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Calendars, Jumbled Thoughts, Journeys and Growth

Lately I’m spending a lot of time looking at my calendar. In theory I’m doing this to plan for the days ahead and to keep myself on track. That part is necessary, because I’m prone to distraction lately and I need my external reminders for what I hope to accomplish each day. But there is also something else that is driving this staring-at-the-calendar behavior. I’ve had trouble putting my finger on it, but it feels a little bit like waiting. It’s almost as if there is a coming deadline after which my life will clear of the minutia and leave me space for long and slow thoughts. I miss my long slow thoughts, the unrolling of words in my head. Everything feels jumbled up there and I’m not sure how to unjumble it.

This is one of the things I hope for from my trip to Chicago. I hope to get far enough outside my usual context that I can see clearly all the things I’ve been in the midst of doing.

I am fortunate to live in a network of friendships. I attend a church where the members are my neighbors. Most of us have lived here for many years. Many of the women here are kindred spirits, yet I often forget to talk to them. I forget to look outside the walls of my own house. When I do, my head is so full of unspoken thoughts that I’m a little afraid to start talking for fear that my avalanche of words will overwhelm my listener. So, I parcel things out. I talk of parenting to one friend. I talk of business to another. I talk writing with a third. There is some mixture in what I say, because it is hard for me to talk about any of these things without mentioning the others. Then when I’ve been talking for a while, my friend will say something like “Wow, you’ve got a lot going on.” These are affirming words. I need to hear them, because sometimes I wonder if I’m just being weak or silly when I’m being buried in the stress of my life. Surely I could have planned it better and not needed to dump on my friend. Then there is the other quiet thought in my head, the one that knows it is time for me to change the subject. Because I’ve only told part of my stories and my friend already thinks I have too much going on.

Used to know a family who always lived in emotional crisis. They were always fighting or recovering from fighting. They feuded with neighbors. They created drama everywhere they went. I would sit and talk with the mother of this family, trying to help her find peace and calmness for her household. Yet, without fail, any time peace began to be established, they would do something to create a new crisis. The family didn’t know how to exist without it. Crisis was familiar. Peace was uncomfortable and strange to them. I lost touch with this family long ago, but I expect they are still careening along, colliding with the world and being angry about it.

When I view my life and the endless stream of things I am managing, grieving, afraid of, or depressed about, I sometimes wonder if I am doing the same thing. Do I live in stress like a fish in water, so that if I’m ever at risk of emerging, I do something to plunge back in? I hope not. I want to believe that I’m helping my loved ones traverse a difficult but necessary passage. I want to believe that I am experiencing a period of stress and recalibration.

“Don’t worry Mom. It’s all going to be fine.” Link says these words to me often. Usually when I’m pushing at him to accomplish something because I am afraid of the future that I have pictured. I try to believe him and I try to stop pushing. My conversations with Link have changed in the past year. They work best when I manage to listen to Link instead of the clock ticking in my head. It is the ticking which tells me I’m running out of time to teach him the things he needs to know. As if I will have used up all my chances to teach on the dawn of his eighteenth birthday. Link says he feels like a seed, small and protected now, but ready to grow into something big and amazing. I believe that too (when the clock isn’t in my way.) I see the potential that is in him. Yet I am a gardener and I know that not all seeds reach their potential. Link is amazing, more amazing than he believes, and I want him to fulfill his desire to go out and make the world a better place.

My thoughts of seeds and gardening send me wandering out to my front flower beds, where I have pansies in bloom. We’ve had a strange, warm winter here in Utah. Most days are forty or fifty degrees. My pansies are little troopers, putting out bloom after bloom, even when the nights drop below freezing sometimes. I’m grateful for the bright color as I walk up to the house. It fools me into feeling like we’re in March, not February. March is when winter recedes and spring begins to make its presence known.

