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Reasons I Haven’t Been Blogging as Much

This post was written four days ago. On that day I didn’t have the emotional resources to publish it. Today I can. I think the biggest difference is that the Planet Mercenary kickstarter is now closed. Even subtracting one of the list items has made that much difference. We’ll see what further difference is made when “interface with school systems and administration” is taken off my task list for the summer. For now, the words I wrote four days ago:

I am having a problem with blogging. This is may have been apparent to some who have noted that my posts have gone from almost every day to about two per week. When I do write, it is shorter and less full than what I used to write. I spent some time today listing the things which are making blogging more difficult. This is what I came up with.

1. I’m depressed. Yes, right now, this very minute. It may not be obvious in my online interactions or even during in-person interactions. I’m getting things done, filling social obligations, and going to all the places that I’m supposed to be. Only, if you look closer, I’m not. I’ve dropped out of things. I’ve canceled things. I let slide things that I would not let go if I had more focus and energy. My twelve year old has not done homework in weeks and that is squarely on my shoulders. (Yes his homework should be his job, but he’s more depressed and anxious than I am, which is part of the problem.) I keep doing the things which must be done in order to keep our family and business running. This includes doing some deliberate things to take care of me, because I recognize that if I break, everything will fall apart. But I’ve abandoned most of my creative efforts. I don’t feel like anything ME is worthwhile. I’m not writing fiction. I’m barely blogging. And every time I write anything I wonder why I even bother since none of it matters to anyone but me. Please note, I’m not saying this to ask for affirmation. I’m saying it because that train of thinking is a huge marker of depression. If you feel those things about yourself and your creativity, please consider that you might also be depressed. I hear that exact refrain from my depressed seventeen year old. And I tell him he’s wrong. He does matter. It will get better. He doesn’t believe me. He can’t. But he keeps going to please me. And I keep him moving in the hope that something we do will make a difference. And maybe if he is less depressed and if my other son is less anxious, then I might feel better. I’m having trouble believing that much of what I do makes any difference at all, but I keep doing things because logic tells me that actions make a difference. But all of that makes finding words more complicated.

2. I don’t want to be a burden. I’m aware that this miasma which surrounds my thinking is burdensome. I’m very aware that my bleakness comes out in my posts. I know that if I wrote post after post about depression, anxiety, parenting, stress, then it would be too much. People would go away. And they would have every right to do so. I don’t want to be that person who is always in crisis and who is frustrating to try to help because nothing ever gets better. And most days lately I have trouble believing it will get better. Logically I can see that things won’t be hard forever, but logic and emotions are barely on speaking terms inside my brain.

3. The Kickstarter. During the push for funding I want to be putting positive energy out in the world. I want to be expressing confidence in the project. I want to spill gratitude for the trust we’ve received. I want to share my excitement for everything we get to do. I really feel all of these things, but only in short bursts. And on any given day those emotions are hard to find in my brain. Instead my brain fills with the parts of running a Kickstarter that are hard. I am drained by the steady stream of interactions via email, Kickstarter message, Kickstarter comment, facebook comment, facebook message, twitter post, and any other internet-based communication method people can think up. People are happy about the project. They have a question. They have a request. Each person is owed a sliver of my time and attention. They are supporting our project, the very least I can do is spend a few minutes crafting a reply using my professional, competent, grateful, excited voice. Then there is the need for me to write my own excited tweets. I need to participate in spreading the word. All of this is part of my job as part of the Planet Mercenary promotional team. It is wonderful and it is exhausting. Lots of my writing has gone into email rather than blogging. I’m very aware of the dissonance if I’m attempting to put out positive energy around the Kickstarter via social media and then I’m blogging about how hard and depressing things have been inside my head. Blogging about depression derails the narrative surrounding the Kickstarter. It is bad marketing. Yet my blog should be mine. It should not be subverted into a marketing presence. I should feel free to write my thoughts. Round and round go the arguments. In the end I don’t write, because I can’t resolve the arguments before I’m too worn out.

