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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.

Mid Summer Updates

My time has been much occupied with making and mailing packages. These days we do Schlock shipping in patches over a week or more. It is less stress on me and causes less trouble with the post office.

I’ve also been spending time with cruise administration and planning. We have many attendees who have never been on a cruise before, so I’ve been helping to answer questions and make sure that everything is handled on schedule. I’m the help desk and the interface with our cruise liaison, so it means email. I’ve also been prepping and planning for the things we’ll be doing with our kids while on the cruise. I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to afford to bring them all again, so I’m making sure we get the chance to do interesting things on shore.

I’ve been working with the 70 Maxims files, prepping them to go to print. We’ve begun the process of creating all the handwritten notes. It is a slow process, but the result is beginning to look really cool.

I’ve been helping Kiki untangle some plot problems for a graphic novel project she is working on. I’ve also been an advisor for another of her projects which launched and then had to unlaunch because of a problem. There was an emotional ride involved, but all is at peace now. Particularly since some college friends have come to spend the weekend. Friends are a good thing.

I helped Gleek dye her hair bright blue. It is surprising to me how quickly seeing the blue began to feel normal.

All of these are good things. Less good are the anxiety attacks which lurk waiting to pounce when I’m trying to sleep. And then there are the random ebbs and flows of mental health which require management at times. And by “times” I mean “daily.” Rare is the day when none of us are off kilter. But the good news is that our established coping strategies usually fend off full meltdown mode.

Yet, when I take time to look at where we were this time last year, I am so glad to be in this year instead. We are all in better places than we were. I have large fears about what will come when school starts again, but I do my best to not let them run amok. When I look back at how far we’ve come, I can sometimes believe that we’ll manage to weather whatever comes next.

Another thing which uses hours is preparing for GenCon, which is only a few weeks away. I have many things I would like to do before it is time to depart. I have a couple of presentations to prepare, and hand outs to make. I’ve already sent packages to our team in Indiana. Exhibitor instructions are sitting in my mailbox so that we can properly set up the booth. When I get back from GenCon we’ll be right up against the beginning of school, but I’m trying hard not to think too much about that.

For now, I’ll be taking each day one at a time and trying to remember which day of the week it is. Pretty sure today is Thursday. Summer days blend into each other.

Things I’m Thinking About Because of the News

I’ve been thinking about this article on How Not to Say the Wrong Thing. The concept is simple, if someone is closer to a tragedy or source of emotional pain than you are, you should not vent your feelings in their direction. Instead you should do your venting and emotional sorting to someone who is further away than you. It is a good concept and works very well with personal situations.

The trouble comes when there is an emotional event of National or International proportions. We’ve had a barrage of these recently: mass shooting in Orlando, bomb in Iraq, bomb in Saudi Arabia, bomb in Turkey, Brexit, the deaths of black men by the hand of police officers, and now the shooting of police officers in Dallas. I’m sure I’ve missed something. When an event of this proportion hits, it is hard to tell who among our acquaintances is closer to the epicenter of damage. This means anyone who vents on the internet is likely to accidentally dump inward on someone who is also hurting. I watched the wife of a police officer be wounded by the mother of a black son and vice versa. They both needed to be able to sort their feelings, speak their fears, but ended up making each other more upset.

I am also thinking about this article on What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone. It describes what it means to hold space open for someone else to grieve and process emotions. It also taps into the Dump Out Comfort In paradigm in a description of how people who are holding space for others also need someone to hold space for them.

I don’t know how to hold space for everyone who is injured in a giant event. I don’t think a single person can. I do think it is possible for me to read the angry words of a friend and try to reserve my judgement and anger. I can learn to recognize that the opinions expressed in the grip of strong emotion are going to be more radical and extreme than the person would usually allow. If the person is allowed space, they are more able to talk themselves down from the extreme. If they are forced to defend their statement, they’re more likely to become entrenched in it.

I’m worn out from the tumult and from all the emotions I’ve felt at each wave of news. Reading my social media streams is a storm of emotions battering away at any calm I try to maintain. In contrast, the world outside my computer is unchanged. My flowers are growing, I have packages to ship, I have the minor crises associated with mental health to manage. My neighborhood is not the scene of any of the tragedies. Reconciling it all is complex, I’m not certain how I will sort it. I just know that hasty action will not make things better. I shall strive to be like the Ents in Lord of the Rings (which I’ve been re-watching), slow and considered in the way that they approach the world, but decisive and unstoppable once action is decided upon. I have lots of feelings, I need to match them with actions that will make the world better.

