Today at church I had a friend come to me to discuss our mutual assignment. She basically took it out of my hands and said “Let me do it this time. I know how busy you are. Is there any way I can help you?” I didn’t have an answer other than “thank you” because all the answers to “how can I help?” require complex thought and untangling one task from another.
Later in church another friend came to me. She teaches my 16yo at church and had noticed that 16 had been absent more often than she’d attended lately. It is what happens when the mental health meds aren’t working as they need to, so you decide to switch. But then there is this dip in the middle where the old meds are fading from the system and the new meds haven’t yet begun to work. So we talked about how my friend could help my daughter.
After that, a third friend came up to give me a hug and say “are you okay? I know you have a lot going on.”
At which point I begin to wonder “wait, how do they all know?” I scan my memory for what I’ve written on my blog, on Facebook, on twitter. For a moment I worried that I’d been dumping too much stress and emotion online. Yes some of the things are there. Different things in different places, but even if someone were diligent about stitching those pieces together there are many things that never go online at all.
I’ve come to the conclusion that news travels in old fashioned ways, person to person. My church is structured to facilitate quiet, back-channel communication. Sometimes that can feel gossipy or cliquish, but done right it is a great help to those who need it. Though it is strange to have multiple people offering to help and to realize that there was almost certainly a conversation concerned about me and mine. It is both heart warming and uncomfortable to be seen as needing extra attention.
I still don’t have answers for these friends, some of whom I’ve only known for a few months and others that I’ve known for years. There are so many things that I can’t easily hand off. The things that I can, have pretty much already been dumped or hired out. What I probably need most is someone who will listen for hours and help me untangle all the thoughts in my head. Only then will I be able to identify pieces that other people could do. This is why I’ve scheduled therapy. It’ll begin next week.
I don’t want to be spending that money right now ($90 per session because my deductible is so high it is unlikely to kick in at all this year.) But I’ve been putting it off for four years. (Since February of 2013 when all four kids melted down almost simultaneously.)
This afternoon Kiki needed my help unpacking. She’s home for a week of spring break. Kiki didn’t need me to actually touch anything. All she needed was for me to sit in the room with her while she put things away. Somehow having a witness in the room let her sort a mess into a tidy space. I suspect this is what the therapist’s job will be with me. They will sit while I pull out old boxes of emotion and open them up to see what is inside.
I can say that being seen is far better than not being seen. I’ve had that experience at church too. There were middle parts of those four years where I tried to reach out and ask for help, but either I wasn’t specific enough about what I needed or someone else did not follow through. It is often hard to be specific when seeking help.
That is a thing I need to remember in years to come, when I know that someone is in a stressed place and I want to be helpful, it almost certainly starts with listening. Ask for details about the things in their life, and somewhere in what they say will be a piece I can take out of their hands and do for them. The burden of finding what to do needs to fall on the helper because humans under stress are not good at identifying what they need. Also there are huge social stigmas around asking for help.
For now it is just good to have friends who see me and all my things. Not being alone with the things is a huge help all by itself. And now I can add three people to the list of those I can call if I manage to identify a specific thing that I need help doing.
Prior to Obamacare we had health insurance with a deductible of $10,000 per person per year. The only thing it provided to us was a vague reassurance that if something catastrophic happened, we would have help for all the expenses between $10,000 and 2 million dollars. Mental health was not covered. Maternity was not covered. Birth control was not covered. Dental and vision, not covered. Also my premiums went up every year like clockwork.
We made the switch to Obamacare the second year it was offered. I watched that first year to see if it actually worked for people I knew, and it did. On Obamacare my premiums were about the same as they had been on my old plan, but my deductible per person came down to $3000, and there was a $7000 cap per family. Suddenly a catastrophe which affected my entire family would put me out $7000 instead of $60,000. And there was no upper limit on how much the insurance would spend. Mental health, maternity, birth control, annual check ups, and vision check ups for my kids were all covered. True I still had to pay out of pocket for these things, but all those payments counted toward a my deductible rather than being unrelated to it.
