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Anxiety Keeps Me Company Before Conventions

I’ve been running full speed since Monday morning. I’d reached the week when all of my “I’ll do that later” tasks had become “Do all the things right now, hurry or it will be too late” tasks. Then I dropped eleven packages off at the post office so they could travel to GenCon. Also some price quotes from printers came back and showed that my shiny merchandise idea was not feasible to turn around before GenCon. I still had a big task list, but all the frantic “get this done now” energy was gone. Naturally that is when the anxiety struck. I’m great in crisis or crunch time. I pay for it later. Three days of pushing hard means I have to wind down afterward.

Anxiety chased me all night through dreams with hotels, conventions, missing children, natural disasters, and chainsaws on poles. (The imagery for that last one being the result of the pole saw we purchased for trimming trees. Apparently my brain considers chainsaws to be lethal weapons likely to jump out at people and cause harm. I don’t trust them. But we had a job that needed one, so. It is out in the garage. Just sitting there. Waiting. (Yes I know my thoughts here are not entirely rational. I also know that I really shouldn’t nest parenthetical thoughts. Apparently it is a nested-parenthetical kind of day in my brain.) The box it came in had a picture of it on the side. It was across the room from me while I wrote this blog. I had to get up and throw it away because the picture was making me nervous. But this isn’t a post about chainsaws. The chainsaw is parenthetical.)

I’ve come to an understanding with my anxiety. Sometimes it will show up and yell at me, but I’ve stopped automatically believing everything it says. In fact during the daylight hours I can often stop it before it has any chance to make noise. Which is why it tends to spring on me in those spaces between asleep and awake when my higher brain functions have shut down to rest. I’ll be half asleep and suddenly convinced that the slight twinge in my neck means I have a blood clot in a major artery and it is about to travel to my brain and kill me dead.

I also know why the anxiety is triggering now. I’m trekking through the pre-convention emotional minefield where pockets of old habits and remembered emotion have laid buried since I crossed this same ground in the years before. This time last year was when I came face to face with a major failure. I’d had eight months to set up a point of sale system and I didn’t do it until almost too late. The emotional fallout from that was very memorable and it is why I reacted so strongly to the news that my shiny merchandise idea won’t work. All those failure feelings echoed from last year to this year in an emotional time-vortex. That point-of-sale experience was the beginning of me being able to see how some of my financial and convention management decisions were being driven by anxiety and avoidance rather than considered thought.

This week I felt the pull of old habits. I felt the urge to not bother Howard with information that I thought would stress him. In the past year, I’ve learned that an information vacuum is far more stressful to Howard than a piece of bad news, particularly on financial matters. I’ve been striving to provide regular reports and to not fall into the old patterns. I’ve integrated the new way of thought into regular life, but in preparing for GenCon I’m having to pay attention to my processes instead of just dusting off the habits from last year and using them again.

Sometimes I need to hold information until the right time to share it with Howard. If Howard is in a creative zone, then talking finances will knock him right out of that place. If I time things particularly poorly I can kill an entire day of creative work. If I time things well, the exact same information can be a short business meeting in the middle of a productive day. Judging what I should handle without bothering Howard, what I should ask him about, and when I should ask it; these are the hardest parts of my ongoing job. In relation to GenCon and other large conventions, my parameters for making these decisions have altered since last year.

Knowing why anxiety is giving me grief today does not make it easier to banish. I do have medicine I can take, but taking it impedes my ability to accomplish other things. Perhaps that is what I need, to be excused from accomplishing for a day, but it is very hard to give myself permission to do that. I want to get things done. I want to see projects complete. I want to see that the financial recalibration we’ve done this year is bearing fruit. I want to see the kids do their chores and take them some place fun. I want to trim the trees, weed the flowers, and turn the patch of dirt where our deck used to be into something lovely. I also really want to walk over every inch of this emotional ground and make sure there aren’t any more hidden pockets that might explode.

It is funny how I can have a mostly good day and still be wrestling with small surges of anxiety all the way through it. Life is good. I’m accomplishing things. I’m just more tired than necessary because I’m also expending energy managing these dumb little adrenaline surges. Hopefully a solid night’s sleep will help me reset. I just need to not be running around in my dreams.