Important Schlock Package Announcement

Unsketched Force Multiplication orders are in the mail. This is good news.
Unfortunately it has come to my attention that some of the packages were sent out with the wrong package weight. (Completely my mistake. I fumbled and types 1lb instead of 2lb when entering a batch.) At least one arrived to a customer Postage Due. (Which isn’t supposed to happen, they should send it back to me for more payment if I make a mistake like this.)

Please pass the word: If your Schlock package arrives Postage Due, email with a photo of the postage due label. I will happily reimburse for any additional postage expense either in funds or in store credit.

The next thing I’ll do is check with the post office and see if there is any way to chase down packages and get them fixed before they arrive postage due.

Update 1:23pm: More than fifty packages were sent back to me. I’m spending the next hour or two getting the right postage on them and getting them back into the mail. This means that there are about 30 more packages which are either being sent to customers postage due, or are taking their time getting back to me. There is no way for me to fix the postage on packages already in the system. I have to wait until customers notify me or until they come back.

Update: 2:51 pm: I’ve identified all the packages that are likely to be affected. I’ve emailed all the people whose orders show either “Delivered” or “In Transit” I’m now diving in to compare the remainder of the list to the packages that were returned to me. Then I can send emails to other potentially affected customers. I’ve already gotten one response that indicates a package was delivered with no trouble at all, so hopefully most of the packages went through.

Update 4:40 pm: All packages have been re-postaged. I’m about to take them to the post office.

Beginning July

The days slipped into being July, not exactly when my back was turned. I saw it coming, yet somehow when it actually became July, I felt a moment of surprise. This weekend most of my country will be on holiday. The official day of celebration is on Monday, so it grants a three day weekend to most people. Holidays don’t have the same feel in our house, particularly not the holidays which fall during the summer when all the kids are out of school anyway. Sometimes I don’t even realize a holiday is happening until I try to do something like go to the bank. Of course this particular holiday announces its presence with flashes of light and loud sounds.

Today I had to devote my time to Planet Mercenary and to helping Kiki work out some plotting issues on a story she needs to complete for school. The Planet Mercenary work was a brain slog of making sure that all the ships we plan to include have stats that match their descriptions. Then we have to make sure that the stats don’t break anything else, like the financial system or the hit point system. It is one of those tasks that on the surface looks simple, but gets persnickety in the details.

Tomorrow I will be doing organization to prepare for shipping. We need to begin getting books out the door now that they are signed. I should also spend time with my weekly accounting and with some basic house organization and cleaning. All of which is a bunch of words to wrap around what is basically a To Do list.

It is pleasantly warm when I step outside after the sun has gone down. The air in my front garden is fragrant with lilies in bloom. My cat yells at me to make sure that I stop and pet her since I’m outside anyway. In the middle of all the things to do, I need to make time to stop and sit. Otherwise July will slip away just as easily as the month before it did.

Home from Camp

Just came back from picking up my 15 year old from a church girls camp. 3 days early. It turns out that the stresses of camp pushed her mental health issues into a state that the camp staff were not equipped to manage. So she comes home because it is the best of the options available. Some days are hard and not what anyone wants.

Anger and Online Arguments

Sometimes in my wanderings around the internet I happen across contentious posts and comment sections. I do my best to not participate in these, as does Howard, because participating in contention punches our anxiety buttons and can interfere with our ability to work for days. But sometimes, when I’m not directly involved, I dig in and read the post and the reactions. It is an effort on my part to understand this behavior and why we all get pulled into it at some point. I figure if I can learn from the interactions when I’m not involved, then I’ll be better able to either make my points or disengage when I am involved.

One pattern that I notice is one person choosing to wrestle publicly with complicated and emotionally charged thoughts on an issue and then the comments get dog piled with anger and vitriol most of which doesn’t really address the actual words of the original poster. Instead the commenters project motivations onto the poster based on some assumption or belief in the commenter’s head. Often it feels to me like the commenters are responding more to a dozen conversations and situations which happened before this exchange, rather than to the actual ideas expressed in the post.

