Last Thursday I uploaded the final files for The Body Politic to our printer in China. When I clicked to close the ftp program I noticed that the machine was behaving oddly, like it had to think extra hard about what to do next. I use this machine all the time and I could tell something was significantly wrong. Sure enough, halfway through the back up process it failed completely. Diagnostics at JPL Computers have diagnosed a hard drive failure. No data is retrievable from the drive.
Hard drive failure is never good news. Yet, as with Howard’s recent hard drive failure, this one happened as conveniently as possible. I was in between projects and in a schedule lull. Reconfiguring my computer was not how I wanted to spend this week, but at least I have time for it. Also, in the wake of Howard’s computer failure, I stepped up my back-up habits. They’re pretty good. Most of my writing in progress exists in dropbox where I still have all of it. Using my back up drives I’ve been able to switch most of my processes over to Calcifer, who is supposed to be my writing machine, but he’s been great about stepping up and handling business tasks for me. My desktop machine has been out of commission for almost a week and I’ve been fine.
Later today or tomorrow the desk machine will come back to me with fresh new drives. I’ll have a clean slate on which to install my programs. In some ways that appeals to me. I like having things be organized and new. Unfortunately then I’ll begin to discover the gaps in my back up processes. I know that there are pieces of data that I will need which I’ve missed. There will be some things I’ll have to re-create. Yet I don’t think I’ll have lost anything that is worth a $1500 drive reconstruction to get back.
The most astonishing thing about this adventure in hardware failure is that I haven’t panicked even once. This is the sort of event which is tailor made to send me into an emotional spiral of doom, sure that everything will fall apart. I did have a moment of shock “Are you sure it is the hard drive?” I asked twice, as if I could make the answer be different just by wishing. But after that moment of disbelief most of my reaction has been to shrug and get to work putting things back together. The story would have been quite different if we didn’t have the money to get the new drives, if I did not have a laptop that could be re-purposed for a few days, if I hadn’t been using dropbox as a storage medium for my writing, if I hadn’t run a bunch of back ups last week, if the timing had been different. So many ifs. I’m grateful that even with a bad thing so many good things fell into place.
The end of school is close. Some part of my brain keeps wandering me to where I can stand and look at the calendar. My finger drifts up and I count the days. I look at the multi-colored plethora of events between now and that final school day. Each kid has a color, it allows me to quickly scan who is busy and who is not. Right now they all are. We have 6th grade graduation, field trips, rocket day, a settlers meetup, class stores, unveiling of mummified chickens, school dances, senior sluff day, seminary graduation, field day, a dance festival, and more. All of these things parade across the calendar in rainbow hues. I can’t keep track of it. I don’t want to. I am tired of tracking all of the school things and encouraging responsibility. We all need a rest, but there are days left.
The work will not stop when school does, not by a long shot. We’re expecting coins next week just before Howard runs off to Phoenix comic con. Kiki is avidly preparing art to be displayed in the CONduit art show. June is double booked pretty much every weekend. Yet the energy of the house shifts when school is out. I’m able to declare that the kids must help with the housework and not feel guilty that I’m impinging on their limited free time. The daily schedule becomes more relaxed, which is both a gift and a challenge. I’m looking forward to that shift.
Strange that the simple click of a button takes fifteen minutes to accomplish. I’d already gone through all the steps to select a flight, debating about convenience and cost, arguing with myself about whether I should go at all. It is a luxury to be able to go. I know this. The writing retreat will be fine without me. I am not needed there. In contrast I will be missed every single day at home. Yet, the kids are anticipating what I’ve arranged for them while I am gone. They’ll miss me, but they won’t be uncomfortable, neglected, or bereft. All the pieces were in place. All the players had agreed that this was the right action. Except some deep part of me wanted to abort, call the whole thing off, stay safe at home. Ah. The pause before clicking is not about logic, it is fear. I am afraid because the last retreat was difficult, because this one has unknowns, because my brain can fabricate worlds of what-if flavored regrets. If I let fear determine my actions my life will grow ever smaller. I will become smaller. I clicked.
The room was not empty. I was quite grateful for this, as that had been my first fear. LDS Storymakers is primarily a conference for the writers of fiction and I did not know if a presentation on blogging would draw an audience, particularly since I made as clear as possible in the panel description that we would not cover using a blog as a marketing tool. I was grateful that the conference organizers decided to schedule it and then grateful again when people showed up. There were only a few empty seats when I turned on the microphone and began speaking.