I would have loved to have all those things covered in my earlier plan, but adding things like Maternity care were called riders. They cost more money. Not only that, but you couldn’t add a maternity rider to your plan if you were already pregnant. You had to add it several months before you got pregnant in order for the insurance company to agree to pay for anything. Mental health care wasn’t offered at all, not even as an expensive rider. I suppose that there were people whose coverage was provided by their employers who had coverage for mental health stuff, but I didn’t know any.
That is what the newly-proposed ala carte model for health care means. It means that those who have health needs, like maternity care, will have to pay more than those who don’t have needs. Guess which person will have less ability to work to cover the cost of their health care? Ala carte means that some things won’t be covered at all, or will only be covered at rates which are so high no one who has the issue can afford to purchase coverage for it. I suspect I’d be back to out of pocket for my family’s mental health care.
It is true that year after year I saw increases in my premiums for Obamacare. This past year my monthly premium went up by $600, an increase of almost 60%. That was alarming and has put a serious strain on my budget. I had to drop down to a plan with a $7000 deductible per person and a $13,000 deductible for my entire family. Yet those deductibles are still lower than the ones I had before Obamacare. And visits to mental health professionals count toward those deductibles. Also, I believe that my premiums would have skyrocketed anyway. There are other things driving the increase in medical costs than just giving coverage to more people.
There were definitely things to fix, but prioritizing the profits of insurance companies is not how to help people. Ala carte may help a few healthy people lower their premiums, but it will cost everyone else more.
Today at church I spoke with a neighbor who was born in Guatemala. She’s been in my neighborhood for the entire eighteen years that I have been here. I’ve not known her for that long, because somehow communities of Spanish speakers and English speakers can live intermixed with each other without actually mixing very much. I asked her what our congregation and neighborhood can do to reach out to our neighbors who weren’t born in the US and who might be feeling scared because of the current political climate.
Her answer was very simple: Just be friends.
Be the neighbor who introduces themselves and says “glad you’re in our neighborhood.” Take time to reach out and smile even if you don’t share a common language. Find out your neighbor’s names. Invite them to local events. Ask after their children. We’re all far more similar than we are different, no matter where we were born.
These are not things that come naturally to me. I tend to hide in my house not talking to people unless I have to. But I’m going to try to be better.
I’ve also assigned myself to do something my neighbor didn’t suggest. I’m going to try to be more aware when I’m out in the world. I want to be more ready to step in and help. I want to be mentally prepared to intercede if I see someone being treated poorly.
The national news is filled with events that are distressing to me. I see so much division and anger. I see appalling and crazy behavior at the highest levels of public attention. The solution to all of this is not a top down solution. Replacing people at the top wouldn’t solve all the emotion, it would just make a different subset of people scared. The real healing will have to come from the bottom up. It will come from people literally loving their neighbors and reaching out to help them. It will come from people being good and kind to those who think and believe differently. It starts with each of us being willing to extend ourselves to serve others a little bit more.
Today at church I learned from one of my neighbors. I also learned about a community service website that seeks to be a sort of Craigslist for people seeking volunteers and people who want to be volunteers. It is justserve.org . It looks like it may be a good tool for people who want to reach out a bit more, help a bit more, love others a bit more. People connecting with each other in our own communities is how we heal our country.
This is Cecil.
Here is a size reference. My daughter’s hands are on the small end of adult sized.
She loves her snake. He spends a fair amount of time outside of his tank either being held or curled up in her shirt pocket. He likes pockets. They feel safe, dark, and warm. Of course after a while he gets too warm and then he wants to go on adventures. We’re looking forward to watching him grow from his current 15 inches to full adult size which can be up to five feet long. It’ll take a few years, but we don’t mind.
And since I know there are people for whom snakes are inherently creepy, here is a picture of a sleeping cat who is of the opinion that my purse is not going anywhere for a while.
The short version of the past twelve days goes like this: Convention, convention, convention, visit with friend and drive her to airport, head cold with shipping, head cold with editing, head cold with editing, head cold with an array of neglected household and parent stuff, feeling a bit better with editing, mostly better with shipping, editing, and taking a child to buy her first snake pet, today.