Preparing for GenCon

I wish I’d had more day, or more energy for the day that I had, or even just a little bit more smart to apply to the design tasks that I had in front of me. I kept running out of smart and I had to take breaks so that the smart reservoir could refill.

Today was devoted to GenCon. I spoke with our usual partners, who really feel more like family. I had my annual moment of wondering whether the stress and expense are worth it. I hammered out a list of tasks that still have to be done. Tomorrow belongs to GenCon too.

Our booth captain pointed out to me that next year GenCon happens at the end of July instead of the end of August. It means that it is more possible for me to attend than it has been in years past. That would be fun to be present instead of being the at-home crew. But there are still lots of variables in play. I’m already committed to the Cascade Writers Conference earlier in July. I’ll add GenCon to my list of hopeful possibilities for next year.

The good news is that this year’s wrinkles in the pre-GenCon process are mostly ironed out. Every year it gets smoother. The other good news is that it looks like I’ll be able to squeeze in the cool new merchandise that I thought of, though unfortunately it stole some design attention from Howard when he needs that for other things. On the other hand new GenCon banners were going to steal his attention anyway, so perhaps I needn’t feel guilty.

Tomorrow I box all the things so that they can be shipped.

Playing with Identity

This afternoon I helped Gleek add highlights to her hair. They went on top of the red that we colored her hair several weeks ago. Neither of us was completely happy with the red by itself, but I think the highlights really make the red work in a way it didn’t before. I’d always said that once my kids were twelve, I’d help them color their hair if they wanted. Gleek has been the first child to take me up on it.

Gleek has also been experimenting with clothing. She has decided that ties are awesome and sometimes wears one. One day she donned a white shirt and tie, slicked her hair back and looked very much like a boy, except for the curves. Gleek liked this look. I worried about how the world at large would react to it, but didn’t argue with her. Her identity is hers to define, not mine. I don’t know that she got any overtly negative reactions, but she’s since reverted to clothing that is socially more standard for girls.

Sometime last fall I became aware that Gleek’s friends and teachers were all calling her Leeka. Not literally, but they were calling her a variant of her real name that bears as much resemblance to it as Leeka does to Gleek. I always find it interesting when teens choose their own nicknames. Kiki ended up with hers because she decided it was easier to let people call her by it than to try to explain how to pronounce her full name. Gleek, who already goes by a shortened version of her full name, went out of her way to ask people to call her something different. They did. It’s a cute name and it suits her.

Thirteen is a prime age for playing with identity. Gleek has left behind the child that she was and is trying to figure out who she is now. It is fun to be an observer and assistant while she figures it out.

Sunshine and Cousins

This year the Tayler clan, Howard’s siblings and their children, all bought passes to the local water park. We declared that Friday mornings was the time when we’d try to meet up there on the theory that a water park is more fun when you have more people you know to play with. Not everybody can make every week. In fact this morning was the first time our branch of the clan has been there. We packed up and arrived just when a set of cousins did. I watched as Kiki and Link ran off together. Gleek buddied up with a same age cousin and Patch partnered with me. We went down slides and jumped in the wave pool.

Having a pass to the park makes all the difference for us. Our first time in a new place always feels stressful. I’m on high alert because no locations mean that kids will react or wander off in unpredictable ways. Until I learn which areas draw my kids, where I can expect them to be and whether I can trust them to return rather than being so excited that they are lost in the crowd, I always keep the kids close. When we first went to this park, it felt big, like they could get lost and I’d never find them again. Now we’ve been often enough that it just feels friendly. They do run off in pairs, but they always come back to our home base on the “beach” of the wave pool.

I’d hoped for more visiting time with my sisters-in-law, but the visits came in snatches as the needs of the kids pulled us in different directions. I watched one of them follow her toddler in and out of the shallows of the wave pool, trailing after a tiny being who was exploring her world. Kiki would gladly have taken over trailing duty, but this particular toddler spurns both Kiki and me, clinging to her mom and siblings instead. Kiki did get to play with other young cousins. Link got to ride his favorite slides until the lines got too long. Patch and Gleek played to their heart’s content.

