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On the Third Day of School

Yesterday I cleaned my desk, both the physical one covered in papers and the electronic one that was littered with files. Last week I had a vague awareness that things were messy, but I couldn’t even see the mess for what it was. Yesterday I didn’t even think about it. It was just obvious that this paper needs to go there and that file can now be thrown out. As easy as breathing I restored order, where over the summer the task would have been overwhelming. Obviously the difference has a root in the beginning of the school schedule, but it took me some thinking to figure out why. Just like putting an organizer into a junk drawer makes it easier for me to sort junk into useful categories, putting a school schedule into my week creates compartments of time and allows me to better separate out the different roles I need to manage. I always forget what it is like to have my days organized. It gets jumbled so gradually as my intended summer schedule melts under the pressure of late nights and the knowledge that since the structure is mine, I can alter it at will.

This is day three of the new schedule. My two live-at-home school kids have now been to all their classes. (Kiki has too, but I don’t expect daily reports from a college-going adult.) We’ve had first assessments of teachers and the result is 3/4 positive, 1/8 wait and see, 1/8 probably needs to be altered. That is a good mix for starting the year. Of course, day three is when getting out of bed begins being harder. My first thought this morning was “Ugh, I’m going to have to do this all year. It is going to be a long year.” Except that getting up early becomes less difficult when it becomes routine. And I do love getting to 10am with lots of work already done.

The 70 Maxims book project has developed momentum. I’ve been working hard to get it all done. The designer has done some amazing work for the cover. I’m excited to get to show it off in a few weeks. I’m also hugely relieved to have this project so close to going to the printer. Unfinished projects loom in my brain.

Drop Off and First Day

Pulling out of the driveway didn’t feel like an event, not really, not even with my daughter Kiki’s life packed into the back of the car so she could re-establish herself in her college apartment. We’ve done this before, enough times that I have to pause and think to count them. There was a subtle difference this time, I can feel that we’re nearing the end. She only has 3 semesters left to finish her degree. We’re nearing the time when her life will shift into its next phase, but not quite yet. For now, she gets to have another year with roommates and college classes.

We went out to dinner the night before departure, Kiki, Patch, and I. Patch is firmly of the opinion that there should be a trip out for sushi anytime that Kiki is at home. I sat at the table with my oldest and my youngest (the other two are less fond of sushi and Howard was out of town.) Somehow the conversation turned to school things, and Kiki began telling tales of her junior high experiences. Kiki freely confessed some of the ways in which she made life more difficult for me and for her teachers during those years. I watched Patch as he listened and absorbed the information that this adult sister of his was not-too-long-ago much less adult. I could see him recognizing that if she could be that bad and end up where she’s at now, maybe he could have good paths ahead too. Patch shared some of his stories as well. Kiki listened and laughed along with the various predicaments and adventures. I was so glad we made time for the dinner. I think it gave Patch a chance to re-frame his experiences and contextualize him. It gave him a better shot at having a good year.

The morning of the departure, Link was sad. He would have liked to ride with Kiki and I to drop her off. Link likes long car rides. Unfortunately Kiki’s belongings fill the entire back of my car. In an effort to help him feel better, we went out to breakfast. I’m not sure it worked, but the food was good. Link will be home with us this year because there are ways in which he needs to grow and learn before taking on higher education.

The drive to college was filled with conversation. You’d think that after a summer of living in the same house, we’d have used up all the ready made topics. Somehow the act of packing up the car and driving opened up new sections of thoughts in our brains. We talked about things that we haven’t really paid attention to for most of the summer. Life feels like it has a forward momentum again now that we’ve moved out of the eddy of summer. I didn’t stay long at her apartment. Other years I’ve lingered for hours because we didn’t quite want to let go. Neither she nor I needed that this time. Some of it is influenced by the fact that we’ll see each other again in only three weeks when we’re taking a big family trip together. More of it is because she’s in a good place, ready to face forward and learn new things.

That drop off was two days ago. This morning I dropped Gleek at the high school and waved to Link as he left for his bus stop. The house is quiet. I’ve been awake since 6:30 and working since 8am. I love the structure that school schedule provides to our days. Over time it begins to wear on me, but for today it is a breath of relief. I have more space in my day to really focus on the work I have to do. I don’t know why it feels that way, since my kids are old enough that they don’t really interfere with work anymore. But somehow having them in the house puts part of my brain on parenting duty, and that part can rest when they’re at school. By afternoon I’ll be checking in on the school kids and evaluating what else needs to be done today. I’ll find out how the first days went and whether we have any issues to manage. I don’t really expect any. The hard stuff doesn’t pop up until later.