The slightly more expanded version:
LTUE is our home convention. It is the one that feels like a family reunion because it is full of people that I like and I only get to see once per year. On top of that, I get to sit down with smart people and have discussions of interesting topics. These discussions happen both as part of public panels, but also in more casual groups. Writer people are my people.
Kiki didn’t come up this year. She needed a calm semester where she didn’t have to scramble to prepare for a convention where she needed to present herself professionally. I used her absence as an opportunity to do an art yard sale of her old work. (With her permission of course.) She had art left over from high school and early college which was no longer representative of her best work. Rather than let it continue to take up space in her life, we sold it at a big discount to turn art into grocery money. Almost everything we offered sold.
Usually Kiki is the one who helps me run the table, this year two women from my neighborhood volunteered to help. It was really fun. They were good company. They got free badges to attend and the three of us traded off who would be at the table and who would go to classes or events. I loved knowing that everybody got things they wanted out of the deal. Win win is the best kind of deal.
Usually the Sunday after LTUE is a collapse and relax day. It sort of was this year. Only I did my collapsing and relaxing with a couple of friends who had also been at the show and were also collapse relaxing.
Monday I began to be sick. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were all something of a fog. Mostly I camped on the couch looking pitiful and trying to get editing work done. The plan for the week had been to split my days between editing and shipping. I wasn’t well enough to be on my feet for shipping. Editing took longer than I wanted it to, but at least I could do it laying down. I couldn’t take days off because Planet Mercenary is on a crazy tight schedule. We need to go to print by April 1st. There has to be a month of time for indexing before going to print. And there is still layout to do. In an ideal world, all the writing would be complete before editing began. Then all the editing would be done before layout began. Then all the layout would be done before indexing began. Instead different sections of the book are in different parts of the process.
The good news is that I’ve finally finished the portions of the book which have lots of mechanics and numbers. The numbers are set. I only have a little bit of formatting to do before sending all of that to layout. The remainder of the book is all fun world building stuff. I won’t have to meticulously cross check everything to make sure it is good. I also won’t have to spend time worrying that I’ve accidentally created an item that is far more expensive (or cheap) than it should be for the benefit it provides. Approximating a functional economy is hard.
Once I was feeling enough better to be ambulatory, it was time to get back on track with shipping out Defaced Seventy Maxims books. I’d wanted all of them out the door by the end of February. Instead it is more likely to be by March 6 or 7. A week later than I want. Because I’ve been jumping between editing and shipping and planning new merchandise, I simply haven’t had the time or emotional energy to put together a big shipping event. Shipping is me grabbing 2-3 of my teenagers and spending 2-3 hours sending out 150-200 packages. I’ve got about 500 more US packages and about 200 international ones left. International takes longer to process and pack because of the necessary customs forms.
During LTUE I tweeted about my 16 year old who texted me to ask what chores she could do. She has been putting in 1-2 hours of work per day for the last month because she wanted to earn enough money to buy a snake and all the supplies to take care of it. The original plan had her and her brother cooperating to buy a snake. In the end only my daughter put in the hours and earned the money. She hit the money goal after helping me with shipping on Saturday. So we went to our local pet store (the small one, not the giant chain one) and came home with a little snowy corn snake. Now that the snake actually exists in the house, my son is far more motivated to earn money to buy his own snake. So we’re likely to end up with two of them. Which is fine. The snake is name Cecil and he’s adorable.
Today is Sunday wherein I theoretically rest. Tomorrow work begins anew.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday I’ll be at LTUE. You can find details at ltue.net. It is a really amazing place for creators of science fiction and fantasy to come and learn how to improve their craft. There are tracks for gaming, writing, literature, and art. Plus this year there is a track about staying well and balanced as part of a creative life.
I highly recommend the show. If you’re there, feel free to find me and say hello. I’ll spend much of my time in the vendor hall, but I’ll also be doing some panels and on Saturday I have an entire presentation about the Power of Picture books.