Perhaps that’s why I keep looking at the calendar. I’m waiting for spring to come, not just outside, but inside my heart. I’m waiting to see signs that the Link seed will sprout and grow. Or for green growth inside me. I am not so foolish as to think that my son is the only one with learning to do. On the calendar I look back to see how long ago we arranged for good growing conditions. I look ahead wondering when I can hope to see green. And I hope for hospitable growing weather. I have to believe it will come.

Failing to Write Despite My Best Intentions

I had a lovely post planned yesterday. It’s half written. But then Patch needed an x-ray for his hand because it was getting more swollen and painful not better. That chewed up three hours of day. The verdict was a tiny fracture in a tiny hand bone and the treatment is a giant splint with a bandage that covers his entire hand and forearm. The injury means he can’t play cello for three weeks. This required communicating with his cello teacher. Kiki has been overwhelmed at school and needed emotional support. (She dropped two classes and cleared the air with roommates, life is better.) Link and I are still finding balance with the new schooling format, and unfortunately we’ve also still got some clean up to do from last semester. Math classes march onward even when students are too overwhelmed to pay attention. Gleek has been facing more homework than usual and she still has her history fair project looming. This required a quick meeting with one of her teachers.

It seems like this is the story of my work days. Many of them are impacted by appointments or meetings as I work with various schools to make sure that my kids are getting the things that they need. Other days are drained of energy as I continue to work on processing the emotional load that accompanies all the various adjustments that we’ve been making. This leaves me with slivers of days where I can lose myself in work. I frequently feel that I’m failing at all of it: the parenting, the work, being creative.

Yet things are better than they were, for which I’m very grateful.

I’m pondering all of this and turning over ideas for my LTUE presentation on Breaking Through the Blockages. Obviously I’m not going to be able to hold myself up as a shining example of a person who gets writing done no matter what. I don’t. Instead I’ll have to dig in and discuss the various reasons I sometimes fail to write and what I do to counter those reasons. It rarely has to do with lack of time. I’m also pondering what prevented me this week and how I’ll make next week different. I’ll start by not letting any of my kids break their bones. We’ve had enough of that for a while.

Oh the Places I’ll Go

First up, I need to clarify that I will not be at FanX in SLC later this week. The last couple of years Howard and I went all-in for Salt Lake Comic Con and FanX. We learned a lot and hope to participate in future versions of these events. Unfortunately for 2015, by the time the dates for FanX and SLCC had been announced, we already had conflicting events on our schedule. We opted out for this year. I must admit that this week I’m very glad that I get to have a normal work week instead of tooling up for a massive convention. Having a major event in January would break my brain I think.

In two weeks I’ll be taking a trip to Chicago, because sometimes I should just go visit my friends even when there isn’t a convention involved.

I will be at LTUE in three weeks. I’m very excited about this. We’ll be fetching Kiki from college, so she’ll be at the event as well. They’ve given her a solid amount of programming, which makes me glad. The remaining Tayler kids are likely to sit the show out at home. Though Patch really enjoyed his day at Salt Lake Comic Con last fall and so he may want to come for a day at LTUE. We’ll see.

For further information regarding my whereabouts in 2015, you can check my newly updated schedule.

January: Wrapping up and Moving Forward

I woke up this week. Not literally. It’s not like I spent the first three weeks of January (and November and December) sleeping all the time. I was awake far more hours than not. Yet this week feels like waking up. It is like remembering what well-rested feels like because the baby began sleeping through the night. That analogy is actually fairly apropos. Because this week I was not called over to a school to manage an emotional crisis. Not once. Which is a startling difference from the last few months when the vast majority of my work days were interrupted.

January is always a strange month. The beginning of it is often buried in tasks that are required to tie off the loose ends from the year before. I always have piles of accounting work to do. This year I also had many meetings, doctor’s appointments, and arrangements relating to my son’s new schooling format. Additionally, we had new health insurance. We’ve had the same insurance plan for a decade, so I had to wrap my head around the coverages and costs. The process has made me realize how very bad our old plan was. For the first time we have help covering all the mental health care that we’ve been paying out of pocket. So the news was mostly good, but I couldn’t be sure it would be until I started using the plan. January also needs to launch the new year’s efforts. This means that I have to wrap my head around the project list and start moving toward new goals. I used to be able to do all the transitioning in the first week of the year, leaving the rest of January for a mid-winter project. This year was more complicated. There were lots of loose ends. There are also lots of projects to launch.