4. Some stories aren’t mine to tell. There are a lot of emotional and therapeutic things going on inside the walls of my house. Exposing them to view might destroy some of them. Yet the various progress and regress are consuming much of my mind. I’m monitoring things, deciding what path to take, and weathering my own reactions to all of it. This takes up large portions of my problem solving and creative brain. Much of it would make fascinating blog posts, but I can’t write them now. Maybe later. And there is a distinct probability that if I can get my own depression to lift, I’ll have a clearer view of what I can and can’t write about. Yet in the meantime all these thoughts take up space in my brain like emotional clutter.

5. I don’t have enough quiet spaces. There are people in my house all the time. Most days I only have about thirty minutes between the time when my (anxious) twelve year old leaves for school and my (depressed) seventeen year old gets home. Sometimes I get an hour. For the rest of my work day I have to decide between doing something educational / therapeutic for my child or getting work done. We have at least two appointments per week, sometimes more. Lately a lot more. I’m also making appointments for myself, requiring me to get out of the house and spend time with friends. All of this chops my days into pieces. My work has to fit around all of these things. There never seems to be time to clear away all of the parent obligations and all of the business obligations at the same time. When I do manage to ignore all the other things, I dive into something restful (like watching a show) instead of something that would pull more effort and focus from me. I haven’t tried setting an appointment for creative time. I haven’t wanted to. It is hard to care enough for me to make that appointment with myself and right now I’d be unlikely to keep it.

6. I have too many jobs. Right now I’m managing customer support for The Out of Excuses Retreat, Our Schlock Store, and the Planet Mercenary kickstater. I’m supposed to be setting up the back end for the post kickstarter pledge system. I should be working on design. I’m managing mental health care for multiple children who are in various stages of meltdown. I’m interfacing with school systems and administration whose expectations need to be adjusted because of the meltdowns. I’m in the final stages of construction in my house as the carpet gets installed soon and then I can finally put all the things away. I should be doing accounting regularly and crunching numbers for things that happen post-funding. I’m teaching for my son who is working on school things from home. I also have to ship regular orders from our online store. Then there is the regular parenting tasks, enforcing bedtime, providing dinner, checking in with kids, driving to lessons, etc. Each of these tasks eats a portion of my brain space. Often I’m having to choose which thing to fail at. Having Kiki home has helped with some of this, but there is a huge backlog and things continue to accumulate daily. Every minute I’m aware of all the things I should be doing, but am not doing right at that minute. This awareness takes up the space where writing thoughts form.

The good news is that when some of these things clear up, it is very likely that writing will flow back into my life. That has happened to me before. It is the reason I’m okay with letting writing languish right now. Something has to slide, and I know that writing will wait for me. Yet the consequence of not writing is a feeling of disconnection with my writing communities and, more importantly, a sense of disconnection with myself. Disconnection aggravates depression. I haven’t found a solution for that yet.

After note: The fact that I was even able to write up this post indicates that some of the fog was beginning to clear. Me being able to post this also is a sign of clearing. I’m not going to read too much into it. I’ll take one day at a time, because contemplating more than that is not what I need to be spending my brain on right now. What I do spend my brain on is noticing that the emotional experience of my day does not necessarily match up with the facts of my day. When people say depression lies, this is what they mean. It feels like I’m doomed and nothing will ever get better, but I can clearly see that in a very short time I’m expecting changes. This is why I keep going and doing all the things. Also because in between the hard things, I get to feel flashes of the joyful things. I do feel excited for the kickstarter stuff. I see how well my fourteen year old daughter is doing. I get to enjoy my kids all playing together with my college daughter and her roommate who is visiting for a week. I am extremely grateful that the depression I feel is not a pit of despair and it does not wipe out every happiness. I’m aware that my life is a very good one. Hopefully I’ll find a way to feel that more often.

