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My peonies are giant and beautiful this year. Just wanted to share.

The Seventy Maxims Book

There is a momentum in book projects. I always feel it in the run up to sending a book off to print. Things happen more quickly and with more energy. I can feel that momentum building on the Seventy Maxims book. Howard has it mostly drafted. What follows will be iterations. This book is particularly complicated because in addition to the maxims themselves, there will be scholarly commentary about each maxim. Each page will also have handwritten notes from various characters. There is a timeline of when each character has the book. There are stories in and around some of the comments. These stories can’t be told in full with this format, but they need to be sufficiently there to be interesting, not frustrating. In order to get everything right, we’ll have to do lots of iterations.

1. I throw all the text and commentary onto the pages so we can see if it will fit.
2. I print it out and write a bunch of critique notes.
3. Howard takes my notes and edits text to make everything tighter and funnier.
4. I put the new text onto pages so we can do another read through.
5. I pull all the commentary off the pages so we only have the maxims and the scholar’s text.
6. Howard and I edit and fine tune the layout and placement of this text.
7. Repeat 5-7 until we have a print ready book. Copy editing of text probably fits in this loop somewhere.
8. Print out the pages and have the person we’ve picked for Karl’s handwriting put all of the young Karl notes on the pages.
9. Fine tune placement and text for Young Karl’s notes.
10. Print out pages with young Karl’s notes in place. Write in Middle Karl’s notes with a different pen.
11. Fine tune them so they are placed correctly on the page and say what they need to say.
12. Print pages with both Young and Middle Karl’s notes. Write in Old Karl’s notes. Make the handwriting just a little bit wobbly, but still readable.
13. Print pages with all Karl notes. Write in Kaff notes responding to Karl notes. A different person will do this writing so that the hand is different. And the pen is different. Fine tune.
14. Print pages with all of Karl and Kaff notes in place. Have another person write in Murtagh notes. fine tune.
15. Print pages with Karl, Kaff, and Murtaugh notes. Have a different person write in the Schlock notes. Fine tune.

And those are just the iterations I can think of. We’ll likely need to repeat steps. It is a complicated process, but it is the only way we can think of to get the quality and effect that we want for the book. You can see that I’ve just completed step 2.
70 Max edits

By leaving the manuscript out on the kitchen table, Howard wandered by and his brain began to work on layout problems. One of those pages has a diagram for the new page layout on it’s back. Monday or Tuesday Howard will sit down with my notes and refine his text to be better. In the mean time, I’ve been testing pens.
Lots of pens. We’re testing for line weight, bleed, and solidity. Each handwriting will be written by a different pen and in a different color so that readers can easily tell who wrote what.

I’m excited to see the finished book, which means I need to get to work and make it happen.

Good Work Day

I’ve had a couple of really fantastic work days in a row. I want dozens more just like them. Unfortunately I have to make space in my day tomorrow for an urgent dentist appointment. The tooth is only hurting mildly right now, but the way in which it is hurting and the swollen lymph nodes suggest that it might suddenly begin hurting a lot. I have to get it taken care of. So, alas, I will not have an uninterrupted work day tomorrow.

But today I did preliminary layouts on several sections of Planet Mercenary. I also did the next layout iteration for the 70 maxims book. Tomorrow I need to go pen shopping and I need to find handwriting matches for Karl Tagon, Kaff Tagon, and Murtaugh. We already found the right handwriting for Schlock. Howard is almost done drafting the words. It’ll all need to go through copy edits and then the handwriting bits will have to be done. But we’re on track to send it out for print in June. Tomorrow I’ll finish up the second half of the layout iterations. And I need to get started on the cover as well.

On Friday I’m hauling Kiki and Link over to the warehouse. It needs a significant cleaning and organization effort. I’ve got to make space for the incoming Force Multiplication books. I’ve also got to clear space for the dice, cards, and tokens from the Planet Mercenary Kickstarter. Those will likely be arriving within a week of the Force Multiplication books. We’ve reached the part in shipping where I eye space and fret that I won’t have enough. If I have to, I’ll rent a storage unit and re-locate stacks of slipcases. Or maybe I’ll run a sale on slipcases and book sets to clear space for incoming inventory. Because I’ll ship out some of the Force Multiplication right away, but much of it will just be stacked in the warehouse. And we’ll need space for 70 Maxims books, and then for Planet Mercenary books. After which we’ll ship out many things and I will have space again.