Walking Into High School

I just watched my 15 year old Gleek walk into the high school building for her orientation day. There was this moment when she walked past the pep squad sent to greet all the incoming sophomores, where the bottom dropped out of my stomach because I could see all the way my daughter was visibly different from what is standard dress and behavior in our community. We live in a place with a predominant religion. In our town 80% of the students she meets will be LDS (Mormon). Since we are too, this is a little bit comforting. We have at least a baseline expectation for what priorities and values the people around us hold, even though there is a lot of individual variation in how committed people are and how they interpret doctrine. My daughter is a walking, visual variation.

The norm in our community is short hair for boys, long hair for girls, conservative dress, natural hair colors. Even the teens who aren’t Mormon tend to follow this norm. Utah is very clean cut, Orem especially so. This morning my daughter walked into the school building with bright blue hair cut into an anime style pixie cut, short in the back, long near her face. She wore flowered cargo shorts and a black hat. Her arms were adorned with sharpie marker flowers and swirls reminiscent of tattoos. Her surface defies the norms of our community. Her heart embraces our religion. She loves church, and she consciously examines its doctrines. She studies scriptures on her own. She has developed her own relationship with God which is part of how she navigates her personal challenges.

Mostly she’s gotten positive reactions from people at church. I get lots of women telling me that they love her blue hair, that she’s adorable. Thus far I haven’t heard from people who think her blue hair is a sign that she is drifting, lost, or not committed. I assume those people are out there, and I’m grateful that thus far they are keeping their judgements to themselves. What I don’t know is how her surface appearance will affect her relations with peers at school. High school always sorts itself into groups. I worry that she’ll be pushed into groups where her appearance matches rather than being able to find places where her heart matches, no matter what she looks like. She enters the school with a group of established friends who have long accepted her for who she is. I hope that continues. I hope she finds people who celebrate both her internal strength and her enthusiastic creativity. I hope she finds friends who will be there and support her on the hard days, because high school always has hard days.

There are so many things I hope and fear. Mostly I try to not let those hopes and fears leak to where she can see them. My emotions are mine, she shouldn’t have to feel the weight of them. In a few hours I’ll go pick her up and I’ll get to hear how everything went. I would love for this year to be more aligned with hopes than with fears.

Ten days to Start of School

Before GenCon we’re in the midst of summer. After GenCon, everything is propelling us toward the onset of school. This is true most years, but feels particularly true this one. I’m still wading through GenCon laundry and accounting, yet my schedule begins to fill up with school things. I filled out school forms, paid school fees, and set up appointments to meet with school counselors. I know that last one isn’t on the list for most parents. There is a part of my brain that wonders if doing it makes me helicopter-y. Except the universal response from the counselors is “Oh yes. We definitely need to meet.” School counselors are very busy people who are not shy about dodging meetings if they think the meetings aren’t necessary.

Tomorrow is the meeting for Patch. We will examine every class to determine how the teachers will affect him. Last year he had one teacher in particular who loved him very much and wanted to help, but the ways that she approached trying to help made him more anxious and shut down. We went several rounds of trying to help her help him. Ultimately we just muddled through. Sometimes it happens that way. There is a limit to the amount of change I can ask of another person in order to accommodate my kid. I can absolutely say things like “write down his assignments for him.” I can’t really say “Make sure that you aren’t projecting anxious concern when you speak to him.” It is easy to define “don’t corner him” when you’re talking about physical space in a room. But unless someone has an instinctive understanding of his internal landscape, they can emotionally corner him without even being aware they have done so. The school year will be much easier if we start by placing him in classrooms where student/teacher affinity already exists, then we can use the affinity to help education flourish instead of spending all our energy trying to create affinity.