The trouble with speaking about blogging is that it covers such a vast array of motivations and means. All blogs are on the internet. All blogs hope to be read by people who are not the writer. Other than that, everything varies. The forms, aims, intents, hopes, and needs of one blog can be polar opposite to those of another. In speaking on the topic I could choose to speak broadly and be mildly useful to most of my audience, or I could narrow my focus in order to be extremely useful to some and completely irrelevant to others. Speaking broadly about setting up a blog or gaining readers did not interest me. I wanted to speak about the creation of content and how to manage the meanness of people on the internet. In hindsight those two halves should have been separate presentations, but I’d welded them together and forged onward.
The first woman left right after I clarified what I would and would not cover. I saw her go and thought that I had done my job well. My introduction made clear that my class would not be useful to her, so she went to find one that would. I was fine and I kept speaking. More people left as my presentation continued. Whatever need had drawn them to my class was not being addressed by my presentation. I began to feel bad about that, wondering if I could have done a better job of clarifying in the class description, but comforting myself that this was just to be expected. One presentation simply can’t address all the issues.
It was a strange experience. I’ve spoken often enough that I have a good sense for when a presentation is working. There is a feedback loop with the audience. They smile, they nod, they quickly write a note, I see these things and direct the speech to emphasize the points which seem to get the most response, even when it takes me off script. My purpose is to be useful, to give information that will help. I stood in front of that class and I saw all the signs of engagement. My audience was with me, or at least half of them were. One by one the others left. When I wrapped up the room was about half full.
I pondered it later when the voices of self doubt began howling that if I’d only been better I could have been useful to them all. My logical brain was, of course, countering that I was glad they quietly and politely went to find something else they needed. They were the ones paying for the conference. They had every right to change lectures if they wished. My confident self noted that several people came to thank me and said my class was very helpful. Yet it is a hard thing to see visible evidence that my words were both exactly what they should have been and not at all what was wanted depending upon who was listening.
No matter what I write or what I say, I can’t be brilliant enough to matter to everyone. My blog collects readers, but it also loses them. The same will be true of my fiction. If I had panicked at the departure of audience and tried to bring them back I would only have been pulled off course. I would have floundered and probably lost even more. Instead I stayed with those for whom my presentation was working and did my best to make it work even better.
I hope I get more chances to speak about blogging. I walked out of that presentation with a hundred ideas about how to divide the presentation into more focused topics. These were things I learned from my audience. The questions they asked taught me what I should have prepared and will prepare next time. One woman came to me in the hallway hours later.
Gifts from my children today:
I remember all of the times when I experience the opposite of everything above, to the point where I wondered why I bothered to go anywhere. Today they demonstrated that they’ve actually learned all the lessons in self-sufficiency, hard work, empathy, kindness for others, and home management that I’ve been trying to teach for so many years. It is hard to believe in evenings like this one when at the beginning end of raising kids, but here I am and life is good.
I’ll have thoughts about the Storymakers Conference tomorrow. Tonight I am quite tired.
This morning I’m headed down to the Marriott Hotel in Provo to teach at the LDS Storymakers conference. If you’re planning to be there too, I hope you’ll find me and say hello. My first presentation will be one that I gave last February at LTUE. Structuring Life to Make Room for Creativity. If you click on that title it’ll take you to the post I did of my presentation notes. In fact, since most of you will not be able to attend the conference, I’ll list several blog posts where I report on a panel or presentation:
On Saturday I’ll be giving a presentation on blogging where I talk, not about marketing or setting up a blog, but about the actual content generation parts of blogging. I have a hundred ideas that I’m still pounding into shape. When I’m done I’m likely to write up that presentation as well.
If you’d like to follow the conference in more real time, you can follow the #storymaker13 hash tag on twitter. I can’t guarantee that anyone will tweet from my panels, but if they did, that’s where you’d see it.
Alternately you could step away from the internet and go enjoy the outdoors, which is a lovely way to spend a Friday and Saturday.
I promised to let all of you see the photographer’s shots of Kiki wearing the butterfly dress. Here they are along with appropriate credit for those involved.
My original write up of the photo shoot can be found here. It has pictures that I took.
Each of those little paper flags sticking out of the pages is an error that needed fixed before Body Politic could go to print. I went through flag by flag and fixed all the errors. There were at least 80 of them. It always amazes me how many dumb mistakes I make when putting a book together. Then I print it out on paper and suddenly they are glaringly, embarrassingly obvious. When all the things were fixed, I exported the book to a PDF and paged through it again. I found 30 more errors. I fixed those and exported again to PDF and handed the file to Howard. He found 14 errors. This is always the process. We go through iterations of book creation, each time focusing our attention on a different way of reading. Sometimes I read every word. Other times I just flip pages and look at image spacing. Eventually my eyes glaze over and it all looks like a blur and possibly even a bad idea. At some point we declare it done and I send it off to print. It is out of my hair for a couple of months until it comes back home bound in paper. By then I’m not tired of the book anymore. We’re excited as we open the boxes and see the book made real. But I guarantee that on that first flip through we’ll find a mistake we missed. It happens every time.