It is nice to have a day where the challenges feel interesting and doable. Much preferred to the days when everything feels overwhelming and doomed.

Unplanned Upgrades and OCD

I was standing in the kitchen when I became aware that someone was talking upstairs. At first I thought that my college daughter and my teenage daughter were having a conversation, but then the sound turned angry. Parental ears are very attuned to picking up when the children sound distressed or angry. I went upstairs to see what was going on and the words became clear
“What?! No! Why did you do that!”
My teenage daughter was yelling at her tablet computer in full tearful meltdown. She was barely coherent and ready to shout at me. Her hands were shaking. It took me three minutes to get her calm enough to tell me what was going on. It turns out that Microsoft tricked her into upgrading to Windows 10. It was not something she wanted to do. She just mis-clicked a single button and then was unable to cancel the upgrade. The only option she was offered was to reschedule. Not knowing what else to do, she let the upgrade proceed.

My daughter has OCD. She has a doctor who prescribes medicine and a therapist who helps her with cognitive techniques to manage her issues. Among her coping strategies, she uses her tablet as a tool for emotional regulation. It contains music designed to be soothing and to help her with meditation. She uses the device for distraction when the intensity of her anxiety gets too high. Any time other people touch her device she gets stressed because she depends on it daily and the thought of not having it sends her into a panic attack. She has those too, full-on curl-into-a-ball panic attacks.

The upgrade had changed the functionality of everything she wanted the machine to do. She was in a panic because she couldn’t find her music that she relies on, couldn’t find Internet Explorer or her favorites list, all her app buttons had been shuffled and re-organized. Instead of having everything categorized and on separate screens, everything was all on the main desktop, which felt terribly unorganized to her. She was terrified that her coping tool was permanently broken. She was furious that Microsoft would do this to her without giving her a way to opt out. The thing that was supposed to assist her with anxiety was causing massive anxiety.

I sat next to her and tried to talk with her, but she was unable to be rational. This is one of the core manifestations of my daughter’s OCD. When the obsessions and compulsions are triggered, her brain is less able to be logical about anything. This upgrade was an invasion of her ability to control her environment, the worst thing I could do would be to take the device away, fix it, and give it back. She had to be angry and figure it out for herself. All that Howard (he heard and came too) and I could do was sit nearby and give suggestions for how to reconfigure. Our suggestions were met with an angry shout of “I know that!” or “I’ve already tried that!” Half the time she would then follow our suggestions and bring her device closer to functioning the way that she is familiar with.

Ninety minutes of active distress got the device into a configuration where she felt it was usable. By that time she and I had missed the first part of church. She was not in a state suitable for public, so we turned on a show that she loves and let her be distracted for awhile. Then she lay down and slept for two hours, completely worn out from the emotional upheaval.

I was worn out too. This is the third time this week that her OCD has been triggered in a way that took multiple hours to help her get herself right side up again. It breaks my heart a bit to see how hard she works for emotional equilibrium that other kids just have without effort. She is amazing and strong every single day. She has to be. I know that life isn’t fair, but this week I saw the unfairness more clearly than usual. It made me sad and tired. Here’s hoping that the coming week is less eventful than the week just passed.

Mother’s Day Wishes

These are my Mother’s Day wishes for everyone out there in the world who needs them.

May you have less guilt today than usual. Less guilt about the job you feel you ought to be doing. Less guilt about feeling like you should have done more for the mother in your life (or the one who is no longer in your life). Less guilt about the planning you intended to do, but didn’t because other priorities took your attention. Less guilt about how you should do a better job teaching your children to honor their mother. Less of the accompanying guilt that you are selfish because you are the beneficiary of the reminders you give to your kids that they ought to be nice to their mother. That’s a recursive guilt, I hope you don’t have it in your life today or any other day.

May you have less stress. Particularly less stress that is associated with taking care of others. Even more particularly, may you not feel under pressure to have a wonderful day because if you don’t then everyone around you will feel like they failed and then you’ll all spiral into the recursive guilt which is unpleasant for everyone. I hope you can dismiss this stress, and any other pressure to present yourself as other than you are.

May you have fewer strings that tangle your choices. Most particularly strings that are attached to gifts. May all your gifts be stringless. May you be able to move through your obligations today without encountering any tangles. May you have a day where the needs of one person do not conflict with the needs of another, and where you are not called upon to be the arbiter of who is unhappy.

May you have a quiet moment of beauty. It can be a moment you created deliberately, or one you wander into. It may be as long as a soak in a hot tub, or as short as noticing a flower outside your window. I just hope you have a lovely thing in your day.

