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Fixing Our Spaces

This past week we’ve had workers in our house doing some construction. I sometimes feel self conscious about the conspicuous consumption involved in home improvement projects. I was raised in the “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” school of thought. However I’ve increasingly become aware that the way we arrange our living spaces directly impacts how we live inside those spaces. If I am constantly surrounded by things that are falling apart, it contributes to me not making effort to take care of my surroundings. On the other hand, if my surroundings are beautiful to my eyes, I feel more at peace in my life. Unfortunately, beautiful is often the more expensive option, so it has been a long time coming. In fact, we’re working to re-make our house a little bit at a time. This week we finally had the funds to fix up the stairs.

Here is what our front entry looked like before any work was done. The big blocky thing you see to the left was a coat closet. You may infer from the hooks with coats on them that this closet was filled with things which we rarely had a need to access. It was shove space. And it was taking up square footage at the entrance to our house.

About eighteen months ago I decided that the closet needed to be removed. So I dismantled it. Unfortunately right after the dismantling we hit a financial tight patch and we ended up living with bare studs for the next year and a half.

This is what the space looks like today.

We have beautiful railing where once there was a big block of shove space. obviously there is still work to do. The wall needs paint, the flooring has to be replaced, and there will be additional fittings to make this front entry way a better place to put coats, backpacks and other items that are taken off when entering the house.

But I’m so glad that visitors to my house are no longer greeted with this view.

Instead they get to see this.

And when I’m sitting in my kitchen I don’t see this anymore.

Instead I have a view of beautiful railing and the front door.

These railings are only the beginning. They define how we want our main floor to one day look. They are a promise to ourselves that bit by bit we will make our primary living area into one that makes us glad to enter instead of one that constantly frustrates us.

Linkfest 2018

Sometimes I read an online article and I want to keep track of it for some reason. I might want to write a blog post. I might be planning to send the link to someone else, but now isn’t the right moment. It might be any one of a dozen things. What I tend to do in a case like this is paste the link into an email draft then close it. I was doing some digital housecleaning and noticed that my drafts folder had topped 50. Keeping links in email drafts is a sloppy way to store them. So instead I’m going to put all of them into a blog post with an easily searchable title. This is something of an experiment to see if this works as a long term link storage mechanism. So here are things I wanted to keep track of in the past several years, roughly sorted by category.

Business links
An etsy guide on writing a GDPR qualifying privacy policy.
A checklist for making sure your business is GDPR compliant.
A guide to getting started setting up a Shopify Point of Sale.
A list of crowdfunding options that can be linked to a website.
A detailed set of instructions on how to correct identity theft and credit problems. This was very thorough and explained not just what to do, but why doing these things was for your benefit.

Things about Mental health or parenting
An article saying that the increase in teen depression is probably caused by screen use, which I want to site in an eventual blog post talking about how the picture is far more complex both societally and personally than “screens are to blame, take them away.”
A concrete guide for parents who want sensible (not fear-driven) ways to guide their children’s tech use. This is written by a woman who has spent her career studying the interactions between tech and teens. She knows her subject.
An examination of race and emotional labor in the show Mudbound. Gave me some new thoughts to think.
Looking into the future for a child with autism. Key quote: “Your future should look like the best parts of your present.”
A powerful piece of writing on the interior of grief. Quote that particularly struck me, “There are some things in life that can never be fixed. They can only be carried.”
Thoughts from Jay Lake on grief. Key powerful thought: ”
It’s so damned hard, being careful of my own emotions and others. The people around me don’t feel free to express their negative thoughts for fear of upsetting me. I don’t feel free to express my negative thoughts for fear of upsetting my loved ones, family and friends. We all dance this strange dance of toxic consideration like elephants on ice, slipping and occasionally crashing.”

Things with religious content
An article for Mormons talking about how maybe we shouldn’t claim sole ownership of all truth. Which I’ve saved as a potentally useful link for helping some expand how they think about the religion we share.
A blog post about making religion more than a checklist of things to do. We shouldn’t be just aiming for checkpoints without examining why.
An article on making a prayer book. I’ve since discovered that writing prayers is a useful mechanism for me to focus my devotional thoughts.