A water park is not a peaceful experience. It is full of noise and motion. There are people everywhere and it only gets more crowded as the day continues, which is one reason why we try to arrive at opening and leave by lunchtime. Yet, despite the crowds and noise, there is a relaxation that I find there. It is a location that demands I be fully present. We pack very minimally when entering the park, because we don’t rent a locker. All our stuff just gets piled on the ground. So I only bring things that are required, passes, car keys, towels, shoes. Everything else is left outside and somehow that includes my business thoughts and my to do list. There are not very many places where that is true. My brain is almost always churning, but on family outings I can quiet the churn and just be.

“I like the real beach better.” Kiki said. I agree. It was less than a month ago that we spent a day on Sunset Beach in California. The ocean was huge and restful. It was not crowded and the wind whipped away all the noise so one could feel alone with the waves. Unfortunately that beach is a bit far for weekly visits. So we’ll spend time at the water park with cousins instead.

Book Recommendation: Everything’s Fine by Janci Patterson

I’ve spoken about my friend Janci on my blog before. She’s been a support to me many times serving as an auxiliary brain for everything from massive shipping events to reorganizing my office. Janci has written a book and I want to recommend it to you, not just because she is my friend and I want to support her, but also because it is a really excellent read. If you enjoy contemporary stories about teenagers, then you’ll love this book. Janci has this writing superpower where she takes really complicated human emotions and fills her characters with them. These teenagers are like real teenagers because they don’t always have clear goals. They have conflicting internal motivations which pull them in many directions at once. Ultimately they make hard decisions and drive through to a satisfying emotional resolution.

I read Everything’s Fine on my vacation in June. It kept me up late because I wanted to see how the story ended. I wanted to know what happened to Hailey. I found the blend between current circumstances and memories of Hailey to be deftly handled and often poignant. You can pick up Everything’s Fine on Amazon by clicking that link or on the picture above. While you’re there check out Chasing the Skip which is another excellent book by Janci.

Kira thought she knew everything about her best friend, Haylee. But when Haylee commits suicide immediately after her first date with her longtime crush, Bradley Johansen, Kira is left with nothing but questions, and a gaping hole in her life where Haylee used to be. Kira is sure that the answers to her questions must be written in Haylee’s journal, but she’s not the only one searching for it. The more Kira learns about Haylee’s past, the more certain she is that other people grieving for Haylee are keeping secrets—especially Bradley, and Haylee’s attractive older cousin Nick. Kira is desperate to get to Haylee’s journal before anyone else finds it—to discover the truth about what happened to Haylee— And to hide the things that Haylee wrote down about her.

Becoming a Patron

After several conversations with smart friends, Howard and I have decided to set up Patreon pages. Patreon is an online service which allows people to give a small amount of money to support an ongoing creative project. It also allows the creators (Howard and I) to provide special perks to our patrons. Howard’s page is to support ongoing work on Schlock Mercenary. My page is to support the creation of my books and blog. I’ve separated out the accounting to make sure that the funds get allocated to the correct projects.

Yes Schlock Mercenary has been paying all our bills for a long time. No it is not in danger of ceasing if people don’t support it. We’re setting up the Patreon because we’ve had people asking us “How do I support your work without buying more stuff?” This is our answer. The same is true of my blog. I’ll keep writing it whether or not I ever get paid. Physical books of my work are more complicated. They cost money to produce and support via Patreon would help me pay for that production.

If you become a Schlock patron, you get access to pre-orders at least two days before they open to the public. You’ll also get sneak peeks at Howard’s creative process. At $2.50 per month or more, you can become one of Howard’s Schlock Troops. That will get you access to early pre-orders, convention exclusive merchandise without attending a convention, coupon codes for our store, and monthly behind-the-scenes peeks at Howard’s creative process. Sign up to become a Patron or a Schlock Troop here.

If you become a patron of Sandra Tayler you’ll get monthly behind-the-scenes peeks at Sandra’s process. There will be coupons for our store. It will be a different coupon than is offered to Schlock supporters. At the $2.50 or more donation level, I’ll also send you a handwritten thank you card once per year. Sign up to become a Sandra Tayler patron here.

