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Some of my short fiction can be found on Anthologybuilder.com

Observations at Salt Lake Gaming Con

This is an event that is obviously created out of love and enthusiasm. I can feel that when I walk in the hall. I can also feel that it is a new show, only two years old. It hasn’t yet settled into what it will become. My personal hope is that it will keep it’s emphasis on actually playing games rather than getting distracted bringing in celebrities. For this year the focus is right. There are areas for people to hit each other with foam swords or shoot each other with Nerf darts. There is an extensive board game library where attendees can try out games. Then there are the rows upon rows of computers set up for LAN gaming and console gaming. Everywhere I went I heard “Would you like to play?”

I did an informal count, and the attendee population was definitely skewed male, at least 3 to 1 maybe 5 to 1. Yet when my daughter sat down to play Super Smash Bros with eight guys, none of them reacted to her gender, just to how she played the game. This is the side of gaming that isn’t as apparent online. The vast majority of people who love playing games are kind and well adjusted. They have excellent social skills and a welcoming attitude. I would love to see this event grow and foster that community even more.

My attendance at the convention was low key. I was mostly serving as transportation for my kids. I brought work and sat at a table alternately working and observing. My kids had a really good time. The show floor had lots of energy, but was never overly crowded. There was plenty of parking. I imagine that it looks and feels much like the early days of GenCon before it became so beloved and crowded. There is one more day of the show. If you’re local and you like games, it is probably worth your time to stop by. saltlakegamingcon.com

Thoughts on Conflict

I recently found myself in conversation with a person with whom I could not agree. The conversation ended more with final statements than an accord. I’ve given much thought to it over several days because one of the aspects of my anxiety is that I will re-play, re-script, review any contentious conversation for several days after it happens. I am not able to be done with a conversation and walk away. It chases after me and interferes with my ability to think about anything else. A contentious conversation impedes my ability to work for as much as a week. Sometimes, years later, the memory of contention will suddenly drop into the middle of my mind along with a stab of adrenaline as my body is momentarily convinced that the unavoidable outcome of this contention is doom, or death, or failure.

The person to whom I was talking does not have any of these anxiety issues. Because he does not, and because of some innate rigidity of belief, he was incapable of understanding where I was coming from. He felt like he should be able to say whatever he wanted to say and if other people didn’t like it, they could just walk away unaffected. He can do this and assumes that all humans have that capability. I know, to my bones, that sometimes words chase people down and haunt them. Words are sharp implements that can cut people if they’re used carelessly. Both of our beliefs feel irrefutable because they come directly from our own experiences.

Sadly, I’ve come to realize that when the source of conflict is between the fundamental beliefs of one person and another, the conflict can’t really be resolved other than by agreeing to disagree. Sometimes it means the people simply can’t be around each other without hurting each other constantly. We all have issues on which we can’t bend without becoming something other than what we are. We all have places where we are rigid. The tricky part is that the core of a conflict is not always apparent. It is usually wrapped up in some tangential event. Sometimes a conflict is a problem of word choice muddling a fundamental agreement. Those can be sorted by definition of terms and ongoing conversation. Occasionally conflict results in an expansion of mind in both parties, but this requires both parties to be willing to be vulnerable instead of defensive.

In all cases I find that my most useful response to conflict is to take a step backward and consider “what is really the conflict here?” Because I’ve had fights over cheese which were actually about disrespect and loneliness. In each case I have to figure out why I am so upset, which helps me to see why the other person might be as well. Because I know that my brain lies to me, I have to consider that my reaction might have more to do with brain chemistry than the conversation. I had to walk away from a conversation with Howard last week because he was talking about furniture and my brain was interpreting his every word as evidence of my failure as a human being. So I stopped him and walked away, which was frustrating for him. I had to go off by myself and detach furniture choices from my sense of self worth. In that pause I was able to recognize the emotional hole which was affecting me that day. Then we started the conversation fresh and talked about the hole I’d found. There were apologies, plans for keeping holes filled, and we were able to discuss furniture without emotional baggage. Classic example of fundamental agreement being clouded by emotions and words.