I hope all of these things for anyone who needs them, mothers, non-mothers, children, parents, grandparents, care-takers, and care receivers. And one last wish: May you extricate today from the weight of expectation and make it into the day you need it to be.

Considering a Kitchen Re-model

We’ve been living in this house for eighteen years. It existed for seven years before we moved in. This means that the kitchen is twenty-five years old, and it is showing its age. A lot. The age shows in little things like the silverware drawer that was held together with duct tape for several years before we finally used wood staples and glue, or the three other drawers which have lost their fronts. Then there is that one cabinet which doesn’t close right because young children used to swing on it and bent the hinges out of shape. Also there are some layout things which cause minor annoyance on a regular basis. So we’re contemplating giving the whole thing an overhaul.

But we have a problem, several actually. Our house is also our office. Both Howard and I work here. We work in careers that require focus without interruption. Re-modelling is made up of loud noises, frequent questions, small decisions, and power outages. Another problem is that having our kitchen disrupted is going to seriously impact schedules and poke various anxiety and mental health buttons. We have an abundance of mental health buttons. Some of us shut down if regular patterns are disrupted. Others melt down a bit if the kitchen is messy, I can only imagine the meltdowns when the kitchen is dismantled. I still remember how disorganized and stressed I was when we took apart my office for a re-model, and that one only lasted about a week. Kitchen re-modelling is notorious for lasting a long time.

The good news is that I have a seven month lead time. I have no intention of letting construction begin until November or December at the earliest. We have too many events and deadlines between now and then. We have promises to keep. November – January is the slow time for work. That means it is the best time to have work potentially disrupted. I have time to plan. I intend to use it to front load some of the decision making and purchasing. I would much rather live with tile sitting in my garage for a month than have my kitchen messed up for an extra week because we’re waiting for tile to arrive. I’m certain there are many things I can do to smooth and prepare the way, but I need to know what they are. This is where all of you come in, or at least those of you who have been party to a kitchen re-model. I have some questions so I can learn how this process works.

1. How significant was your re-model? Are we talking new counters and appliances or knocking out walls?
2. What was the most stressful part?
3. What caused the most delays?
4. If you had it to do over again what about the process would you change?

I’d also like to understand kitchen re-models from the contractors side, so if you are one or know one…

1. What causes the most delays for contractors?
2. How can I make my contractor’s job easier?
3. What are common ways that clients make problems for contractors?

This is the information gathering stage of the project. We’re turning over options, learning how this works, deciding on the scope of what we intend to do. On the far side of this is our house being much nicer than it is now. I just want to get from here to there as smoothly as possible.

(And yes, I’m aware that this whole exercise in information gathering is a manifestation of anxiety over spending money and having the kitchen torn apart. The buttons are already getting pressed.)

Upcoming Writing Events

This coming October I’ll be traveling to Canada to teach at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference. I am very excited about this. I’ve never had a chance to attend SIWC before, but I’ve heard that it is one of the best writer’s conferences around. it focuses on classes taught by individual instructors, and lots on interpersonal time with both instructors and other attendees. This is definitely one to consider if you’re looking to improve your writing craft and connect with other writers.

In September the Writing Excuses team will be holding its fourth retreat, and second cruise workshop. I loved being a part of this event last year. We formed a small group of about 150 inside the larger cruise trip. This meant fun conversations every evening at dinner, classes to attend, and excursions on port days. The price is no more expensive than a workshop plus a hotel bill. Only you get to travel to other countries and all the food is included in the price. The Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat is worth your time and money.

August has GenCon and I’ll be attending this year. GenCon hosts a fantastic writer’s symposium featuring many panel discussions on topics of interest to writers who want to improve craft or learn business. If you don’t want to pay conference-level fees, then the GenCon Writer’s workshop is an excellent choice. It comes with a bonus four-day gaming convention with all the tabletop games you could ever want to play. I’ll be on panels and attending panels in between helping out with the Hypernode Media booth where Howard and Zub will be drawing and talking with people.

Garden Walk

My neighbor invited me to run away from responsibility for a few hours and join her for a wander through lovely gardens. I know better than to say no to that.

So we wandered paths and found hidden nooks where we could sit and visit.
The Bench

The garden is having a tulip festival, so there were many other people at the gardens with us, but that didn’t change the beauty of the flowers. And I managed to keep them out of most of my photographs, thus giving the illusion of a solo walk through beauty.
Stream side

Following the stream led us to the Monet pond. The waterlilies aren’t blooming yet, but the koi were abundant and beautiful.