Working with Patreon is an experiment for us. All our research tells us it will function as we expect and potentially provide a good experience for everyone. If it turns out to not be a good experience, we have the tools to bring the experiment to an end. Additionally, my creative work has not yet managed to be self-sustaining financially. It needs to find ways to support itself instead of being carried by Schlock. The smartest freelancers have many income streams. I wanted to explore this one.

Past and Present: Conversations with Other Mothers

Changing diapers was part of my daily existence for ten years. I remember being puzzled at the reactions of people for whom it wasn’t. They spoke of diapers as this huge and distasteful chore. As far as I was concerned, diapers were easy. Keeping hold of my highly-active toddler in a public space while eight months pregnant, that was hard.

Today I am babysitting my sister’s kids and I changed a stinky diaper. I noted within myself exactly the sorts of reactions that used to puzzle me when I observed them in others. The influx of small children means that our toy cupboard vomited its contents across the family room in a way that hasn’t happened since the last time this set of children came to visit. I had to watch and respond to a toddler with my mommy radar turned all the way up to ten, in order make sure that he was safe and that he didn’t endanger any of the things which are important to our family. I used to just flow with these things and bend my life around them. Now it all feels like a big intrusion. I willingly agreed to the intrusion. I like my sister’s kids. I’m glad to watch them for the day. Yet at the end of it I will be quite glad to return to a quieter house.

I’m on the other side of the fence these days. I used to be the mother of young children who mostly stayed home because I didn’t want to impose my personal invading force on society at large. Now I’m the one who gets intruded upon, at home, in public spaces. Mostly I don’t mind or am even amused or enlivened by the presence of other people’s children. I watch with tolerance and sympathy when a toddler tantrums in a grocery store. And, yes, sometimes I observe with annoyance. I like my friends’ kids quite a lot. They are charming little people and I marvel at seeing the world through their eyes and watching them change from visit to visit. Yet in the world at large, it sometimes feels like I’ve become the enemy. I am the mother of older children who is perceived as judging the mother of young children. I am a font of boring stories about when my kids were little. Being around young children brings all those memories to the forefront of my mind, and in that moment I think I remember how hard it all was. I want to help, or make it easier, so I spill the stories in an effort to form some sort of camaraderie. I’m trying to say that we’re all in this together. That is not the result.

My self awareness of this is thanks to a good friend of mine, a mother of a young child, who cared enough about our friendship to address the issue with me. It is hard to be critiqued on this sort of thing. I’ve done a lot of thinking as a result. I’ve also done quite a bit of observation of myself and of others. I’ve come to the conclusion that my years of experience as a parent don’t make me any sort of expert, because my children are different from those of my friends. I raised them in a different decade, in a different social context, with a different house, and a different husband. There are so many differences as to make my solutions and stories irrelevant. Instead of trying to provide help or advice, it is my job to listen. When my friend’s current concern triggers a memory, I should stay with their experience, not intrude mine. At some point in the conversation my friend may outright ask for advice, that is the appropriate time to share something from my own parenting experiences.

Shortly after my friend’s critique I altered my conversational strategies with a different pair of friends who have young children. It was hard at first. All my instincts told me that the way to be friends with other mothers was to talk over our similar experiences. But their current lives match my past, not my present. A story fell out of my mouth out of habit and I watched the conversation dive into a lull as a result. I did better after that. I had a wonderful and emotionally connecting afternoon. It was the first time in a long time I did not spend large portions of the conversation feeling out of step and old. It seems obvious in hindsight, but I had to match their present experiences with my present experiences. The contrast in those experiences was what made the conversation fun for all of us. They were far more interested in hearing about my current dealings with teenagers than in my past struggles with potty training.

I’m very grateful to be making these realizations now, years before I have grandchildren. I shudder to think what unfortunate miscommunication loops I might have set up while trying to “help” my children parent their own kids. I was well on my way to becoming a person I never want to be, and I would have been driven toward it by an ever-more-intense desire to connect.