Last night I drove through rush hour traffic for forty minutes so that I could attend the town hall meeting of my representative Jason Chaffetz. I’d never been to a town hall meeting before. I’ve been content to let others manage government while I just handled my life. Unfortunately enough political things have been scaring me that I feel obligated to be more informed and more participatory in my government. I thought I would sit in the meeting, listen to him answer questions and see if his answers changed my negative opinion of him.
The other reason I decided to attend was that I’ve been expressing more political opinions online. I’ve been retweeting things, and asking people to become more aware, educated, and active in their representative government. If I want avoid hypocrisy, I have to be willing to do more than just tweet from the comfort of my couch. I composed this sentiment into a tweet, which I sent out while putting gas in my car for the trip:
My first clue that the evening would not go as I had pictured was when I arrived at the location (35 minutes early) and realized that at least half the cars jamming up the street were going the same place that I was going. I could see four parking lots, they were all full. I managed to get the last curb space available off to the side of one parking lot. I had to back into the space and park a little closer to the car behind me than I usually would. As we both got out of our cars I asked “Am I too close? Will you be able to get out.” He answered “No you’re fine. It’s important for lots of people to be here.” That small interaction set the tone for all my interactions the rest of the evening. Calm purpose and camaraderie were the mood.
I walked up some stairs and was directed by a very polite police officer toward the front of the school building, where there was a crowd. I walked up just in time to hear the bullhorn announcement that all the seats were full and they wouldn’t be letting anyone else into the building. “You’re welcome to stay, please keep this sidewalk path clear for safety reasons.” And the crowd did. I have to compliment the local police and sheriff’s department. They are not used to handling this sort of event. They had to be nervous and stressed, but every officer I spoke to was courteous and efficient.
I didn’t feel disappointed about not getting into the building, though I’d pictured attending a meeting, not standing outside in a protest. I stood next to people I’d never met before and chatted. All of them were local. Everyone I spoke to lived in Chaffetz’s district. Some had traveled three hours or more to attend (the district is geographically large and includes some of Utah’s most iconic national parks and wildernesses.) Most of the people had never participated in a protest or a town hall before. They were there for reasons similar to mine, they’d realized that they needed to be involved because the stakes are high in American politics right now. America is changing, waking up, redefining itself. From where we are now, there are some terrible possible futures. The people in the crowd with me were there because they know it will take group effort to steer something as large as a country toward the better futures.
I spoke to people in pink hats and wearing LGBT pins. I spoke to Mormons and atheists. I talked to people who were passionate about wilderness, who wanted to see Trump’s conflicts of interest investigated, and who opposed the strict immigration stance that Chaffetz favors. I saw people with protest signs on opposite sides of the same wilderness issue who were talking politely together. I assume that some of the crowd was also there because they support Chaffetz positions, but I didn’t meet any of them. One guy near me had the livestream of the meeting running on his phone. He held it next to his ear and loudly repeated the things that were being said. It was the only chance that people in the outside crowd had of listening to the meeting.
It was strange being in a protest crowd. Mostly I stood still and talked to people who were nearby. Often we’d pause to try to make out what chant had begun close to the building and was rippling through the crowd toward us. It wasn’t always easy to figure out what the words were. Other times the crowd would erupt into cheers or Boos and we’d turn to each other trying to figure out what was causing the cheer or boo. Sometimes we figured it out. Other times we didn’t.
The moment that really defined the protest for me came after I’d been standing in the dark for about forty minutes. The sun had gone down and the building had only a few lights that where completely inadequate to provide light for the crowd. Suddenly it was as light as if someone had remembered where the light switch was an turned it on. I looked up and realized that a large portion of the crowd was holding up their cellphones in flashlight mode. I’m a short person and I wasn’t able to get a really good angle on the crowd, but I tried. The picture does not do the experience justice.
From everything I’ve heard, Jason Chaffetz did not have a pleasant experience inside the building. He got chanted at, booed, and asked questions that he tried not to answer. I was told by someone in the crowd that Chaffetz had put out a call for “the real majority” to show up to his town hall. I don’t think he was expecting what he got.
