasks done or not done are not an accurate measure for a worthwhile life.

Sometimes There Comes a Day…

Sometimes there comes a day when your kids who have been depressed, aren’t anymore. The new meds are working, they’ve learned cognitive skills, things are just better. Then one kid plunks herself down and chatters to you about her life for two hours, some of which covers events in elementary school. Which leads you to look up favorite teachers to see if they’re still at the school. And they are. So the next day you grab the younger brother, who also had these teachers, and you drive over to the school for a visit. It turns out that you arrived early and the kids aren’t out yet, but the teacher you visit first just happens to have an empty classroom because her current crop of fifth graders are all in the computer lab. She’s always busy, but this day she has an hour to smile as she watches your kids talk and reminisce.

Then, when you seek out the other teacher, she almost cries because she’d been thinking about your kids only a few days before. She’d been wondering about them and and planning to write you a letter to ask about them, but then you walked into the office. And there they are: standing tall (in one case, 1.5 feet taller than when last seen) with bright faces, and cheerful chatter about their lives and their plans for the future. And when the kids go run off to see the playground, you get to stand with these two teachers who cried with you over your kids when they were struggling hard, and you cry a little bit again, but this time it is happy. Because here you are on the far side of a hard dark place, which lasted much longer than anyone wanted, but which also laid all sorts of necessary groundwork for the growing that is happening now.

Sometimes you get to have that day. And it is a beautiful one.