Many of the flowers were familiar to me, even if I didn’t know the particular variety. There were tulips everywhere, of course.
Tulips skyward

Other flowers I’d never seen before, like this plant which was as large as my head, and seems to be related to a cabbage.
Cabbage flower

I think that the tulips I loved best were these ones, which were like sunlight in flower form, particularly when planted en masse.
Tulips bright cropped

As we were wending our way to the exit we were delighted to discover a flight of umbrellas hanging from the trees.
Umbrellas 1

If you’d told me before I saw them that a grouping of umbrellas could make me think thoughts of taking joyful flight, I would have had a hard time picturing it.
Umbrellas 2

I came home with a heart filled with happiness, a camera filled with pictures, and my head filled with hours of visiting with my friend. Sometimes running away is a beautiful thing.
Tulip 1

Supporting Creativity

I picked up Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert months ago. I read it a bit when I first acquired it, but, while I enjoyed it, the book was not grabbing me. This is in part because it is a book that wants to be read in snatches. I want to read a few sections and think about them. Unfortunately this leaves me time to get distracted and forget to come back to the book. Also there is the fact that I don’t completely agree with the ways that Gilbert views creativity. I’ll be reading along and feeling in rapport with the text, but then hit a sentence or a paragraph where I want to argue “No, it’s not quite like that.” Her viewpoint isn’t invalid, it just makes me want to discuss with her, except that she isn’t here to speak to, just the book, and books aren’t good at listening. So I wandered away from the book for several months.

I guess I just hadn’t hit the right section of the book yet. I picked the book up again yesterday and found passage after passage that I underlined and bookmarked. One section in particular I’ve been turning over in my head ever since I read it.

“I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life. I knew better than to ask this of my writing, because over the years I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay their bills.” Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

I had never before considered creation from this perspective, as if it were a shining and joyful thing that I get to support. I’d somehow assumed that my writing paying my bills was the goal. And it is, in a way, but not at all in another. I want my art to be able to support itself. I want it to be able to pay for the time it takes away from bill paying activities. I also want it to be valued and people do not value things that they do not pay for. I am fortunate. The job that pays my bills sometimes gives me creative joy, which is more than some people ever get. But my personal creative works, this blog, my short stories, the picture books, they all cost more in time and money than they have returned in money. They’ve given me many things and allowed me to give many more, but they aren’t lucrative. Gilbert’s quote reminded me that this is in no way a failure. Just as the point of raising children is not for them to support me later, the things I write do not have to support me to prove their worth. What I write has value both to me and to others who get to consume it. Creation adds to the world. That is worth pouring time, energy, and money into without expectation of financial return.

Of course there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a full-time creator. Howard is one, and in a way, so am I, though many of my hours are spent on administrivia. We have lots of friends who are full-time in their creative careers. But I think that many of those who long to go full time, don’t realize that being a full time creative person doesn’t mean more time spent creating. No one gets to write day after day without interruption. The more that your creation earns, the more it comes with obligations to publishers, fans, events, etc. Every single creator I know—both full time and part time—laments that they don’t have enough time to be creative. Gilbert’s words helped me see it. She says it outright in another section of her book.

“For most of human history, the vast majority of people have made their art in stolen moments, using scraps of borrowed time—and often using pilfered or discarded materials to boot.” Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

If everyone struggles to make space in their lives to create, then why is being full-time creator always assumed to be the dream? For those who have the skills and enjoy the business aspects of a creative career, then yes it is a dream job. There are those who are invigorated by the challenges of freelance work. But there are also people who have much to give to the world and who are happier when they have a steady paycheck. There is nothing wrong with having a day job you love and a part-time creative career that you also love. There is much to be admired in art that is squeezed into the nooks and crannies of daily responsibility. Not just that, but daily responsibilities are often dismissed as mere chores without recognizing the myriad ways that chores create order out of chaos, beauty where there wasn’t any before. Many daily responsibilities are hugely creative and worth the center space they take in our lives.