Writer resources
A twitter thread with links to articles about the weird stuff that birds do. Potentially useful for worldbuilding.
The way that schizophrenics experience the voices in their heads depends on the culture they were raised in.
An article on why idle time is crucial to creativity. Grabbed this one to show to my son who lives most of his life with a screen in his field of vision.

Social or political topics

A woman examines her reactions to MeToo accusations, specifically where her own desire to minimize comes from. This is a fascinating glimpse into psychology and why we sometimes get defensive about things.
A woman examines the idea of redemption in the era of MeToo.
Words from Mike Rowe on following dreams. “Don’t follow your passion, but always bring it with you.” I thought I’d disagree, but discovered that I don’t.
A list of specific things to do to fight hate. This is from the Southern Poverty Law Center and helps deconstruct why some of our first instincts to fight back against hate speech are ineffective at best and harmful at worst. They instead give concrete, useful ways to redirect energy from empty confrontation into useful action.
A woman of color discusses cultural appropriation vs creative synthesis.
A woman who is tracking the abnormal things in the current US administration. This one is from week 10. I’ve been meaning to go check and see if she’s still making lists more than a year later.
An article on the problem of liberal bias in science.
You can’t actually boil a frog by heating it slowly.

The word Howard and I created to describe how fun it is to smoosh words together in the German language. wortrauchenvergnugen, literally Word smushing pleasure.

School is Done

School did not end so much as it faded away. My two school kids opted out of the last week of school because none of the teachers were taking attendance, neither of them ever used their locker (and thus had no need to clean it out,) and they didn’t care about year books. So there was no point and they didn’t go. Officially school ended yesterday. My kids celebrated a week ago.

On the day that school officially ended, I began the summer schedule. This process merely means that I stick a list to the front of their computer screens at bedtime. When they wake up they do the things on the list before using their screens. It is a workable system. It went beautifully yesterday, less well this morning. Weekends don’t get morning lists. Instead the residents of the house may get dragged into a project if I have one going. For tomorrow I’m eyeing the garage. There are things in there that we haven’t used in years. It is past time to evict them. Also, we need to fix up their bikes, because one of the goals for this summer is that the kids spend more time outdoors, preferably active. Also, if they aren’t going to use their bikes, then the bikes are among the things which should go.

I have felt much calmer and happier these past few days. I hadn’t realized how much psychological space school was taking up. I’m paying attention to that, because there is a cost/benefit analysis to be done between public school and home schooling. Next school year needs to be different, even if that means ditching public school. For now the plan is to do a mixture. And I can’t make final decisions until I have more than two days of data on how the list-in-the-morning plan goes.

Stepping Outside My Bubble (Sort of)

When I was a teenager headed off to college. I was firmly of the opinion that I didn’t want to raise kids inside the Utah “Mormon Bubble.” I had Utah-raised cousins, and my California-raised self saw patterns in their thinking and attitudes that I felt indicated they were out of touch with reality. Because life is not always what we plan when we are 18, I’ve spent my entire parenting life raising kids in Utah. I did what I could to broaden their perspectives, but my kids are totally bubble raised.

Except, so are everyone else’s. That’s the thing I did not realize at 18. I’d grown up in my own bubble. I lived in a town where a significant portion of the kids where children of parents who worked at a National Laboratory. These parents were gung ho on education and demanded opportunities from the school system. There was a series of honors classes at the school, and there was a group of us who took all of them. It created a bubble of “honors kids” who pretty much had the same people in their classes from elementary school all the way through high school. We all shaped each other. And we were shaped by the teachers, and the town, and a dozen other factors we shared. All of this combined to create a sense of “this is how the world works and how we should view it.” I could clearly see the ways that my cousins participated in their cultural bubble. My own cultural bubble was invisible to me.