Planet Mercenary Funded

The Kickstarter closed at noon today. I was watching when it happened. How could I not watch those final seconds count down? It tipped over into Funded and there was this pause in my head. For a long few seconds I looked at the number of backers and the number of dollars. Well now I know. It was the first clear thought in the pause. I know what the budget is for all the things we must do. I know how many people to whom I am responsible for spending that money wisely. Hitting funded is a solemn and awestruck moment as much as it is a happy one.

I have so many fears going forward. I know some of the stressful things that are ahead. I know that there will be other stresses that I do not expect. It seems that every project we do has some huge and potentially disastrous problem hidden in it. Thus far we’ve always avoided the disasters, but it felt really close many times. (Some day I really should give a full account of how the Massively Parallel bonus story was rescued from a major misprint at the very last minute.) I’m also very excited for what we get to make.

So this first few days after hitting funded is a time for Howard, Alan (our partner and game designer), and I to breathe. We need to pause and reset our minds for the new tasks ahead. We need to pick up some of the tasks we let drop. I need to give my youngest child some attention as he nears the end of his last year in elementary school.

But while I’m pausing to breathe, I should use some of that breath to say thank you to all the people who backed our project. Thank you to the people who spread the word. Thank you to the people who wished us well. Because of all of you, we get to make Planet Mercenary, and it is going to be amazing.

Big New Projects

Every time I think I’ve done the most complicated shipping project I’ll ever do, Howard and I manage to come up with something new. The Planet Mercenary RPG currently has over 4300 backers. And it doesn’t close until Monday. Each individual package will be simpler to assemble than the challenge coin packages were, but there will be more of them. Fortunately I have some time to plan. Shipping won’t begin until sometime next year. Also fortunately I have a loyal crew of people whom I can ask for help, because this is going to take many shipping days to get done.

And shipping is not the first big job. We’ve got to make the books amazing first. I am excited and daunted by this project. I’m honored that so many people trust us to get it done.

My first task will be to set up the pledge manager and get all of the backers into that system. I figure that will take most of the two weeks between the close of the Kickstarter and when we receive funds. The other project for those first two weeks will be to plan work schedules and assign deadlines. We’ll start commissioning some of the art and Howard will work on building the buffer. This is going to be a busy year and I’m excited to get started.

Dark and Bright

Is it the end of the school year yet? No. Two and a half long weeks remain. It feels like an endurance slog. Which is strange since in theory we’ve reached the part of the year where things are becoming complete. Yet Patch has melted into a big pile of stress instead of gaining energy as we near the end. It is the opposite of what I’d hoped for in the month of May. The quantity of things that I am behind on, and the quantity of extra tasks that get dumped on me at a moments notice are enough to crush me. I can hardly believe we’re only on Tuesday. So much has been crammed into the hours since Sunday morning.

Yet things are bright as well. Kiki is home, following me around and taking jobs away from me to do them herself. The weather has been lovely. My front flowerbeds are so beautiful that my neighbors have thanked me for the beauty they enjoy seeing when they come home. (I credit the flowerbeds to the hours Kiki and I put in last year. We will also not mention the beds around the trees which are mostly waist high grass.) The Kickstarter will close in less than a week and it has done very well. We’re going to have the resources we need to make lots of very cool stuff. I’m going to get to go to GenCon with Howard in July and I’m very much looking forward to that trip.

I have to remember the bright things because some of the hard stuff has nearly overwhelmed me in the past weeks. It is hard for me to find a hopeful perspective. At some point I need to write a post about how parenting depression is different from being married to it. I don’t have the energy for that post right now. Not on four hours of sleep and the careful management that will be necessary to land my kids in bed without any further emotional upheavals today.