At least now I’m finally rolling on new and exciting efforts. LTUE is only three weeks away. They’ve posted their schedule and I’m excited for the topics I’ll get to discuss. Before that I get to go on a personal trip to visit a friend, which I’ll very much enjoy. I’ve finally contacted a cover designer to get better covers for the Cobble Stones books. I’ve been etching glassware to see if I can find a process that is feasible to produce product for Schlock customers. We’ve also been having Schlock RPG meetings for the big project we’ll be launching later this year. The one thing I haven’t done enough of this week was working on actual writing. Some weeks are like that, but I really need to get back to it, particularly since my solo presentation at LTUE will be about breaking through writing blockages.

It has been a good week. I’d like to have another one like it.

Wistful and Grateful

I wish that I had the spare energy to dive into my son’s science fair project and exploit it’s educational value. I long for the patience to encourage him to do every step himself. I want him to learn about putting together a complex undertaking and to feel accomplished when it is done. Instead the project lands in a time when I don’t have that energy to spare. The project will get done, but it will not be the educational experience it could have been if I had more to spare.

Ditto my daughter’s history fair project which has a similarly grandiose intention, and which falls on the same week as my son’s science fair project.

I’m grateful that my kids have schools and teachers who offer them amazing opportunities to learn. I wish that we didn’t have to turn down so many. But there is no way that we can do science fair, and history fair, and spelling bee, and geography bee, and knowledge bowl, and after school robotics class, and orchestra, and, and, and… We have to choose. I wish there were some way to transport a portion of these opportunities to other children who have slim pickings in the opportunity department.

I feel guilty for complaining about abundance, even though I know that abundance can cause as many problems as scarcity. I particularly wish this on civil rights day when I think about the words of Martin Luther King, think about how far we’ve come as a society, and how much better we could be than we currently are.

I’m grateful for the people in the past who helped forge the world I live in. I’m grateful for my friends now who are willing to put themselves in the line of fire to forge a better world for my children. I hope that I can be one of them as I’m needed. This is a day for wishes and gratitude.

Sun Rise

I had to get up far too early for a Saturday morning, but at least the sky was pretty.
Sun Rise

Educational Off-Roading

There are things I don’t realize I hope for until the moment when I realize they won’t happen. In that moment I am smacked with sadness just as I have to figure out how to readjust my expectations. It was somewhere in November or December that I realized Link’s high school education was going to veer sharply from the standard path. He needed it to. I needed it to. Yet I still had to find that part of myself which had expected “normal” and make it let go.

The new plan is a partial home schooling arrangement. Link does most of his coursework through online packets. Most of the time he does that work in the computer lab at school. Sometimes he does that work at home. He still has a few regular classes on campus. I’m functioning as the enabler, assistant, and aide. I don’t make the curriculum, but I assist him in understanding what he is expected to do. Link loves this new format for school. For the first time he isn’t constantly overwhelmed by noisy classrooms where the coursework goes so slowly that he tunes out and misses important assignment details. He doesn’t get surprised by assignments being due when he didn’t even know he had one. He doesn’t have to fret over knowing he has an assignment, but not being sure how it is supposed to be done. All of the instructions are right there in front of him, patiently waiting for him to absorb them and do the work.

I can see how this arrangement is going to be good for him educationally. We’ve spent years adapting his school work to allow him to keep up in a regular classroom. Now he has to struggle with types of assignments that he’s never done before. But instead of simply failing an assignment and rushing onward because the class can’t stop for him, he will be required to re-do assignments until he has learned the necessary skills to move onward. In the areas where the assignments are easy for him, he doesn’t have to sit around and wait for other students to catch up. For a student like Link, who has some significant learning disabilities that impact some of his educational capabilities, this is brilliant. Especially since Link also has some off-the-chart educational advantages in other areas.