Once I can see the core conflict, I have to evaluate whether it actually needs to be resolved at all. This week’s conversation was with a person I don’t have to interact with much. I can just interact less without impacting my life. There are some other ongoing conflicts I’m juggling with people where I greatly value the relationships. My son and I have some very different beliefs about how he can succeed at being an adult. We’ve developed a neutral ground and a vocabulary where I can continue to advocate for my view and he advocates for his. Sometimes we get angry, but both of us value our relationship more than we value being right. When things get too angry we back off and focus on the parts of our lives where we are in complete agreement.

People are complicated. We all carry around heads full of unexamined opinions. We’re formed by our genetics and our upbringing. We’re further shaped by the communities where we spend our time and by how those communities treat us. None of it is fair. Some people have to struggle more than others. Everyone struggles with something. And we’re all a bit myopic because, while experience can teach us how to see some other points of view, no one has enough experience to see all points of view. This means that we will disappoint each other and hurt each other. There will be times when we can’t comprehend another person’s decisions because they are working from entirely different premises for how life functions. It also means that the world is full of people from whom we can learn. We are constantly surrounded with the opportunity for empathy and expanded vision. It is wonderful, heartbreaking, exhausting. It is why curling up under the covers and never coming out again sounds so attractive for folks like me who have panic attacks when we think we’ve disappointed someone.

Conflict is inevitable. That made me sad and scared for a long time. I didn’t want conflict. Ever. Then I got older and realized that the times when I really expanded and became bigger, stronger, more than I was before, all came from conflict. Conflict with another human being is an opportunity for both of the people to grow. I try to remember that when I find myself in the middle of a conflict I did not want.

Summer Begins

It is the first day of our summer schedule. I haven’t felt the impact of it as strongly as I have some years in the past. Link and Kiki were already home all day, so we’re just adding Gleek and Patch. The kids aren’t noisy or messy in the ways that they used to be, so that isn’t an issue. But I am going to have to re calibrate my brain which thinks that all the kids at home means Saturday Mode.

This year’s variation on the summer rules has each of the kids assigned one house chore per day and one hour of either making or learning. After they’ve done these things (and after noon) I won’t police how much time they spend on screens. The good news is that they all have projects that they want to accomplish. I’m excited to see what they make and learn.

Now if only I can kick my brain into gear.

Creative Networks

I spent the day with an artist friend. She has mentored Kiki many times over the years and this trip she gave Kiki some advice which may put a significant dent in Kiki’s upcoming college tuition bill. She also added both Kiki and me to a Facebook group full of illustrators and graphic designers.

Recently I finished reading a book and, as is usual when I don’t quite want a book to end, I scanned my way through the acknowledgements. I was surprised to realize that I recognized almost half of the names in there. Many of them were people I’ve met in person. Which I guess shouldn’t have surprised me since I’ve spent time with the author on multiple occasions.

On Twitter I watch the conversations of other people. They laugh and share photos. Sometimes in the photos I see two or three friends standing together and smiling, but the thing is that I know them from very different areas of my life and I had no idea that they even knew each other.

This evening I finished reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and (again) read the acknowledgements. They were full of people whom I have not met in person (Nor have I met Ms. Gilbert) but I was surprised at how many of the names I recognized as writers whose works have had critical acclaim.

In my high school and college Humanities classes I learned that renaissance painters communicated with each other. Impressionist painters gathered together both to paint and to hang in galleries. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were friends.

There is this myth that creation is solitary, the lonely artist or the reclusive writer. Perhaps there are some people who create that way, but it is not what I see. I see tightly woven communities of mutual support. The communities may be somewhat detached from each other, a literary network is different than a genre fiction network, but within a network the connections weave tightly. Everyone who creates needs someone who will listen when the creation is going badly. They also need someone who will rejoice when things go well. They need someone who knocks them out of their comfort zone and helps them think new thoughts.