As an example, I give you our postman. He has been delivering mail to our house for fifteen years now. He’s retiring this week, and messages have been posted in neighborhood Facebook groups about this fact. It was amazing to me how many people responded and had stories about this him, about his kindness in bringing mail to the door of those for whom walking to the curb was difficult. About how he knew when a family had suffered a death and helped to sort out the junk mail to ease the pain of that passing. I know that when we had big shipping events which piled up hundreds of packages for him to carry away, he always smiled and was cheerful about doing so. Such small things, just a tiny bit of extra kindness and service, what a beautiful gift he made out of his ordinary daily work. He will be missed, but hopefully he’ll have a lovely retirement where he’ll get to do some new beautiful thing.

I need to own all of my work and creativity, rather than feeling like the parts of my life are doing battle. Yes I prefer writing to shipping packages, but shipping packages feeds my family. With the family fed, my mind and heart are free to go play with words. And I can recognize that the packages I ship are received with happiness when they arrive. I get paid to send couriered joy to others. That is an amazing job to get to have. I will not complain if at some point in the future my writing does begin to help pay for my life, but it is fine if it never does. To quote another wise woman, my sister:

“Either the money will come, or it won’t. Until then I’m just going to keep doing this thing that I love.” Nancy Fulda

Late Night Thoughts on Parenting

It is late and instead of being asleep I am noodling around on the internet. I’m looking at articles talking about how helicopter parents need to back off, and lists of ways in which incoming freshman are not ready for college because their parents hovered too much. Then I think about parents who get prosecuted for letting their kids walk to the park, and about how my kid’s schools contact me every time one of my kids has an F. Or if my kids are marked absent for any of their classes. Or if my kid misses a flex session where they are supposed to make up work. The messages urge me to talk to my child about their choices. The unspoken message is clear: It is the parent’s job to make sure that their kids succeed. So parents get caught in this system that pushes them to hover, and then complains later because they hovered.

I’m thinking about all of this because, with one of my kids, we’re out in the weeds. There may be a path here, but it is hard to see and maybe it will only exist after we’ve trampled our way through to create it. I’m doing my best to step back, let him struggle, let him fail, let him learn. On the other hand I’m also doing what I can to make sure the path isn’t impossible, to help him keep moving, to make sure that the obstacles are surmountable with his current allotment of resources. At times it feels like the worst of both worlds. I have to explain to others why I’m letting him take a potentially failure laden path, and I’m having to explain why I step in and intervene in ways that look like I’m the one keeping him mired in childish dependence. I’m wending the best parenting path I can figure out, and I’m usually convinced that I’m getting it all wrong.

That “convinced I’m getting it all wrong” is a normal parenting experience. This is one of the reasons that society gets so focused on touchstones and check points. Semester grade reports and end-of-year testing are used as a way to know if the kid’s education is on track. High School graduation is a huge measure of success. Other touchstones are getting a job, getting a driver’s license, earning an award, college admission, picking a major, getting married, getting a job. Any success that the child has can qualify. When kids hit the checkpoints it is a small reassurance that maybe the parents aren’t completely failing. I read this behind many facebook statuses “Johnny won the spelling bee! (maybe I’m not completely failing at this parenting gig.)” Parents aren’t the only ones watching, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, neighbors, they all take note and help to celebrate. Milestones let everyone relax because the kid appears to be on track.

“Appears,” note that word carefully, because sometimes the internal experience of the child does not match the external success. Sometimes a checkpoint reached is more a measure of parental management than child growth. This is why helicopter parenting is scolded, because child growth should be the goal, not the checkpoints. Eventually the missing growth is exposed when the child is not prepared. Conversely, sometimes a checkpoint missed can also indicate growth rather than failure. Sometimes the strongest thing an almost-adult can do is to head out into the weeds because the standard path isn’t working. But a missed checkpoint looks like a failure. It makes everyone anxious and uncomfortable, because there is no reassurance that all will be well. then there is enormous pressure to get the kid “back on track.” People like the comfortable answers, the solid and stable answers. They like to know which college and what major. They want the major to be one that they can picture leading to steady employment. They try to steer artists away from art majors. They try to push college as the sure path.

There is no sure path. All of the paths are made of struggle, failure, getting up again, and moving on. Parents may manage their kids into college, but then the new adults have to do the growing they missed out on before. Sometimes people are exactly on track for a very long time, until life takes an unexpected left turn. Then they have to figure out how to find a new path for themselves. All of us will, eventually, have to venture out when the way ahead is not clear.

So perhaps I should use this as reassurance, that in “allowing” my kid’s education to veer away from standard, I’m letting him grow in a way that most people don’t until much later, even while he is not growing in some of the ways that his peers are growing right now. Maybe I’m succeeding and failing all at once. And maybe that is just fine.