It seems like a perfect plan, but I’ve spent quite a lot of time being afraid that it won’t work. I fear that it will cause as many problems as it solves. In this plan Link has to sit for hours in a room mostly by himself. He has to keep himself working. He’ll have to work longer and harder hours than he has been used to doing. Unlike regular classrooms, those hours will all be focused thinking. Some of the skills he’ll have to learn are how to run the necessary software and format assignments for himself. There won’t be a teacher there tap-dancing and trying to keep him engaged. Instead it is just Link, the material, and Link’s own motivation. It is very possible that Link will not step up. That he won’t work at a rate sufficient to keep him on track for graduation next year.

This is one of those hidden hopes which I have had to acknowledge: I really want my son to graduate with his class. Ultimately the decision to do so is up to Link. I’ve done everything in my power to turn that goal from impossible to possible. Now he has to do the work to make it happen. It has been important for me to see that graduation goal. Even more important is for me to consciously recognize that I may have to sacrifice the graduation goal in service of a much more important goal: preparing Link to be a self-sufficient adult.

This is one of the other potential drawbacks of this plan, social isolation. In order for Link to be ready for adulthood, he needs to interact with other people. He needs to learn how to socialize and make friends in ways that he hasn’t yet learned how to do. He needs to figure out how to communicate his needs and how to listen to the needs of others. Sitting in a room by himself does not help him accomplish any of the important social learning which happens in high school. We’re going to have to figure out other ways to make sure he learns those things. That will mean more work for us as parents. This whole plan is a lot more work for me than the standard educational route. On the other hand, I’d much rather do this work than what I have been doing in the past few months. I was constantly manageing emotional crises as Link began to despair and consider himself a failure in all things. This new educational approach means that for the first time in years, Link can picture himself succeeding. We are both very aware how fortunate we are that the administration at his school is willing and able to support this plan. There are other schools in our school district who would not do the same.

We are now at the end of the first week and we have mixed results. Link loves it, but we’ve been confused by assignments frequently. I had to purchase and install Microsoft Office to make sure we had the same tools at home that Link has at school. We’ve spent lots of time just figuring out how to find necessary information, how to take the tests, how to submit assignments. And at the end of this first week, Link had a moment of despair because he could see that the work was all going too slowly. He thought he would fail at this too. I told him it is too early to tell if this will work. We need to keep going, ironing out the wrinkles, giving this our best try. So we’ll keep rolling along bumping our way over weeds and gullies as we travel parallel to the standard path.

Depression and Emotional Depletion in the Past Few Months

What follows is the story of my last few months. It is not my favorite story, because they’ve been hard months. I was depressed and grieving, so was my husband. Mostly because our son was struggling. The other kids weren’t having happy, sunny times either. That is common in families. Everyone affects everyone else. I’m not giving many specific details of the causes of the struggles, because some of the bits aren’t entirely mine to tell. I may figure out how to tell other bits at a future date. I wanted to skip this story entirely, just move onward, blog other things. But this story appears to be sitting in the middle of my blogging brain so that I am required to tell it first before I have space to think and write other stories. I also think it is a somewhat useful corollary to my Married to Depression post. That part where I said that people with depressed loved ones are at risk for depression? It came true for me big time in the past several months.

In November and December I was overwhelmed, stressed, sad, depleted. It was as if all of my ability to care about things had been siphoned out of me and poured into the black holes of need that were my children. They were going through some emotionally challenging things. So was I. Some of those challenges resulted in automated messages from the school notifying me of things.
Your son missed some classes today.
Your son has been absent from this class so often, he will not get credit unless he does some make up hours.
Please talk to your child about his poor choices.