I remember a time when I did not yet have a creative network. In 2007 I attended a concert and had the first inkling of creative community. Now I have hundreds of connections. I spent a long time feeling outside and on the edges. I took a long time to learn how to grow an introduction into a professional contact and sometimes into a friendship. Back in 2007 Howard and I had barely begun attending conventions, social media was just beginning to alter the online landscape. I was soon to learn that the best connections I could possibly make weren’t with the established creators I could see in the distant center of the creative community. My best connections were made with the people next to me on the edges. Thread by thread I extended my network until I was not on the edge anymore.

I know creators whose networks of support are entirely online. I know others who connect in person because they avoid the internet. There are so many ways to support others and to gain support. This is how creators survive and succeed.

Graduation

I can tell from the photos on Facebook that high school graduation happened last night. My son’s peers, the kids he grew up with, smile at me from under square shaped hats while wearing shiny gowns. I’ve wondered how I would feel when this happened. I wondered if it would hurt. Dropping out was a success for my son. Passing the GED was a success. It was the way we needed to take control of his path, and reduce the pressure that was crushing all of us. The decision was right, but it was also a permanent marker of the differences of my son. When we kept him with his grouped peers, those differences were less visible. Or maybe I was more able to fool myself.

Looking at the graduation photos doesn’t hurt in the ways I thought it might. There is some hurt, but it is mixed in with a half dozen other emotions. I’m happy for my friends and their children, for my son’s friends. They are rejoicing and they should be. I wonder if they recognize that the diploma really is an achievement. I know that when I graduated from high school it felt like a participation certificate. Somehow I hadn’t internalized the fact that there are more ways to not get a diploma than there are to get one. I see this far more clearly after I helped my child choose not to get a high school diploma. I still feel guilt about that, a creeping fear that if I’d been better at parenting then my son could have stayed grouped with his friends. So that hurts when I look at the graduation photos.

All the emotions are stronger because earlier this week I was quite forcibly reminded that my son’s path to self-sufficient adulthood is going to be non-standard. While my friends are launching their children, or letting go while the kids fly free, I’m staring down at least three more years of long slow learning. Much of that learning will be in the shape of “Okay try it your way.” When everything in me screams that the way won’t work. Of course, having a high school diploma wouldn’t have changed how the next three years are going to go. All it would have done would be to add massive pressure and delay some of the necessary learning. It was the right choice. I just wish I could stop arguing with myself about it in my head.

Over time I win the arguments, achieve an internal peace on the matter. Until I see the graduation photos. I’m glad people post the photos. It is right that they celebrate their milestones. I’m glad that all the photos have flocks of comments “Wow, she’s so grown up!” “Congratulations!” “I can’t believe he’ll be headed for college.” The comments are evidence of the networks of people who collaborated over the years in helping this child become an adult. Facebook allows that network to participate. I am part of that network. I click Like and perhaps add a comment of my own. Then I move my mouse and click “hide this post.” No need for me to face my emotions over and over as new comments keep floating the image back to the top of my news feed.

In a few days or a week I’ll have found quiet in my head again. I’ll be able to feel (as well as know) that everyone has their own path and that all journeys are valid. We’ve had triumph already and more triumphs are coming, even if they don’t look much like triumph from the outside.

The Center Can Not Hold

Twice now, when I’m in the midst of a hard day, I’ve described the things I carry to someone else. In both cases the response was “Wow, you really are the one holding your family together.” I hear the words and I want to protest, because while it is true, it also isn’t.

I do a lot for my kids and for Howard. This is particularly true on “bad brain days” which is what we’ve taken to calling a day where everything hurts even though it didn’t yesterday. We could also call them depressed days, or anxious days, or crying days, or OCD days, or any number of epithets with the word “day” appended to them. On the bad days I’m there. I stand nearby, helping to redirect, running interference, helping get through the day in the hope that the next day will be better. It usually is.

The thing is, if I was not there, they would survive these people of mine. They are stronger than they believe they are. It would be harder, deeper, darker, but that would only make them stronger and more determined. Sometimes I wonder if I do them a disservice by being there. Perhaps I am preventing them from developing skills and strength that they need. Perhaps I am wearing myself out by being in the middle when the truth is that we would all be better off if I would step out of that space.