Gleek’s school counselor is going to be more difficult to track down, which is not surprising for high school. She’s answered my emails enthusiastically and would have been happy to meet with Gleek today, except that today began with getting Gleek’s wisdom teeth removed. She’s not coherent enough to be out in public quite yet. The teeth removal was a last minute, lets-get-this-done-before-school-starts effort which was triggered by her complaining that her jaw hurt. She’s a teeny person with big beautiful teeth, so I was pretty sure that the removal of the teeth was inevitably going to be necessary. The other school preparation which was important to Gleek was refreshing her blue hair dye. I’ve been assured by two different school personnel that blue hair will not cause her disciplinary problems on campus, but until she’s been on campus for a week without problems, a little worry will linger in my head. Fortunately we already know exactly what classes Gleek has and which teachers. We tuned it carefully, but the rubber meets the road when she actually attends class.

Next week will be Kiki’s packing week. She has to decide which of her things need to be transported to her college apartment and which things can continue to live here until she returns for Christmas. She and I are both getting weary of this nomadic two-location existence. She has 3 semesters of work left, so we probably only have four relocations left to do. I’m feeling how much I’m going to miss having her around. That feeling has varied from departure to departure. This time is a bit stronger than most. Tangled up in the packing week is some frantic scrambling to help her pound a story into shape before she goes. It is getting there, but unfortunately she ends up waiting on me for feedback. Often. Because my brain is full of all the things.

Link is not headed back to school this fall. We’re entering a gap year for him. None of us feel like spending the money or stress pushing him into a college education that he isn’t emotionally ready to handle. Asynchronous development is very common for people with autism. Link is more advanced than his peers in some ways and less advanced in others. He’ll be hanging with Howard and I at the house, taking an evening class, working for me, and pursuing some personal projects. We’ll also have him doing some of the family cooking, life skills for him, dinner for us.

I would like to be super optimistic about the coming school year. I remember that beginning-of-school rush when I looked forward to all the cool things my kids were going to get to do and learn. The past four years have leached all of that out of me. Yes there have been some wonderful teachers, some beautiful moments, but they feel like flickers of light. I’m entering this year with plans already in place for adjusting schedules, pulling back from stress, and partial home schooling as needed. I’ve laid groundwork with allies, and I know who I need to talk to in order to make adjustments happen. I’m braced for emotion. I don’t know what emotions I’ll have. I don’t know when they will hit me. I just know that I’m afraid that the coming months will reveal even more hard things. I refuse to stand helpless if the school system that is designed for typical children begins to wear away at my kids. They are not typical. This is both a wonderful and difficult thing. Of course I’m also afraid that I’ll be too quick to declare “this isn’t working.” So I’m sure I’ll spin in tight stress circles trying to decide what to do.

For today, I’m working to not borrow trouble. I’m consciously recognizing that Patch is going to get to have a couple of computer classes, which have the potential to be amazing for him. Gleek is getting to take a health sciences class which will let her explore possible careers in psychology, therapy, and other medical sciences. I don’t know if she’ll ultimately move that direction, but I think she’ll find the class interesting. There are going to be good things. I need to consciously remind myself of this instead of just stewing in all my fears.

Thoughts on GenCon 2016

Conventions always contain a mix of emotions for me. Each one contains highs and lows. The fact that GenCon is by far the most expensive event of the year only amplifies some of those emotions. Some years the financial expense is offset by a large financial inflow, this year not so much. The combination of booth placement and the fact that we didn’t have very much new product meant that it wasn’t a particularly profitable year when viewed from a strict financial standpoint. We knew that going in. We’ve schooled our thoughts to think of this as a placeholder year financially. Next year we’ll have a game, the 70 maxims book, a new Schlock book, and we’ll put a lot of preparatory effort into ancillary merchandise. Next year should be really good. Yet I still had moments when I mentally ran through the math on this show and felt deeply discouraged.

The show has many important high lights. One of my favorite events every year is the crew dinner. We have a little GenCon family around our booth. It is always lovely to sit down for dinner with them and recognize how very different all our jobs are at the booth. Yet all the jobs are essential and we all are co-conspirators in making this thing possible. My attendance at the event both last year and this year have allowed me to build connections with the crew that I simply didn’t have when I was managing things at a distance.

I got to give two presentations this year, which triggered a series of emotions. Gratitude that the programming chair would trust me to deliver solid materials for two hours of his limited programming space. Then worry that what I have to offer isn’t what the writing symposium attendees would be interested in. That fear is naturally combined with anxiety that they will be interested in the topics, but disappointed with my delivery or expertise on the subjects. I’ve given enough presentations to know that once the event begins, I will fall into a flow of talking and it will all be fine.