Designing the Planet Mercenary RPG Book

Designing books is an art. The presentation of the physical book must be pleasing and enhance the transfer of information from page to reader. For some types of books, such as novels, this is fairly straightforward. Put the words on the page, pick a good font, add a few graphic elements, copy edit, double check for widows, orphans, and rivers. (Note: Straightforward is not the same as easy.) Other books, such as textbooks are a bit more complicated. They include more graphics and a need for extensive indexing. A good RPG book, like Planet Mercenary intends to be, presents a real design challenge as it needs to incorporate elements that are similar to novels and elements that are similar to textbooks.

In facing this challenge I found it helpful to list out my design goals. There are four.

1. It needs to be a useful instruction manual for people learning how to play the game.

2. It needs to be a reference book filled with easy-to-find information for people who are playing the game.

3. It should be fun to read and have a narrative flow from beginning to end so that people who don’t really want to play, but want to know more about the Schlockiverse, can enjoy it.

4. It must be visually attractive on every page.

To show how I’m attempting to meet these design goals, I share with you the following page spread. It is a work in progress and will likely change before we got to print, but it allows me to show what I’m reaching for.
Web Sample

Instruction Manual
This spread is from one of the heavily instructional sections of the book. The pages before it explained how to go about creating characters. These pages are designed to give a player enough information so they can choose which type of sophont they want to be in the game. There is text about the advantages and disadvantages each sophont brings to the table. There are stats so players can do quick comparisons. Design wise, I’ve turned the stat information into easily recognizable blocks. All of the instructional information has to be carefully planned so that we’re answering questions in the order they come up, or we’re indicating that the question will be answered. It is very important that a learning player not feel confused.

Reference Book
Note that the outside edges of the page are clearly labeled with the section of the book. There is also color on the edge graphic. Each section of the book will have a different color and texture. This means that players can look at the edge of the pages and quickly find a section they are searching for. Chapters will be clearly labeled on the upper corners of the pages. The page numbers are on the bottom corner to make finding a specific page is easier. The primary point of the narrow outside column on the page is to be useful reference. There will be page numbers for additional information, definitions of terms, and other reference type material. The book will also have an extensive index, which will be a giant task all by itself.

Fun to Read
This is a tricky piece to fit into a book whose primary purpose is instructional and reference. Fortunately the source material has humor built into it. Also working in our favor is the concept that this book was created by a company inside the Schlockiverse as a way to trick low level military personnel into learning important information. This is the origin of the CEO comments that also show up in the reference column. Those CEO comments will form a story of sorts, starting with the belief that the comments would be removed before the book went to print. (They weren’t, which is why we get to read them.) Much of the world information will be told with the same humor as can be found in the footnotes under Schlock Mercenary comics.

Attractive
Most of the attractiveness of this book will come from the art that is contracted to fill its pages. My design job will be to make sure that the pages are organized in ways that display the art to advantage. I need to pick fonts and elements that work well together. Since the art for each page will be different, I will have to arrange the words and images on each page individually. Sometimes we’ll have to re-write text so that everything fits and no information is skipped. This is a long and tedious process which requires a rough layout so we know what art to commission and then everything has to be adjusted for the art we receive.

The animated gif below gives you an idea of how things shift around during the design process. Images change, text gets nudged. The shift at the end shows when we decided to swap the pages because the Fobott’r art looked better on the left. There are probably three times as many iterations between where the page is now and where it will be when the book goes to print. I can already see half a dozen things I want to nudge and make better.

Page-Spread-gif

This is such a big project. I’m really excited to be working on it.

Medication is Complicated

It was a routine trip to the pharmacy. I had seven prescriptions to pick up. That right there says something. Somehow a seven prescription pharmacy trip has become “routine.” Three of them had been called in over the phone. Four required me to hand signed pieces of paper to the pharmacy staff. I understand the reasoning behind requiring paper with signatures, yet the need for it adds layers of complication to my life. Any time the prescription needs a refill, I have to call the doctor’s office and either physically go get a piece of paper or plan ahead to allow time for them to mail the paper to me. Add in the fact that the insurance companies keep track of when they last filled the prescription and they won’t fill early, so there is a window of only a few days during which I’m allowed to refill a prescription before we run out. I always try to hit the early end of this window because sometimes the pharmacy doesn’t have the pills on hand and they have to be ordered in. Tracking all of this has become routine. I’d done the math, calculated the windows of time, and taken myself down to the pharmacy to pick things up.

