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.
I found a sentence which said “Esspererins can only use pistols and longarms.”
The answer was Carbines. So I made the change to the sentence that I found. I also made the same change in two other places in two separate chapters where the same information was duplicated. (There is a lot of duplication of information to prevent players from constantly flipping to go look for it.)
I also added the word “Longarm” to the list of words that I have to search and replace in every single chapter I come across. There are one or two occurrences that will stay because it accurately describes all three types of rifle-shaped guns. The rest are supposed to be either Carbine or Long Gun.
That was one incident of wording correction. I exchanged fifteen emails with Alan today over similar little issues. I routinely have 5-8 documents open because each chapter is its own document and I need to be able to reference between the chapters. I have handwritten notes and post-its all over my desk to remind me to do things.
Yet painstakingly this book is taking shape. The first four chapters were handed off for layout. I’ll hand off the next three by this weekend. At around the same time chapters 8-10 will likely be back from our editor and then I’ll have to prep those for layout. Chapters 11-14 are getting a once over from Alan over the weekend, then I’ll hand those off to the editor. Though he may get chapters 20-21 first since those are already essentially done.
Mixed in with all of this is me being an art director. I’ve built a spreadsheet and identified exactly what art we still need. I’ve been exchanging emails and instructions with artists. Gorgeous art is coming in. I’m currently managing 5-7 email chains with various artists.
I check and double check everything because I want to make sure all of the pieces are in place. I want this book to be amazing enough to justify the time we’ve spent working on it. I think I can have most of the 22 chapters into layout within the next three weeks. That’s what I want. I’m pushing hard, but my brain is beginning to wear out. I hope I can do it.
My son has been drowning in the social swamp of junior high. Today he was finally able to put words to the fact that he doesn’t feel like anyone at the school is like him, that he has nothing in common with any of them. I know for a fact this is not true. That school is full of geeky boys who love video games and would be happy to be friends with my son. The trouble is that my son can’t pick them out of the overwhelming crowd. Even when he does admit that there is this one kid in his History class who he likes being around, my son’s anxiety stops him from asking “Do you like to play video games?” My son is terrified the other boy will say no. He’d rather not know that risk asking.
I sat there with my son in silence, finally recognizing the scope of the problem my son has with making friends. His anxiety makes him incapable of reaching out, asking the simple social questions that foster connections. Instead he has to wait until he’s around someone enough that they become familiar to him. Then he has to wait until there is a conversation he feels comfortable joining. Even then he often shuts down, retreats inward, is unable to speak. He needs potential friends to come to him, repeatedly, even if he retreats from them. Only they have to approach him without alarming him. All of which is really hard to expect in the social milieu of a junior high.
So I shrunk the problem smaller. What thing could we do to help my son have a conversation about video games with the one kid who might become a friend? I realized my son needs props. He needs simple conversation starters. He needs signifiers of what his interests are so that people who are also interested in those things will approach him. My son needed geeky t shirts.
I’d never before recognized the real social value of geeky clothes. They are the tool by which introverted people signal their tribe. The Zelda Triforce symbol says worlds to another Zelda fan, but probably goes unnoticed by those who don’t love Zelda. And if two folks wearing Zelda shirts meet, they already have a topic of conversation to start on. They can discuss the various Zelda games, characters in those games, which ones they like best, and on and on. From there it is easy to compare thoughts on other games, and then maybe agree to get together and play games sometime.
My son has had a smattering of geeky clothes over the years, but he’s grown a lot in the last eight months. He’s grown out of them, worn them out, or they represent things he used to love and doesn’t love as much now. He needed up-to-date clothes that represent who he is right now. He needs shirts that will make other geeks laugh. So I dropped a pile of money on t shirts today. They’re important.
I’ve been pulling 10-12 hour work days to get the Planet Mercenary editing done. Also the Pristine Seventy Maxims book shipping. And we’re prepping some new merchandise for pre-order. Then there is the homeschooling and regular parenting. And I’m expecting the Defaced Seventy Maxims books the first week of February. At a minimum, I expect this state of busy-ness to last for the next three weeks until LTUE.
Have you heard about LTUE? It is a Science Fiction and Fantasy conference with an emphasis on teaching writing and art. If your near Provo the weekend of February 16-18. Both Howard and I will be there. I’m on some interesting panels and I’ve got a presentation about picture books on Saturday.