Each notification told me something I already knew. Each poked me—hard— in a place where things hurt. Choice didn’t have much to do with the things my son was struggling to manage, and I felt completely powerless to change the downward spiral. I’d already done all the logical things, adjusted his schedule, gotten medical appointments, signed him up for therapy. None of it had had enough time to work yet. I had to wait, and hope. And get emails and phone calls that reminded me how bad things had become. The emails from teachers were both better, and worse. Automated messages I could delete. People needed answers. So I emailed back, explained, negotiated. There was so much negotiation and decision making.

All of this was occurring right across the busiest part of the holiday season. Customers needed their packages. Some of them where quite stressed that those packages had not yet arrived. I’d made mistakes while packing some orders, so replacements had to be sent. My inbox filled with small tasks, things to which I owed attention. My house was full of small tasks too. There were presents to be wrapped, events to be planned, gifts to purchase. I pared it down to a minimum, but we all suffer when routine house tasks go undone for long periods of time. They were things I usually accomplish without effort or thought. It had never occurred to any of us to share around these tasks, until we realized that I’d become a failure point for many things. When I am exerting all my strength to keep everything together, it is very difficult for me to let tasks go. It feels as If loosening my grip, even for one little thing, will cause everything to fall apart.

And then there was my online life, the social media existence which provides important contacts with friends and is a critical vehicle for our business. Yet every tweet, every post, demanded a sliver of my attention. Each re-tweet asked me to care about the link, or event, or joke. There were hundreds of tweets and posts per day. Hundreds of slivers of caring that taxed my already depleted heart. So just before Christmas, I shut it off. I closed my social media tabs and apps, then did not open them again for more than a week. Business things also slowed down during that week. The hurting places in my heart still wept, but I could finally begin to identify where all the pain was coming from. I spent that space listening to my own thoughts and being with the people in my house. It wasn’t peaceful inside my head, but I could tell that it was a path toward healing rather than further depletion.

I did peek at social media twice during my self-enforced exile. Both times I read a single post and knew that reading more would ask for emotion that I didn’t have to spare. It made me realize that while social media is a blessing when I’m in a place of emotional abundance, when I’m depleted, social media drains me further and I’m better off if I step away for a while. In abundance I have extra thoughts burbling around in my head, I can release them and let them go. When I am interested and ready to have my head filled with new thoughts, the links and comments of my friends can guide me to new places. The key is to recognize my state of being and to adjust accordingly.

I viewed the onset of the new year with caution, because the largest causes of my emotional depletion were still unresolved. I’m aware that the depletion has as much to do with how I’m thinking and managing the things than with the existence of the things. In fact, I had a clear inspiration on that topic once the inside of my head was quiet enough to hear it. The inspired thought was this: I have to find ways to feel happy in my life even if my loved ones are never okay. That’s hard. Really hard. It requires a significant rearrangement of my thinking. It is going to take time and emotional space to sort it all. I’m working on that. I’m fighting my way through the enshrouding emotions and depression. Several times in the week following my break I found my way to where I felt happy. Each time some small event tipped me back into emotional depletion. It didn’t take much. I had so many fears and pockets of grief floating around in my brain. They got bumped all the time, and it hurt in the same way that bumping raw skin hurts.

The good news is that my loved ones are almost certainly going to find their way into better places. They have already begun and this week I’ve seen my son come home from school happy two days in a row. It made me cry, because I realized how long it has been since that happened. Also because I know that two days is not enough to qualify as a pattern. It is a window into how things could be, but definitely have not been lately. I have no illusions that it is all smooth sailing ahead. In fact part of me remains emotionally braced for the opposite. Plans falling apart feels far more normal right now. I can’t control all of the things which affect my life, but I can work on managing my own emotions, fully grieving for things and letting them go so that they’ll stop putting me off balance constantly. I need to react to each thing that happens only as a thing to handle, instead of bringing to it a huge load of emotional baggage. That is where over-reactions come from. I’ve done a lot of over-reacting in the past months.

On New Year’s Day I felt very reluctant to face the coming year. Today I can see ahead to good things that are coming. I’m still attempting to not impose expectation on the year. It will be whatever it is. But I think it will be a better place for me than the past few months have been.