Stepping out is hard when I am scared. I’m scared a lot. And I can’t always tell if the fears have merit or if they are my own anxieties lying to me.

Sometimes I feel like if I step away, it will all fall into disaster. Then we hit a day when I am the one with the bad brain. Then my family comes to my rescue. They all have, both individually and as a group. I’ve watched them help each other in the same way. We all rescue each other. We hold together because all of us are holding tight against the winds and waves. It would definitely make a mess if I were pulled out, but they would sort that mess and continue onward. I’m glad of this. Dependence on me is not the end goal here. Not for any of them.

I am not the center. I am a nexus in a net. We all are.

Peonies

Peonies

My peonies are giant and beautiful this year. Just wanted to share.

The Seventy Maxims Book

There is a momentum in book projects. I always feel it in the run up to sending a book off to print. Things happen more quickly and with more energy. I can feel that momentum building on the Seventy Maxims book. Howard has it mostly drafted. What follows will be iterations. This book is particularly complicated because in addition to the maxims themselves, there will be scholarly commentary about each maxim. Each page will also have handwritten notes from various characters. There is a timeline of when each character has the book. There are stories in and around some of the comments. These stories can’t be told in full with this format, but they need to be sufficiently there to be interesting, not frustrating. In order to get everything right, we’ll have to do lots of iterations.

1. I throw all the text and commentary onto the pages so we can see if it will fit.
2. I print it out and write a bunch of critique notes.
3. Howard takes my notes and edits text to make everything tighter and funnier.
4. I put the new text onto pages so we can do another read through.
5. I pull all the commentary off the pages so we only have the maxims and the scholar’s text.
6. Howard and I edit and fine tune the layout and placement of this text.
7. Repeat 5-7 until we have a print ready book. Copy editing of text probably fits in this loop somewhere.
8. Print out the pages and have the person we’ve picked for Karl’s handwriting put all of the young Karl notes on the pages.
9. Fine tune placement and text for Young Karl’s notes.
10. Print out pages with young Karl’s notes in place. Write in Middle Karl’s notes with a different pen.
11. Fine tune them so they are placed correctly on the page and say what they need to say.
12. Print pages with both Young and Middle Karl’s notes. Write in Old Karl’s notes. Make the handwriting just a little bit wobbly, but still readable.
13. Print pages with all Karl notes. Write in Kaff notes responding to Karl notes. A different person will do this writing so that the hand is different. And the pen is different. Fine tune.
14. Print pages with all of Karl and Kaff notes in place. Have another person write in Murtagh notes. fine tune.
15. Print pages with Karl, Kaff, and Murtaugh notes. Have a different person write in the Schlock notes. Fine tune.

And those are just the iterations I can think of. We’ll likely need to repeat steps. It is a complicated process, but it is the only way we can think of to get the quality and effect that we want for the book. You can see that I’ve just completed step 2.
70 Max edits

By leaving the manuscript out on the kitchen table, Howard wandered by and his brain began to work on layout problems. One of those pages has a diagram for the new page layout on it’s back. Monday or Tuesday Howard will sit down with my notes and refine his text to be better. In the mean time, I’ve been testing pens.
Pens
Lots of pens. We’re testing for line weight, bleed, and solidity. Each handwriting will be written by a different pen and in a different color so that readers can easily tell who wrote what.

I’m excited to see the finished book, which means I need to get to work and make it happen.

Good Work Day

I’ve had a couple of really fantastic work days in a row. I want dozens more just like them. Unfortunately I have to make space in my day tomorrow for an urgent dentist appointment. The tooth is only hurting mildly right now, but the way in which it is hurting and the swollen lymph nodes suggest that it might suddenly begin hurting a lot. I have to get it taken care of. So, alas, I will not have an uninterrupted work day tomorrow.

But today I did preliminary layouts on several sections of Planet Mercenary. I also did the next layout iteration for the 70 maxims book. Tomorrow I need to go pen shopping and I need to find handwriting matches for Karl Tagon, Kaff Tagon, and Murtaugh. We already found the right handwriting for Schlock. Howard is almost done drafting the words. It’ll all need to go through copy edits and then the handwriting bits will have to be done. But we’re on track to send it out for print in June. Tomorrow I’ll finish up the second half of the layout iterations. And I need to get started on the cover as well.