This weekend I’m back in my home town. I’m sleeping in the bedroom that was mine when I was a teenager and then was my Grandma’s, and now is guest space. All evidence of my residence is erased, but my Grandma’s existence is still evidenced by the wall decor and furniture that remains in the room. In this space I am definitely outside my usual life. I’ve stepped out of my usual way of living and I’ve stepped into patterns that are familiar-but-not-really-mine. I went for a walk in a park where I used to run cross country races with a woman I’ve not seen since we both graduated high school. Talking with her helped me see and remember the bubble I grew up in. Thinking about our conversation helped me pause and identify the bubbles I live in now.

My life is venn diagram of bubbles. I suspect many lives are. Yes I have a Utah Mormon bubble that consists of a neighborhood of fellow church goers who function as a small town inside the larger city. I also have a speculative fiction writer bubble which exists in my online spaces and at the conventions I attend. I know there are other bubbles: political, familial, etc, however these first two bubbles were the ones that became visible to me as I talked with a friend who shared neither one.

The thing about bubbles is that they are necessary. Human brains can’t hold all possibilities equally all the time. We have to decide what we think is acceptable and what we think is wrong. We have to find ways to spend time with people who share those attitudes and allow us to relax into them. We have to develop a sense of “I fit in” and “this is normal” Maslow’s hierarchy of needs teaches us this. We need to belong. We need periods where we can rest and be comfortable, because if we’re never able to rest that does things to our brains which are often expressed as anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Of course the risk of cultural bubbles is that the walls are reflective. It is sometimes hard to see outside them. And when we do sometimes we get baffled and angry at the lives and choices of others. Their choices make sense in their bubble (which we can’t see) but not in ours.

This is why it is good for me to step outside my usual bubbles. It is good for me to remember that the world is full of ways of being human that are different from my well-worn and familiar paths. This is particularly useful to me right now, since I’m taking specific steps to reduce anxiety in my life. I’m changing my physical spaces to disrupt some of my habitual patterns. I’m trying to bring in new ways of thinking about my life. Traveling outside my bubble gives me new perspectives and a reinvigorated desire to make changes, to shift my bubbles and expand them. I can take that desire and perspective home with me to view my habits and patterns in new ways.

GDPR Compliance

Today is the day that GDPR (General Data Protection Rights) goes into effect in the EU. It applies to EU citizens anywhere they might go on the internet. I’ve looked over what it takes to be GDPR compliant and it just seems like smart data management to me. So we’ve been working this week to make sure all our sites are compliant. It’s been a busy week. This blog is the last piece that needs to be updated with a privacy policy. Unfortunately today is a travel day for me, so I’m not certain when I’ll get to it. Signing up to comment is the only way this blog collects data. I’ve turned off commenting on the site temporarily. (Thus not collecting any new data from any of you) Commenting will come back once I have a privacy policy posted specifically for this blog.

How to handle a harassment complaint at your event

Alternate title: Good practices for organizational management of a harassment complaint

Note: This document is not exhaustive and may be updated with additional suggested policies. I am not a trained harassment manager and there may be more detailed documents that you should reference when planning your event.

Step 1: Have a harassment policy
You can call a Code of Conduct, or some other name, but you must have a policy that clearly states what behaviors are not allowed at your event. The policy should state that failure to follow it can lead to expulsion from the event without refund. It should also have clear instructions for how to report a violation. All of your attendees should be asked to agree to this policy if they want to attend your event. If you do not have a policy, stop running your event un

School is almost done

The last weeks of school feel like limbo. My kids are so ready to be done. I’m ready for them to be done. All that remains is a few final tests at the high school. Three more days. Technically there are some days of school next week, but we’ve already been told that attendance will not be taken on those days. In fact classes aren’t really held. Students just carry their yearbooks and leave campus at their leisure. Oh, and for the seniors there are graduation related events. My kids already know they aren’t going to bother with next week. Which means, three days.

At this point we know which classes are going to be failed. All the scrambling to rescue grades is completed. They’re either rescued or not. We’ll be doing some classes over the summer, making up credit for the failed classes. I’ll also be stepping back and trying to shift. When I weigh my kids school experiences these past few years, the parts that I can see are heavily weighted toward stress and depression. They simply don’t have the positive peer interactions, friendships, or activities that would provide a counter balance and make the stress worthwhile. This must change. My kids need to know how to live balanced lives. They need to have activities that take them out of the house.