Then the pharmacy register rang up at $500 instead of the $35 I was expecting.

When I picked a healthcare plan last November, I paid close attention to the prescription copays. I picked a plan with $5 copays for their Tier 1 medicines. Tier 2 costs $35 and Tier 3 is $175. It is a system designed to encourage people to switch to the Tier 1 medicines. I don’t really know all the reasons that medicines get assigned to various Tiers. We had some stress in January because my kids had to be switched to a different form of their medicine because capsules were Tier 3, but caplets were Tier 1. Then we had to get special permission for Howard to be on the same medicine because anyone over the age of 18 needs a doctor’s approval, but under that age the insurance company doesn’t require preauthorization. So we jumped through hoops, and settled everyone onto their medicines. And all was well for a couple of months. I was relieved each time I picked up a prescription and it cost only $5. We’d paid much more than that in years past and it had been a financial burden on our family.

“That price can’t be right.” I said.
“You can call your insurance company” the pharmacist said. So I stepped over to a bench and called the customer support number on the back of my insurance card. It was a long phone call with multiple waits on hold while I watched my frozen groceries in my cart slowly thawing.

The systems around health insurance are arcane and complicated. I have to make far too many phone calls because automated systems aren’t as automated as they should be. Yet any time I’ve talked to an actual person on the phone, both for my insurance company and for the government healthcare marketplace, they have been very kind and helpful. The pharmacists are helpful. I end up with this sense that we’re all tangled up together in some weird bureaucracy where the key focus is not on best treatment, but on appeasing the computer system so that treatment can be extracted.

The customer support lady looked up the pharmacy order and found that I’d been billed at a Tier 3 rate. She looked up the medicines and they were all listed as Tier 1. Then she looked at another place and they were listed at Tier 3. Ultimately she had to put in a support ticket to…somebody… to figure out which Tier is accurate. There might have been a change in the formulary listing for these medicines or maybe it was just a mistake. She says she’ll call me back once she hears back. I have her name and number, because I fully expect that in a day or two I’ll have to call her because she hasn’t yet called me.

In the meantime my kids are taking medicine once per day and we’re running out of pills. It may be that the insurance company has changed these meds to Tier 3, which would mean that I have to research and figure out which medicines are comparable and are Tier 1. Then I have to call their doctor and discuss a med change with him, discussing the options and what possible consequences there might be from switching medicines. Then I would either have to drive to Salt Lake City (2 hours round trip) or wait two days for the prescriptions to be mailed to me. After which I then have to make another trip to the pharmacy (40 minutes round trip).

Just today my “routine” trip to the pharmacy cost me 2 hours and significant emotional distress. And I still don’t know how much more time it is going to cost.

So when people accuse parents of putting kids on meds for the parents’ convenience, excuse me if I laugh out loud in derision. There is nothing convenient about this. I would dearly love to be able to skip it all. I wish that willpower, diet, and exercise had worked for us. That would have been lovely. I track and manage all of this medical mess only because I can see that the medicines make a positive difference in the lives of my family. As an ancillary effect, my life is better too, for which I’m grateful. But better is not the same as easy and it definitely isn’t the same as convenient. The minute my family members don’t need medicine anymore I will ditch the stress and expense. I think that some of them will reach that. I suspect that others will need medicine for most of their lives. For this week, I’ll be tracking remaining medicine, waiting for phone calls, and making phone calls. Again.

UPDATE: The insurance company called me back the next day. It was a glitch in their system. The pharmacy re-ran the prescriptions and they came up at the correct $5 rate.