On Friday I’m hauling Kiki and Link over to the warehouse. It needs a significant cleaning and organization effort. I’ve got to make space for the incoming Force Multiplication books. I’ve also got to clear space for the dice, cards, and tokens from the Planet Mercenary Kickstarter. Those will likely be arriving within a week of the Force Multiplication books. We’ve reached the part in shipping where I eye space and fret that I won’t have enough. If I have to, I’ll rent a storage unit and re-locate stacks of slipcases. Or maybe I’ll run a sale on slipcases and book sets to clear space for incoming inventory. Because I’ll ship out some of the Force Multiplication right away, but much of it will just be stacked in the warehouse. And we’ll need space for 70 Maxims books, and then for Planet Mercenary books. After which we’ll ship out many things and I will have space again.

It is nice to have a day where the challenges feel interesting and doable. Much preferred to the days when everything feels overwhelming and doomed.

Unplanned Upgrades and OCD

I was standing in the kitchen when I became aware that someone was talking upstairs. At first I thought that my college daughter and my teenage daughter were having a conversation, but then the sound turned angry. Parental ears are very attuned to picking up when the children sound distressed or angry. I went upstairs to see what was going on and the words became clear
“What?! No! Why did you do that!”
My teenage daughter was yelling at her tablet computer in full tearful meltdown. She was barely coherent and ready to shout at me. Her hands were shaking. It took me three minutes to get her calm enough to tell me what was going on. It turns out that Microsoft tricked her into upgrading to Windows 10. It was not something she wanted to do. She just mis-clicked a single button and then was unable to cancel the upgrade. The only option she was offered was to reschedule. Not knowing what else to do, she let the upgrade proceed.

My daughter has OCD. She has a doctor who prescribes medicine and a therapist who helps her with cognitive techniques to manage her issues. Among her coping strategies, she uses her tablet as a tool for emotional regulation. It contains music designed to be soothing and to help her with meditation. She uses the device for distraction when the intensity of her anxiety gets too high. Any time other people touch her device she gets stressed because she depends on it daily and the thought of not having it sends her into a panic attack. She has those too, full-on curl-into-a-ball panic attacks.

The upgrade had changed the functionality of everything she wanted the machine to do. She was in a panic because she couldn’t find her music that she relies on, couldn’t find Internet Explorer or her favorites list, all her app buttons had been shuffled and re-organized. Instead of having everything categorized and on separate screens, everything was all on the main desktop, which felt terribly unorganized to her. She was terrified that her coping tool was permanently broken. She was furious that Microsoft would do this to her without giving her a way to opt out. The thing that was supposed to assist her with anxiety was causing massive anxiety.

I sat next to her and tried to talk with her, but she was unable to be rational. This is one of the core manifestations of my daughter’s OCD. When the obsessions and compulsions are triggered, her brain is less able to be logical about anything. This upgrade was an invasion of her ability to control her environment, the worst thing I could do would be to take the device away, fix it, and give it back. She had to be angry and figure it out for herself. All that Howard (he heard and came too) and I could do was sit nearby and give suggestions for how to reconfigure. Our suggestions were met with an angry shout of “I know that!” or “I’ve already tried that!” Half the time she would then follow our suggestions and bring her device closer to functioning the way that she is familiar with.

Ninety minutes of active distress got the device into a configuration where she felt it was usable. By that time she and I had missed the first part of church. She was not in a state suitable for public, so we turned on a show that she loves and let her be distracted for awhile. Then she lay down and slept for two hours, completely worn out from the emotional upheaval.

I was worn out too. This is the third time this week that her OCD has been triggered in a way that took multiple hours to help her get herself right side up again. It breaks my heart a bit to see how hard she works for emotional equilibrium that other kids just have without effort. She is amazing and strong every single day. She has to be. I know that life isn’t fair, but this week I saw the unfairness more clearly than usual. It made me sad and tired. Here’s hoping that the coming week is less eventful than the week just passed.