If we want our lives to be different, be have to be willing to change. Sometimes that means changing things we don’t want to let go of. This summer (between all the business tasks, shipping, and conventions) I’ll be stepping back and getting a bigger picture so my kids and I can make decisions about what needs to change. Because I’m tired of ending the school year feeling beaten and exhausted.

Discoveries of the day

Good discovery: happening across a food truck round up when I’m out with a kid having an important conversation. The kind of important conversation that often can only happen after there was an exceedingly unfortunate and unpleasant conversation the day before. But then the important conversation goes well and you happen across a food truck round up, and then the world feels brighter and better even though the sky is pouring and you get wet waiting for your yummy food.

Less good discovery: Finding ants in the breakfast cereal. In quantity. Then realizing that the ants probably got into the cereal out in the garage this morning before it was brought inside, and that at least two kids have eaten cereal since it was brought into the house. So there is that.

Contemplating Mothering

My relationship with motherhood is tangled and complicated. Most of the time that isn’t a problem, but Mother’s Day brings the snarl out into the center of my attention and I spend some time, once again, pulling on various threads to see where they come from and where they lead. I suppose that someday I hope to make sense of this mess that used to be clear.

Motherhood took a long time to sit easily in my brain. The actions of it, the nurturing, the teaching, the loving, those came easy, but self-identifying as Mom felt uncomfortable. Like wearing clothes that were the wrong size. When I wrote notes to my kids I signed them “mom” because that was the correct designation. I think it began to feel not-strange when my oldest headed off to college and we did a lot of communicating via email. I signed things Mom, and she reverted to calling me Mommy, which she hadn’t done since she was very little. She was off and being an adult in new ways, and she needed me to be the Mommmy she fled back to when adulting got too hard. The moment I knew when I had fully integrated my mother identity was when I said something to a writer peer, and he joked back at me “yes mom” which was when I realized I’d totally Mommed at him. My statement had been a quintessential Mom thing to say and it fell out of my mouth by pure habit.

And even as I write that paragraph, I think maybe it isn’t the full truth. I remember the very early days of my motherhood. I cuddled my baby, trailed after my toddler. I remember sitting in a rocking chair, one child asleep on my chest and another on a bed three feet away. Neither could fall asleep without me there. I remember thinking how I’d reached the best part of my life, that everything prior had been foundational for this. I dove into motherhood, turned all my hobbies to its service. And I was happy. Tired, overwhelmed, frustrated, but even those emotions lay on top of a bed of happiness. This is also truth about my motherhood.

Later, the kids were older, I was older, I no longer dealt with hourly hands-on care of little ones. The toys stayed tucked away in the cupboards instead of exploding across the floor on a daily basis. I was so glad to not have to manage little ones anymore. So glad to have hours at a time to myself. There was joy in children who could join me in adult conversations. They could make jokes that actually surprised me with full laughter rather than the polite laughter that was required during the ages of Knock Knock jokes. My calendar no longer had cute sayings scribbled in the margins, but I no longer did their laundry nor spent hours trying to convince them to go to bed.

And yet, somewhere as we began this older kid stage, we left the map. The young years were exactly as I’d expected. Exhausting and joyful in ways that made me cry and laugh. Looking back, the kids’ atypicalities were always there, but they blended better. Then one day, they didn’t. The parenting-a-teenager experiences that I expected did not happen. No waiting up for dates. No watching my kids abandon home to spend hours with friends. Few teams or clubs. Instead I had endless meetings with teachers. Far too much diagnostic testing. Hours of listening sympathetically while my kids told me all their thoughts. Or alternately staring at a closed door because I’m shut out. Coaxing kids out from under furniture. Having my suggestions rejected.

It sounds like whining to say “this isn’t what I expected.” But the grief of that experience is very real. It feels like terrible ingratitude to be sad and grieving when I have four healthy children who’ve all grown tall. They have so much potential and here I am crying because they haven’t bloomed at the same rate as others. On days when I have good perspective, I can see that the bloom is coming. On the days when I’m down, the current state seems unending.