There is a magic in giving a presentation to a receptive audience. It is far more interactive than the audience may be aware that it is. I look around the room. I see where they nod or write a note. That information feeds back into my subconscious and leads me to expand or elaborate on one point while letting go of another. My favorite moments are the ones where I say something and I see the face of an audience member change. There is electricity in that moment because I know that something I said connected with something in their mind. It happens more often in the Q&A section because people are bringing up concerns that are directly related to them. I love the part where audience asks questions. I have learned so much about my own thoughts by trying to give good answers. Sometimes a question causes a change in my head and opens up a new set of thoughts and connections. Then I get to say those new connections. This sometimes makes me look like a fount of knowledge, but really I’m just making connections between the current conversation and things that I’ve read, thought, or had conversations about before.

There were some really good thoughts that surfaced during these presentations. Those thoughts will be folded into my ongoing thinking and will inform presentations that I do in the future. The same is true of conversations which continued after we walked out of the classroom. I know that technically I’m the teacher in the situation, but I learn so much from these experiences. I learn from just sitting around and talking with other writers. I learn from not talking and listening while others talk. These interpersonal connections are a huge part of why coming to an event like this is worthwhile.

The connections with other people also feed into some of the hard emotions of the show. For every conversation where I feel connected and valued to the people in the conversational circle, there is a matching conversation where I wonder if I belong or if I’m interloping. My self doubts can eat at me during these events. I know how to short circuit those thoughts. I know how to stare at them, see them, and not let them stop me from joining in conversations. I also know that it is exceedingly unlikely that everyone is just putting up with me rather than actually wanting to be around me. Yet the more tired I become, the more plausible all of these self doubts begin to sound.

There were moments during this show when I just wanted to lay down and cry. Some of it is the self doubt. Some the mental math on finances. Some is overstimulation from being around thousands of people all the time and from my brain having to process all sorts of new input. Some is physical exhaustion caused by more walking than I’m used to, hauling heavy things, and sleeping less than is optimal. The down moments can loom large in my memory. I think this is one of the reasons that people post and tweet pictures of the shiny moments from conventions. There is a need to cement and document those good spots in memory because otherwise the good things get lost in the bleaker moments. Yet neither is a true representation of the entire experience.

High lights and happy moments are easy to gush about publicly. The lows mostly get acknowledged after they’re over. I was pondering on why I do my best to not let the low moments show on my face or in my actions. Some of it is because people are kind and they will want to fix it. They will want to do or say a thing to make it better. This is particularly true for people close to me because they’ll have an added twinge of guilt that they should have prevented the low. The thing is that the lows have far more to do with brain chemistry than with anything external. The real fix is a break to rest and reset.

One of the things I love about our booth team is that we all get this. We’re able to see the lows and call them out for each other. We send each other for breaks. And we speak reassuring words, not to try to bring someone out of a low, but just to counteract the negative thoughts that we know accompany a natural ebb in energy.

GenCon was amazing, hard, exhausting, surprising, fun, exciting, heart warming, lovely, brilliant, discouraging, important, enjoyable, and a dozen other things that slip out of my thoughts because my brain is very tired right now. Over the next week people will ask me “How was your trip?” and all of it will swirl in my brain. I have a hundred small stories about things that happened while I was gone. All of that will get summarized into a polite and brief answer of “good. I had a good trip.” Because to really dig in to how it was would take hours of sorting by talking.

For now I need to rest, and then I need to pick up the threads of life here at home. I was in the middle of many things and I must remember what they are. I’ll leave you a few pictures of the event.


Crew dinner

At the booth

GenCon Schedule and Locations

GenCon begins this Thursday, but my GenCon week has already begun. I’ve been prepping and packing since late last week. Today I’ll board a plane so that on Wednesday I can help set up our booth. We’re booth 1343. Here’s a handy map to help you find us.

If you are at GenCon, I hope you do take some time to stop by. One of the things I love about GenCon is that we have a fantastic booth crew. I seriously do not know how we would run this show without them. Because they’re amazing, I’m able to go and spend time with the GenCon Writer’s Symposium instead of being pinned to the booth.

The symposium has put me on some events and I’m excited about them. I believe the symposium space is all located inside the Westin Hotel. You can see the full schedule and info at

Thurs 10am The Business of Self Publishing. Location: Cabinet (which I assume is a conference room named cabinet rather than an actual cupboard.)