Puzzling it Out

photo (2)

We’ve been working on a jigsaw puzzle in our family room and we’ve reached the stage where all that is left is different textures of tree bark. I stood over that puzzle and felt completely discouraged. I tried one little piece then another. I looked at shapes. I switched to looking at textures. I moved pieces around, sorting them in different ways. Every so often I found the right place for a piece, but mostly I stared and accomplished very little. Then suddenly something clicked in my brain. This piece goes there and that one there. Piece after piece things fell into place. I hardly had to search at all. I just grabbed things as if I’d already known where they were. An entire section, that little side tree, came together in under five minutes. It was fun. Then I found myself back at the staring part, waiting and hoping for another click.

Right now there are parts of my life that feel impossible. I’ve stared at them and stressed about them endlessly. I’ve shuffled them around this way and that way. The bits are so scattered and so many, that I have a hard time believing that they will all fit into the available space. I have to hope that somewhere ahead of me there is a click where pieces will fall into place. I have to hope that at some future point all these frustrating fragments will come together into an attractive picture. I also have to remember that all the staring and sorting pieces, which feels fruitless, is actually what makes the click possible. All that time when I thought I was gaining nothing, a part of my brain was cataloging pieces. When my brain clicked, fitting things together became effortless. I could really use some effortless, because staring at this mess is very discouraging.

Winding Down the Holiday

The Christmas Tree is once again banished to a bag in the basement. The other holiday paraphernalia is in boxes. Absent all the decorations, the front room feels empty. The house feels a bit empty as well. I spent eight hours of today returning Kiki and her belongings to college. We had good weather for the drive. The roads were clear and the combination of fresh snow and setting sun made for some lovely scenery on the drive back. More than once I wished I had a camera so that I could pull over and photograph the combinations of red hills, rising full moon, and bright yellow grass in a field of snow. Despite the camera in my phone, I did not pull over. It was cold out there, I was in a hurry to get home, and the resulting photographs would have displayed my lack of skill more than the beauty. Also, stopping on the side of the highway, not safe. Instead I contented myself with listening to a movie sound track and feeling triumphant when a crescendo of music carried me over the top of a rise and into the next valley.

Link went with me for the drive. He does this as often as there is room in the car and as long as the drives won’t pull him out of school. He just likes road trips. I like having company in the car, even when that company spends the entire trip with his hoodie pulled over his face so that he can sleep. We headed home to a house where I had a stack of books waiting for me. Before leaving this morning I made a quick trip to the library to pick up one reference book that I needed. It was located in the folklore section, so I came home with as many books as I could carry in my arms (14). Next time I’ll bring my bag of doom, because apparently I’m not a one-book-from-the-library type of person. The books are going to help me piece together some things I need for my novel. Though I admit that some of them just looked interesting.

We arrived home to a quiet house, everyone engaged in their own activities. I relished the silence for a while, but then gathered the kids for movie time. We’d watched Back to the Future and Back to the Future Part II on New Year’s Day. It seemed like an appropriate way to ring in 2015, which is the future that Marty visits. It was fun to see how wackily wrong some of the future scenes were. What my kid didn’t notice was how eerily correct a few things were. Watching multiple channels at once is something the kids do every day. Being distracted by wearable devices at the dinner table, also normal. Today we pulled out Back to the Future Part III. These movies really are ridiculous and the second two have caricatures rather than characters, yet I love them anyway. They are steeped in nostalgia. They remind me of when 1985 was my reality. Also, they deliver the satisfying, if corny, endings. I’m really glad we had those movies to watch upon our arrival in 2015. I’m also glad that it has been ten years since I watched them. They are a mixed of brilliant and really dumb. Once every ten years is the right distance for me to enjoy them without being overwhelmed by the dumb bits.

Thus ends our holiday season. Tomorrow is Sunday, and marks the beginning of being back to a normal schedule. I think I may be ready for that.