I still have thinking and learning to do. I have to fine tune when my accumulated experiences add to conversations and when they do not. After all, I started this blog post by delving into a memory. At one point I paused and considered whether I wanted to re-write it, because it seemed to demonstrate exactly the story-dropping behavior that I’m trying to extinguish. I eventually decided that this is my space and an appropriate venue for me to examine my experiences out loud. My experiences may be irrelevant to the world at large, but they are important to me. It is crucial that I see the difference and converse appropriately. It is also crucial that I don’t squelch all my stories in all contexts.

Balance is hard. I’m sure that I’m getting something else wrong as I try to correct this. All I can do is strive onward.

On the Dreams of Children

When a child expresses an impossible dream, listen to it and help her identify small steps she can take toward it. We often squelch the dreams of children because we don’t want them to be disappointed, so we disappoint them now trying to save them from an imagined larger disappointment later. Odds are that long before you reach the impossible part of the dream, the child will have moved on to a different dream, but she’ll still carry what she learned trying to reach for it. And sometimes, if the right groundwork is laid, the impossible becomes possible.

Deck Demolition the Final Chapter

When we were tearing apart the deck on Saturday, parts of the process made noise. (Hitting a crowbar with a sledge hammer does that.) Several interested neighbors came by to see what the project was. One did even more than that. He asked how we planned to haul away the wreckage. When we confessed that we hadn’t figured that part out, he said “I have a truck you can borrow.” We said we’d probably take him up on it, but the day ended and we hadn’t yet gotten to the point where we were ready to haul.

For us Sunday is a day of rest, so we looked at the mess remaining, but we did no work. At church our neighbor came up and asked again if we needed help hauling. This time he offered not only his truck, but his scout troop to help with the hauling. I’m no idiot. We said “Yes. Thank you.”

I made sure I was outside working before the crew was due to arrive. I wanted to get the last bits off of the house before they arrived because I wanted to be sure that we did as little damage to the siding as possible. While I’m certain that teenage boys would be happy to wield the crowbar, I wasn’t so sure how carefully they’d approach the task. I’d barely stepped outside when I noticed something interesting. The sprinklers had run during the night and our work site now had a wet canal running through it.

More specifically, there had been a slight divot in the ground underneath a major support beam. Overflow from the sprinklers had run into it until there was standing water. You can see the water more clearly after we’d cleared away the debris. That metal bracket in the foreground of the picture is what held the support beam in place.

That water would have showed up three days per week during six months of the year. It soaked a support beam causing it to swell and contract. It made the air under the deck wet and fed all the fungus. I don’t think the canal was there when the deck was built. It was a thing that formed over years as ground shifted and run off patterns changed.

It took three trips to the dump to get everything hauled away. While some boys were helping with hauling, we handed shovels to other boys and had them start digging out the cement footings. Those metal brackets were sunk in cement.

They were big and heavy. But we needed them out before we can use this ground for anything else. One was particularly interesting as they poured the footing right between a concrete pad and a sprinkler pipe. When I first discovered the pipe, I worried that they had poured the concrete around it, but fortunately that was not the case.

There were no further exciting flora or fauna discoveries. I’m fine with that. Though we did manage to unearth the dryer vent.

We’ll need to clean it off and put a vent cover on it so that rain and snow don’t get inside. We also found out that Doritos bags can last a very long time.

The boys of the scout troop were great. They worked hard and didn’t complain, not even when they had to help lift concrete into the back of the truck. I offered to pay money into the troop fund, but my neighbor said that the troop needed the service hours. So we fed the boys donuts and Gatorade. The ground is cleared, ready for whatever comes next. I really didn’t expect the job to go this quickly. I’m feeling very grateful for good neighbors and good young men who are willing to donate their time and effort on short notice.

Howard thinks we should throw down grass seed and just add the space to our lawn. I haven’t quite given up on the idea of a patio. Either way, it is a project for a different week and probably cooler weather.

Deck Update

I am so very tired, but I completed what I hoped to do. We now have a small deck with salvaged railing.

Obviously we still have a lot of clearing away work on the old deck. Not mention the massive pile of rotted wood which now sits in my driveway awaiting a trip to the dump. But we can now safely exit our house and it is sturdy enough to last us a few more years. We checked underneath and the combination of a concrete pad and being out of the line of fire for the dryer vent means what remains is still sound.

It is enough for one day.