Friday 4pm Writing Author Bios. Location: Congress 1 (Again, pretty sure this is a conference room)

Saturday 5pm Structuring Life to Support Creativity. Location: Congress 1
This is a solo presentation about which I am excited and nervous.

Saturday 6pm Breaking Through Writer’s Block. Location: Congress 1
Another solo presentation right after the first one.

On those solo presentations, I’m torn between hoping that I won’t be speaking to an empty room and fear that the room will be dauntingly full of people who expect me to say articulate and useful things. Fortunately both presentations are ones that I’ve given before and they were well received. Some of my time on the flight to Indianapolis will be me refreshing and updating my notes.

This year’s GenCon will feature nine Planet Mercenary Demo games. Much of my work in the past couple of days has been to make sure our marvelous GMs have the info and tools necessary to run the games. And here is where I must sing the praises of our book designer Mike Brodu. He made beautiful character sheets for us.
GenCon Pregen-1
The games will be run at 9am, 1pm, and 6pm on Thursday, Friday, Saturday. They’ll all be located in the JW Marriott room 202. You’re welcome to wander by and see the fun. Or you can stop by the booth and come get one of the spare character sheets. We printed up extra and there is a space on the back where Howard will draw you a sketch. The sheets are labeled GenCon 2016, so they’re collectible. I’m certain we’ll run games again next year, but the sheets will be different from these.

Another reason to come by the booth is that we have lots of fun things to look at and buy. Force Multiplication will be there with the bonus story that I wrote. We’ll have copies of Hold on to Your Horses and Strength of Wild Horses. Additionally, I’ve packed some of Keliana Tayler’s limited edition prints into my bag. They’re worth seeing.

As always, we’ll be sharing our booth with Jim Zub. If you haven’t heard of SkullKickers or Wayward, you definitely need to stop by and take a look. Jim’s work is fun to read. My kids have been asking for the next installment of Wayward ever since I brought home the first treasury. While you’re wandering the dealer’s hall, stop by the Crafty Games booth. That is the convention home for Patrick Kapera who is our editor for Planet Mercenary. His work is amazing and they’ve got a new Mistborn game out which is based on the work of Brandon Sanderson.

It is going to be a very busy week. If you’re not at GenCon, but want to follow along, I recommend checking my twitter feed @SandraTayler or Howard’s twitter feed @HowardTayler We try to tweet as we can during the convention. It is possible that I’ll blog as well, but often I’ve used up all my brain by the time I can sit down to write words.

And now I must go do all the last minute things to prepare.

My week in pictures (and some words)

This last week before GenCon I had a to do list as long as my arm. I began whittling away at it on Monday morning. By afternoon I was ready to run out and get Prescription refills. Then this happened.
A semi shed giant pieces of tire across my lane and I didn’t see them until the car in front of me sent them flying at my car. No time to avoid, I drove over them. So all of Tuesday was spent talking to insurance people and the car repair shop. The good news is that I have insurance and a fairly low deductible. Unknown is whether this incident will raise my insurance rates. It is a possibility since I had an accident (my fault) only a couple of months ago. But more good news is that my local insurance agent and the car repair place conspired to give me a rental car at no charge even though my policy does not cover rental vehicles.

This is also happening in my house this week:
Home construction is not what I’d pick the week before a major convention, but that is how the schedule worked out. That nook used to be a fireplace that we never used except as a flat place to accumulate all the things which didn’t really have a place to belong. Now it will either be a game closet or the storage space for electronic devices. We’re gaining a significant amount of square footage and we like it already.

I also spent time on Tuesday preparing these. They’re the final invoices and postage for the Force Multiplication shipping.

I bought boxes for the orders to go into. They also arrived on Tuesday:

Wednesday morning I hauled two of my kids over to the warehouse and put them to work making packages.
Unfortunately the air conditioning at the warehouse is not working well, so we were hot, sweaty, and tired in short order. That’s when a truck pulled up. I’d been told “We’ll call Wednesday morning for a delivery appointment.” But they didn’t call, they just showed up. I guess it was fortunate we were spending a hot day at the warehouse.
The truck delivered these:
And these:
And these:
All of which are things we are going to need for shipping Planet Mercenary once we have the books done. Unfortunately the contract with the trucking company didn’t obligate him to wheel the pallets inside. He kindly did for the two lighter pallets. But the heavy pallet was too much to try to get over the small lip into our warehouse. Which left my son and I hefting heavy boxes in 90 degree heat. Had the company actually scheduled a delivery appointment, I’d have arranged for more lifting help. But we got it done.