As the crowd thinned out, the positive feeling thinned a bit too. The people who lingered were the ones who were angrier. Everyone was still standing politely where we’d been asked to stand, but I could tell it was time for me to go home. The point had been made. Staying longer would just add to the cold in my bones. (I’d dressed for attending a meeting indoors, not for standing outside in a chilly wind.) Most of the crowd felt the “time to go” impulse at about the same time I did. I listened to groups of people as they walked to their cars. They were all talking about what they would do next: write letters, make calls, attend more marches, run for office. This wasn’t a feel-good protest where people vent their feelings and go back to their lives. Most of the crowd seemed to understand that ongoing effort is necessary.
So here I am today, writing one woman’s account of her experience at a Town Hall meeting turned protest. I hope that anyone who takes time to read this post will also take time to contact your representatives. Learn about the issues and then tell your representatives how they should represent you on those issues. If we have more people respectfully discussing their opposing viewpoints, we have a chance to pull our country back from the chasm of divisiveness and hatred which threatens to swallow us whole.
I’m still here. I’ve just been head down on the Planet Mercenary project.
Sections 1-4 completely laid out
My goals: make sure that everyone always has something to be working on. I don’t want layout guy waiting on me. I don’t want editor waiting on me. I don’t want Howard waiting on me. This means task swapping a lot.
I’m also conferring with artists to fill the remaining art gaps. It is hours of intense focus work every day. But by next week my schedule should begin to open up. I will be done with the mechanics heavy portions of the book. The remainder is cool worldbuilding stuff upon which players can build fun adventures, or Schlock Mercenary fans can just have fun reading.
The whole thing is visibly closer to being done. Yet in the middle of each day it feels like I’ll never be able to do all I need to do. And sometimes fatigue whispers to me that I’ve done it all wrong, everything is ruined. So I take a breath and I dive back in, because ruined or not, I have promises to keep.
Oh, and the Defaced Seventy Maxims books arrived yesterday, so there are 1000 packages to ship. I have that in front of me too.
Email. There is always email. This weekend much of it was about tweaking Planet Mercenary art and fine tuning some of the design elements for Planet Mercenary layout.
Reading twitter and the news while being simultaneously pleased that people are stepping up to protest because of their convictions, and being appalled at how my country currently appears to the world at large. I have a Facebook friend in Australia and watching her react to the news from America has been painful. There was an entire thread of Australians saying “well, guess I’m not going to visit the US ever again.” The things happening in my country are too scary for them to want to risk coming here.
Buying groceries at the store where prices are unchanged, people are calmly picking up food they need and luxury items they want. No sense of panic or urgency, just people doing their regular shopping.
Waking up Saturday morning with a crippling sense of self-doubt. It suddenly seemed obvious that I had failed at everything I’ve been trying to accomplish and that anything which seemed near completion would actually prove to need total, massive revision. Howard talked me through enough so I could function. The feeling faded by late evening.
Church was utterly normal. People gave talks on kindness and service without any reference to politics or world events. This was both a relief and a frustration. Events in my country are big enough that they should be changing everyone. We could use reminders about Christ saying “I was a stranger and ye took me in.” Yet I know for a fact that my church congregation has people on both sides of the ideological debates and I really did not want heated discussion to chase away the solace of church worship. I dearly love some people on the opposite side of ideological divide from me. I do not want to fight with them. Bridges not walls.
Laying on the floor next to my teenage child’s bed because she is currently curled up in a ball underneath that bed. She can’t come out because her left eye feels all hollow and everything in the world is poking at her brain. So I keep her company until the noise in her head calms down enough for her to emerge. Down there on the carpet I pondered what to do to help her, whether her medicines need to be changed, and the fact that the carpet really needed a good vacuuming.
It is all such a mix of things heartbreaking and things boring, things complicated and things simple, things routine and things unprecedented. I’m worn out with it all. So I drag myself out of bed each day like tiny Steve Rogers standing back up in the alley saying, “I can do this all day.” Sometimes winning comes from just refusing to stay down.