On Mother’s day I feel grateful for the opportunities I’ve had as a mother and grieved for other opportunities I’ll never get. I feel bad that I can’t just remember the gratitude. I know I’ve done a good job, and I have a long list of all the ways I could have been better. I think about how I should step up and do more. I also wonder if they’d be better off if I stepped back and did less. I think of my friends who wanted to be mothers and never had the chance. I think of others who had motherhood taken away from them. I think of women who decided not to become mothers. I think of my mother and feel guilty that more of my thoughts are not centered on her instead of on my own tangle of things. I think of other women who mothered me and who are due thanks. All of these thoughts swirl and tangle around each other until I can barely see where one thought ends and the next one begins.

Some mother’s days feel beautiful and full. This one, I wanted to hide from. And all of these words only cover a small portion of the mother-related things I thought about and cried over today. Fortunately the day is almost complete, a mere 15 minutes remain. Then I can get back to living motherhood instead of contemplating it.

Study in Contrasts

I’m living an emotional tug-of-war.

We’ve just received the bulk shipment of RAM books and I’ve been organizing to place the bulk order for Schlock t-shirts. The shirts are likely to arrive before all of the RAM shipping is complete. Also, I’m nearing the very end of set up on our new storefront. Today I sent some test shoppers through to make sure that every step of the purchasing and delivery process is working smoothly. All of these things are invigorating and engage my brain in ways that, while making me physically tired, are sort of fun. My brain likes organizing.

Across the same days I’ve had multiple communications with school personnel, discussions with my two kids and made decisions about which classes they’re going to go ahead and fail because trying to pull out a last-minute grades rescue is not going to happen this time. If I were willing to devote a pile of energy to it, maybe we could un-fail the classes. But I have all those shipping and organization things that need my attention. Also, we’ve done the last-minute-crunch-to-un-fail-classes three times now. And we still end up in the same place. It is time to do something different. And in this case, that means home school will be continuing into June until all the requisite credits are made up. There are few things more wearying than sitting with one of my kids while we are both frustrated that the kid can’t seem to do the things that the educational system believes all kids can handle.

Interested and anticipatory vs weary and discouraged. Both states exist in my head these days.

On top of that, I look at the society and communities around me, church, city, neighborhood, state, national. Everywhere I look, I’m seeing shifts. Things (both good and bad) are normal now that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. I keep thinking about the saying that the flap of a butterfly’s wing can affect the weather half a year and half a world away. That feels true to me. Small changes in trajectory can change a destination entirely. And everywhere I look, there are butterflies flapping away. In just the past two months my church has made some changes that will have significant cultural impact. The community I depend on as a safety net and security is going to change. No one is quite sure how yet. The visions for what intended are lovely, but intention meets human nature and sometimes twists around. I’m optimistic, because I know the good hearts of the people around me. We’ll band together and make it work.

I try to hold the same optimism for political and legislative changes. I’m quite afraid of the consequences of decisions being made at every level. There is a sales tax decision pending in the supreme court which could have huge financial implications for me personally. My healthcare premium is crushingly huge and I don’t see any legislators taking steps to fix the broken system. Net neutrality may vanish in just a month. Headlines are full of posturing politicians, racism, massive investigations, and violence. Decisions are being made that could lead to war or could tank the economy. It all feels chaotic and fraught, so much so that I’ve pulled back from engaging with it. I’m not communicating with legislators as I was six or eight months ago.

All of these swirl in my head.

And on the same days as all of that, our kitten is cute. A pair of quail visit our bird feeder. I spend and evening out walking with my daughter. We collaborate with a neighbor to repair a broken fence. The weather has warmed and lilacs are in bloom.

Life does not sort itself neatly. Yet when I really look at all I wrote I realize most of the bad stuff is expressed as anxieties for what might happen. Today has more goodness in it than bad. People have more goodness in them than bad.

I’m not truly certain what I’m trying to say here. I don’t have a conclusion, just a record of all the things happening at once. And butterflies everywhere.