Then we finished the shipping:

Today I had to scramble to assemble sheets for the Planet Mercenary games that will be run while we’re at GenCon. It was my plan to scramble something together. But when my book designer heard what I was up to, he said “would you like me to do that?” So instead of spending all day frantically attempting to lay out the sheet, I was able to spend 3/4 of the day making sure I’d collected all the relevant information and images. Then I put them into a format where the designer could plunk them into place. It took much longer than expected because I was pulling information from six different sources. I shudder to think how stressed I would have been had I also had to try to make it all attractive.
This was my first pass attempt. Note that some of the elements were borrowed from a prior design pass that my designer did. I don’t have the skill to make some of the decorative elements, but I can plunk them into place:
GenCon Char Sheet test2-1

This is my layout designer’s first pass:
GenCon Pregen-1
Seriously folks, be willing to pay money for good design. It makes all the difference.

Since my designer currently resides on the other side of the world, I was able to collect all the info while he was sleeping. Then he could work while I was sleeping. (Though I’m not actually sleeping at this moment. Hello 3am insomnia.) Tomorrow (Friday) I will collect the images and haul them to a printer.

Sprinkled throughout the week was customer support for the Writing Excuses cruise and for Schlock customers.

Thursday also contained taking my daughter shopping for the last wardrobe thing she needed in order to be a bridesmaid at a wedding on Friday. She also needed to get a painting framed because it is her gift to the couple.

Things on my list for Friday:
Pre-pay hotel room for GenCon booth staff
Write a couple of emails related to the WX cruise
Call a doctor and remind him that he was supposed to send a prescription to the pharmacy
Final odds and ends for the Force Multiplication shipping
Update some store items in the wake of Force Multiplication shipping
Take Pre Gen sheets to printer
Make reference cards related to the Planet Mercenary GenCon games
Assemble player kits for the GenCon players
Assemble GM Kits for the kind folks who will be running our games
Prepare two solo presentations that I’ll be giving at GenCon
Help Kiki sort out some plot issues with a story she is working on so that she can continue to work while I’m fully occupied at GenCon
Go over the 70 Maxims book copy edits
Work on collecting the remaining handwritten notes for 70 Maxims book
Scan the handwriting
Assemble 70 maxims pages to check layout
Begin packing for GenCon
Move things around in my family room so that the workmen can paint ceiling and walls.
Attend a wedding reception

That is more things than I can reasonably do in a single day. Fortunately some of them can roll over onto Saturday and Monday. But right now I need to go see if writing up this blog post has now convinced my brain that it does not have to hold onto every single thought. We can let go and sleep. Really.

Thoughts About Movies

Our family watches a lot of movies and TV shows. Howard sees them in the theater and reviews on his website. It is one of the ways he gets outside of his box and refreshes his brain to work again. The rest of us go to the theater far less often. Frequently we don’t see things until they hit DVD or Netflix. There are many things I don’t bother to see at all for various reasons, the main one of which is that I don’t have all the time in the world. Today I find myself thinking of some movies I’ve seen in the past few weeks.

Howard and I went to see it in the theater on the Friday it opened. We came out happy and glad we had gone. The internet is rife with reviews of this movie. Many people found triumph and identity in it. Others saw the whole thing as a travesty. I liked it. It made me laugh. In comparing my reaction walking out of this movie to they way I felt when I first saw the original, I can’t say which I enjoyed more. But my enjoyment of the original has dampened through the decades. I still love it, but it isn’t paced for the modern audience. And the love sub-plot in it makes me actively uncomfortable. So right now Ghostbusters 2016 is my favorite of the Ghostbusters movies. I do love that the female heroes get to just do stuff without having to look sexy while they do it. I also loved Hemsworth’s parody of every ditzy secretary and rom com heroine ever. As a story and a movie, it is normal/entertaining. As a deliberate upturning of tropes and challenging the norms of film roles, it is brilliant.