The End of the Day

I’m at the end of a day where I can look around my house and see that it is more organized than it was when the day began. The same is true for my email and my task list. I like being at the end of that sort of day. I particularly like it when we also took the entire family out to go see Avengers: Age of Ultron. We frequently have trouble finding an activity that appeals to everyone, but this movie fit the bill. Everyone had a good time and we all came home happy. All that remains is to remind the kids that we still have school in the morning. None of us wants to remember that. We’re all very ready to have summer. This feeling is amplified by having Kiki home from college. Four weeks left. We should be able to make it through.

For now, I need to go to bed so that tomorrow can be another day where things are more organized at the end of it.

April Photo a Day Part 5

I had fun doing the photo a day list during April. I only missed one day. I won’t be continuing to post photos to twitter every day, but I will be posting them sometimes when there is a thing in the world that I think is pretty or interesting.

A Favorite Place (reading with a kitty)
A Favorite Place

Flower
Flower

Landscape
Landscape

And these last two are from May.
Moon
Moon

Yellow Ladybug
Yellow ladybug
I walked past this ladybug a little bit later and realized that I’d caught it just after it emerged from metamorphosis. It was sitting there letting it’s wings dry. When I cam by again it was more orange and spots had begun to develop. So I guess new ladybugs are like Polaroid pictures. It takes a while for the colors to settle into what they’re actually going to be.

Ten Miles is a Long Walk

I was anxious before the hike began. The entire church group planned to walk ten miles in preparation for the Pioneer Trek we’ll be taking in July. The trail was a fairly flat bike path, but ten miles is still a long way to walk for people who aren’t used to walking very much. I worried that one or more of my children would, at some point, sit down on the trail and declare they couldn’t go any further. I worried that there would be blisters and pain. I worried that if one of the kids had to be rescued part way by a vehicle, then that kid would refuse to go on Trek at all. But we needed to know what ten miles of walking would do to us, because if we did need to be rescued, perhaps the trek was inadvisable.

We were all good until mile eight. That was when Howard’s legs began aching in new and interesting ways. It was also when Link slowed down and began to limp. By the end he was hobbling along and wincing, but he continued. He did not stop. He did not give up. And we made it to the end.

The remainder of the day was spent sitting on cushy pieces of furniture and wincing any time we had to move. Yet I can tell that all we suffer from is some sore muscles. We’ll be better fairly quickly. There were a few small blisters, but we can attend to those. We all did ten miles with very little advance training. If we do more walking in the two months between now and the trek, we’ll be fine.

Counting

We’ve gotten to the time of year where I’m counting down days. Less than one day until I fetch Kiki from college. Two days until we have a family excursion in preparation for Pioneer Trek. Five days until my son is supposed to have a big history fair project ready for presentations. Eighteen days until the Kickstarter closes and we switch into creation mode. Nineteen days until the new carpet is installed. Four weeks until school is over for the year and we switch into summer mode, which will also include school, because Link needs to make up credits. There are other things to count toward, but these are the ones that I keep counting even when I try not to. I don’t really want to count these things. I want to be content in the days as they come to me, but getting closer to these landmarks feels like progress.

The good news is that I’m beginning to be able to put my house back in order. The room shifting is mostly accomplished. Now I just need to sort through the displaced items and find them new homes. Or get rid of them. I like getting rid of things. It means I won’t have to clean them up or store them ever again. Having Kiki at home will help with this.

In the meantime I’ll just keep putting on foot in front of the other. If I keep doing that, then eventually I’ll end up somewhere else. I could do with a “somewhere else” that has more routine and fewer mental health issues to manage. Last week I counted the hours I spent on mental health stuff. Fifteen hours. That’s a part time job that I’d love to be able to ditch because everyone was doing better. The good news is that we’ve finished jumping through hoops and having application meetings. Going forward we’ll just be having the appointments which are actually supposed to help instead of the ones which determine what sorts of help we qualify for. I have lots of thoughts on all of this, but I’ve had trouble sorting them into anything coherent. Hopefully that will come back as I put more things in order around here.