The school year draws to a close in just a few weeks. The teachers from my kids’ elementary school have begun sending home notes with the last lists of things to accomplish before the year ends. I am glad, because this year has exhausted me. I’m ready for it to be over. Yet I haven’t been feeling joy when contemplating the end of the school year and today I figured out why. It is because the school year is not the end of those things that have been most difficult in the past few months. I’ve got three kids in transition and that process can not be complete until they are settled into their new schools next fall. The cessation of school is not the end, it is a pause. This thought is somewhat discouraging. I’d like to have a sense of completion, tying things off so that we can start fresh in late August. Instead I’ll just pack away many of these thoughts, store them while we manage months of summer conventions, family events, major shipping, and everyone being home all day. Then the thoughts will come back to me, unresolved, needing attention. This was my experience last year and I expect it again.
Summers were so long when I was a kid. They are far too short now. I’ve spent lots of time toggling through the months on my calendar and pondering what is to come. It doesn’t feel calm to me until sometime in November, because that is the point when we will have completed all the current things to do. Then the kids will be settled. The conventions and shipments will be done. Except November will be cold again. I don’t want to skip ahead to cold. Also, life does not calm down in November. Ever. That is when the holiday craziness kicks into gear. My life is going to be crazy for years to come. I chose this when Howard and I went full time with cartooning. I chose this when we decided to have four kids, who are now beginning to launch themselves in different directions rather than moving as a family unit. It is messy and crazy, but I’d pick this life over almost any other one that I was offered. This is an important thing to remember when it all feels impossible.
The other thing to remember is that each day offers me spaces. There are quiet moments to savor, flowers in bloom, warm outdoor air, and sunshine. Yes, the rest of May is one long task list. Yes, June is double booked every weekend and a whole week in the middle. Yes, August is week-long convention followed by week-long convention with dropping a child at college sandwiched in between. But July is almost empty. I keep skipping over it when I’m toggling my calendar, discounting the spaces there because of what comes before and after. I’m a little afraid to hope for calmness in July, as if I’d rather be surprised to find it instead of using the hope of it to get me through. Mostly though, I need to stop looking so far ahead. I can not solve June today. Instead I should focus on this week and the empty spaces between me and Storymakers conference on Friday. My life is not as crazy as my stress would sometimes have me believe.
“What have you got to do today?” Howard asked me first thing in the morning. He was headed for the shower and knew that his day was full of completing the last pieces for The Body Politic. There were words to write and pictures to draw; he was the one who had to do it.
I am tired, worn from being the keeper of the schedule all week long. I track all my people, all their appointments, many of their tasks. I track more than I should, but it takes conscious effort for me to let go of things once my brain has flagged them as important or as likely to turn into a crisis if they aren’t managed well. On Saturday my alarm does not go off. Instead I lay in bed until my eyes open of their own accord. I’d like to spend the whole day free of assignments, but the week spills over and the weekend becomes the time when we do all the things that there was not time to do on the other days. For the past several weeks my Saturdays have been full of events and appointments, today was blissfully clear, a blank square on the calendar. It meant that my approach to the day could be free form instead of focused.
In the end I worked harder today than I have on many of the weekdays. I wrangled the kids into doing housework and I did a lot of it myself. The clean clothes are tucked safely into drawers instead of heaped in baskets. Rooms got vacuumed and I removed bags of trash from various corners of bedrooms. At one point Gleek complained about my decree that screens were to stay off until noon. “But Mom, if we all work until noon there won’t be any work left to do.” I wish child. The more I clean up, the more I can see that still needs to be organized. I could use a half dozen more Saturdays all in a row. I don’t get them. Not for quite a while. Summer will provide an unending stream of Saturday-like days during which my kids will need to do more housework. They’ll also be in the house making messes far more frequently. And there will be the influx of lunches to make.
Before we embarked on all of the cleaning, I put a reward at the end of it. I bought tickets for us all to go see Iron Man 3. It was a worthy reward and a nice way to end the day. Now the kids are in bed and I’m sitting on the couch alternately pondering plot points from the movie and all the things I’d still like to accomplish in my house. When Monday comes we’ll be back to school and business priorities. Someday I’ll get the flowerbeds weeded and the trim painted for our front room, but probably not this week.
Next Saturday I’ll be at LDS Storymakers conference. It is an event that I enjoy, but I’ll confess that I’ll miss having a free Saturday. This one was so very nice.