Schindler’s List
Before this week I had deliberately avoided seeing Schindler’s List. I knew that it was heart wrenching. I knew it was a movie composed of grief, death, and disregard for human life. All the more painful because all of it was based in historical fact. I also knew that it is an important movie to have. And it had to be made when it was, when there were still living people who had gone through the experience. Most of the Holocaust survivors are gone now. It is good that we’re that much further away from this terrible historical event. It also means that society is in danger of forgetting, of sliding into some configuration which will allow people to be dehumanized again.

Now felt like the right time for me to watch the film. I think I wanted a clear picture of where the world needs to not go again. After watching I understood why Spielberg would never allow it to be shown edited. There are times when we shouldn’t sanitize history to make it more palatable. The movie was beautifully shot and hauntingly written. I loved how human everyone was, particularly Schindler himself who never set out to be a hero. He just wanted to make a fortune and live lavishly. Only over time his heart opened more and more. He began to see the suffering and to love the people. That is the piece I want to hold tight and remember. Even when the world is at it’s worst. Even when people are being drawn en-masse into evil behaviors. There will always be a chance to transform, to open closed hearts, and to do the right thing if we are brave enough to do it.

Batman Vs Superman

After watching deep dark history, I needed to turn to lighter things. The fact that Batman Vs. Superman came off as lighter tells you much about history. I haven’t seen Man of Steel and probably won’t bother to. This meant that in the opening scenes I was just as confused and dismayed by the battle in the sky as Bruce Wayne was. I was really able to see and feel the powerlessness in the face of demi gods. It helped a lot that I went into the film with the firm idea that I wasn’t actually watching Superman, it was more Steelheart (by Brandon Sanderson). This meant that instead of being disappointed in Superman being not all that likable, I was pleasantly surprised by the moments when I liked him. I found myself thinking about the psychology of Superman as a person. People who have never been hurt are often unable to empathize with the hurts of others. This Superman is young and the consequences of his actions are just beginning to be real to him. He is beginning to see that, even with his powers, he has to make choices about who to save. That he is responsible for the outcomes of those choices.

This is definitely more of a Batman movie than a Superman movie. I liked Affleck’s Batman. I loved the pivotal moment where they stop fighting against each other and instead teamed up. I also loved the fact that each of them was so able to see the negative consequences of the other’s actions and less able to see the consequences of their own. That is so human. I loved Wonder Woman every time she was on the screen. I hope that she can keep that up in her solo movie. I’ve rarely like the extended use of dream sequences in films and that was used here. I felt like those could have been greatly shortened. The one thing that kept throwing me out of the story was the voice of that one senator. Her voice is so distinctive that every time she spoke I started seeing the mother character from Incredibles.

Pride and Prejudice (the BBC mini series with Colin Firth)
I know so many people who love this, but I’d never taken the time. However I had some manual tasks to do (related to book shipping) that didn’t really need my brain. So This kept me company while I did them. At the end of the first episode I wondered why people love it so much. It was fine, but not really drawing me in. By the end of the third episode I was truly enjoying it. By the end of the last episode, I’ll admit to wishing for a little more modernizing of the ending. I really wanted Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth to hold hands, kiss, and be less formal. Even though I know that what was portrayed is far more accurate to the book. I don’t know if I’ll be a person who watches it multiple times, but I really enjoyed seeing a romance story full off complex characters where the obstacles flowed from their personalities rather than being imposed from outside. Most conflicts with other people have more to do with misunderstanding than with villainy.

All the things in my head

Colloquially it is called “Getting up on the wrong side of the bed.” The fact that there is a colloquialism about it, shows that the experience of waking up in an unpleasant emotional state is a common and normal experience. Yet it feels to me that there is a fundamental difference between waking up a little grouchy or sad, and waking up feeling as sad as if someone you love just died. It is the difference between tripping because you misjudged the last step and falling into a pit. Yet the wrong side of the bed terminology might serve as a bridge to help those who haven’t had this experience understand those who have.

It wasn’t a pit this morning, but after two nights of insomnia, I woke into a day that just feels a little sad. I looked at my list of things to do and it felt like I’d already failed at most of it, which isn’t a great feeling to have at 8am on a Monday morning. I’m used to feeling a little overwhelmed at the tasks of the week. I’m often afraid that I will fail if I don’t get moving. But this morning I had the sense that I had already failed before I’d even attempted to do anything. Logically I knew it wasn’t true. This week has great potential for success. I just needed to get moving and do the things. Yet pushing against that feeling of failure is like walking in waist deep water with a current trying to send me in a direction I don’t want to go. It is a gentle current, one I can counter, but pushing against it is tiring. Push I did, and by afternoon things felt better.