All the cracks between the stuff in the prior two paragraphs have been filled up with thoughts and emotions about American politics and world politics. Howard and I have been married for 22 years. We’ve had more political conversations in the past six months than in all the prior years combined. My head swirls with thoughts and fears. Some of them rational, some of them less so. I’ve done a fair bit of writing about all of it, but until I’m certain of what I want to say, I hold off on saying most of it on the internet.
This I am certain of: If you are an American citizen, please be actively engaged in making sure that your representatives are representing you accurately. Pay attention to how they vote so you can be informed next election on who you want to vote for. I don’t just hope this for people who agree with my opinions, but also for those who oppose them. We need an era of civic engagement when the average person is paying attention and holding elected officials accountable.
Outside the weather is cold, gray, wet. That is not helping the moods indoors. I range from determination to anxiety as I contemplate all the tasks I must do this month in order to keep all the necessary business things moving forward at the pace required to meet deadlines. There are external factors in all of those deadlines. I already know which deadlines to let slide if I have to in order to meet more critical deadlines, but I don’t want any of them to slide. They’re there because I want things to be complete.
This week I get to ship packages containing the Pristine Seventy Maxims book. It is the first taste of completion. For some people their Kickstarter will finally be complete. Others will have to wait until next month when the Defaced Seventy Maxims books arrive. Still others will be waiting a bit longer for the full Planet Mercenary book. Fulfilling our promises to all of these people is the primary business task of the year. There are lots of moving parts to making sure that happens.
Sometimes I look at the calendar and despair because a week of the year is already gone. Other times I have to remind myself that I am only just past the first week of the year. I’m not out of time.
Along side the business priorities I have priorities related to family and community. I must set boundaries around these things. I can’t let business swamp family or community, but I can’t allow other things to disrupt business too much. This calls for a hundred judgement calls per day where I have to decide what is most important for the next fifteen minutes.
A new semester begins for two kids on Wednesday. Their schedules are being shuffled around. They can shake off the stresses of last semester and start a bit fresh. For Patch it means three homeschooled classes instead of just one. We don’t know how that is going to work quite yet. The last bits of the old semester caused quite a lot of stress last week. Unpleasantness and disruptions all around. Hopefully we can soon develop a better rhythm.
I’ve also begun my new church calling. I’ve been asked to serve as part of the compassionate service committee. This is the core of service in our congregation. It is our job to identify who needs help, whether it be meals, rides, company, resources, or anything else. Then we try to connect people with the help that they need. Sometimes it means asking others to be the helpers. Occasionally it means being a helper myself. It is important work and it fits right in with my goal to grow my heart. I would argue that helping people directly around us is essential work, particularly when the country’s political landscape is poised for upheaval. Whether the results of that upheaval will be good or bad, it is impossible to say from this vantage point, but I can guarantee that the process will create personal hardship for individuals. Change always does. So I need to be watching and helping.
And the helping will help me. With my heart not feeling quite so tight, I will be less afraid.
I could do with less cold and with longer days. January always gets to me. So I just need to hunch up and plow on through. Each day brings tasks closer to complete. Each day is an opportunity to serve. Each day the sunlight lasts a little longer. I have 22 days left in this month. I need to use them well.
I was reading a book about parenting autistic teens into a self sufficient adulthood, and in the book there was an entire section which laid out the differences between Neurotypical (normal) teenagers and autistic ones. I read the description of the motivations, drives, and behaviors of normal teenagers. They are the things I’ve seen in movies and society told me to expect. And the descriptions matched none of my four children in their teen years.
A group blog that I read had a post from a woman lamenting that her child had been taken away by a UFO and replaced with an alien teenager. She described the troubles she was having and asked “Am I the only one who feels this way?” She was answered by a dozen comments saying “me too. I’m right there with you.” Not a single thing she wrote sounded familiar to me. My teens don’t ignore me to run off with friends. They don’t assume I’m an idiot. They don’t date. In fact I have pretty much the opposite of every problem the woman listed. I have to work hard and negotiate to get them to leave the house or invite friends over.
In some things I am glad that my teenagers are not typical. They’re amazing people. They think big thoughts, say clever things, and are empathetic. It is just strange to realize that the vast majority of people around me are living an entirely different parenting experience. Or maybe they’re not the majority, because I know a lot of parents with kids more like mine than like thy mythological “typical teen.” All I can do is seek out the parents who understand my challenges and keep space from those who would judge me because they don’t understand the circumstances that drive my choices.