It is possible that the morning emotion was in part due to thoughts I had yesterday. I was thinking about how I’ve written very little about the kids on my blog lately. This is not because they haven’t provided material, it is just that with teenagers it is more complicated to navigate which parts of the stories are mine to tell. Since January Gleek has become more clearly OCD. I’m not sure if that is because we’re now seeing the behaviors for what they’ve always been, or if the “volume” has been turned up on those behaviors. It is hard for me to judge because it all feels like daily life to me. Yet when I use objective measures, such as participation in girl’s camp, I have to acknowledge something is different. Last year she was able to stay all week. This year she had to come home early because being there was too hard on her and on her leaders. There are specific incidents that both Gleek and I find fascinating (Why does her brain do that?) but writing them up feels vulnerable and my first loyalty must be to my daughter not to any audience.

None of the other mental health issues have vanished either. While Patch hasn’t had a full on panic attack since school started, he hasn’t exactly been going out into the world doing adventurous things. He’s demonstrated some more self awareness than he had before, but he still locks up in a way that is like the panic attacks, but with less adrenaline. Link, Howard, and I are still working to figure out what adulthood will look like for him. Being connected to resources for autistic adults has really helped, but much of what I’m hearing is “give him extra time to develop and room to learn from the mistakes he makes.” Patience is a thing I’m tired of having to carry around all the time. Kiki’s struggles are improved and not mine to tell.

I still wrestle with my own thoughts, wondering if I am culpable in the quantities of mental health issues of my children and deciding, yet again, that genetics have a stronger influence than nurture in this case. (Family history from both sides which include: Autism, anxiety disorders, depression, bi-polar disorder, ADHD, and a host of other things.) I think about work, money, packages, and projects. I look ahead to the advent of school and to Gen Con and to the cruise at the end of September. I plan for these things. My thoughts keep circling over the same ground and it all feels like repeats. I don’t really want to blog repeats. That gets boring for me as much as anyone else. I need to do some things to break me out of my cycle of thoughts. I need to take the kids out of the house and get out myself. There are plans to do that on Wednesday. And GenCon will take me far outside my usual stomping grounds. Hopefully getting outside the box will help me shake loose some new thoughts that are interesting to write.

Loose Thoughts

This morning, while I was dropping of packages, I listened to a pair of postal employees argue over who was right and who was wrong in a recent shooting case. As I listened, the following thought occurred to me. I’m still turning it over in my head to see if it rings true.
The thought:
As a private citizen it is not my job to judge individuals (unless I’m on a jury), but it is my job to pass judgement on the systems which judge those individuals and the laws that they are judged by. It is also my job to take action if I feel the systems or laws are broken or unfair.

In traveling to and from the post office, I pass by a giant flag that waves over a grocery store parking lot. It was at half mast. Again. And I tried to remember when I last saw it at full mast. Or when it last spent an appreciable length of time at full mast. I would like to have a couple of months where no national or international tragedies send flags half way down the pole. It has all started to blur a bit, is this the left over half mast from last week, or the new one from yesterday? I don’t want to be asking that question anymore.

I recently had someone say to me that the internet is in it’s “wild west” phase. That with the advent of social media we haven’t had enough time to build social rules and laws about appropriate behavior as digital citizens of the online community. This feels true to me. It also starts me thinking about history, because social upheaval is not a new phenomenon. I wonder how societies felt as they navigated from having a mostly illiterate populace into having a mostly literate one. That changed all the rules. It shifted the balances of power. It changed the world forever. Or what about the shifts from hunting and gathering to agriculture? Again all the structures changed and it must have felt like the world was falling apart.

I’m certain that there were battles and deaths over both literacy and agriculture. There still are on smaller scales. It is always terrifying when the solutions which used to work don’t anymore. It is frightening when a person is used to having a particular capability and that capability is removed. It is frightening to see power shift into new hands, because we don’t know what those hands will do with it. Fear makes people rash in their decisions and actions.

I can only hope that since one of the hallmarks of the digital revolution is the speed at which things alter, that this will also be reflected in the speed at which we settle into social structures which are more adaptive for the post-internet era.