The other thing I notice is that most of the time people are not actually attempting to convince other people that their position is right. They think they are, but nothing in their words invites consensus. They instead trigger defensiveness because the person feels attacked. These arguments are far more about venting feelings than about changing minds. Hint: if your comment includes the word Idiot (or any other name calling word) then you are venting feelings. We all need to vent. Sometimes we can’t see what our thoughts are until we see them written or say them out loud. Sometimes we can’t clear our head of assumptions until we’ve spoken ignorantly. Yet on the internet all words tend to be treated like we are planting a flag, claiming territory, declaring which side of the issue we are on. As if people won’t alter their thoughts as a political (or emotional) situation evolves.

It is simple psychology that if a person has to defend their thought from attack, they’re more likely to cling to it rather than let it go. Which means attacking someone for being wrong is the least likely method of convincing someone of their wrongness. I think we all forget this on occasion, particularly when we’re in the grip of emotional reaction or a need to vent those emotions. Politics are huge, like forces of nature, and an individual can feel powerless in the face of them. Being powerless is terrifying, being angry takes a sliver of power back from fear, and it is easier to be angry at someone specific because a person is comprehensible. We might win in a conflict with another person. So people become the scapegoats for our fear-driven anger at something large and uncontrollable.

I try to remember this when I see angry responses. I try to look on the angry person with eyes of compassion and send a prayer that they can be less afraid. This is much harder to do if the anger is aimed at me or mine. I have to find an appropriate balance between defense against actual harm, disengaging, de-escalating, and compassion. This compassion is also hard when I am the angry person. I have to pause and figure out why I am angry, what about this particular incident set me off, whether I’m actually angry with the person in front of me or if I’m angry about something else and tempted to land it all on the person who is in reach. On good days I am able to dig even deeper and find the fear which is driving the anger.

I write to sort these things out. I’m much better able to sort out my thoughts on a contentious topic if I don’t have to defend every thought as I pass through it, so most of my political thoughts do not get posted publicly. I have them. Many of them. I have a host of attached anxieties as well. Howard and I habitually talk about events on the world stage or about smaller conflicts in our various communities. Of late the kids have been listening and adding thoughts of their own. So much is shifting around right now and they are trying to figure out what to think and feel about it. Somewhere in the future we’ll figure out which of the myriad predictions was accurate. For now it is all nebulous and scary. Which is why so many people are angry and so ready to attack each other. I wish I could give the entire world a hug and say “It’ll be okay.” Except I can’t say that truthfully. One person’s “okay” is another person’s “terrible”. No matter how things turn out, some people will be rightfully angry about it.

Keeping political thoughts off the internet seems wise as an anxiety management strategy. Yet there are times where I can’t clear a thought from my head until I’ve spoken it out loud. Sometimes this means posting it publicly where it is open to being attacked. This post was one of those. I argued with myself about it, because I know it doesn’t add anything particularly new to the discourse. I also know that in the writing I’ve probably made errant assumptions or false connections. I kind of want to put a footnote on everything I post online saying “All opinions are subject to change, without notice, upon receipt of further information.” Posting is scary, but if I don’t post, then it clogs up my brain, using up creative circuits that I need for other projects. Sometimes we need to speak up because we want to advocate for change in the world. Other times we need to speak up so we can clear our head for new thoughts.

I wish I had a nice wrapped up conclusion for these thoughts, but they’re still evolving. Most of my thoughts are, which is why I will be trying to give space to the thoughts of others without attacking them, so that they can evolve too.

Learning from History

I’ve been watching Mysteries at the Museum on Netflix. It is really good for putting on while I do things like sorting invoices or stamping books. The show takes interesting artifacts from smaller museums all of the country and tells the stories that landed the object in a museum. I enjoy hearing the stories and learning about pockets of history I hadn’t known before.

One of the things that becomes apparent to me is that in every era, humans are still human. They make the same sorts of mistakes and show similar brilliance. Throughout history there has been political upheaval, local scandal, astounding bravery, and brilliant discovery. My era of existence has far more in common with historical era than modern folks tend to think. The mechanisms are different, but theft is still theft whether it uses a sword or a computer.

Another thing I am noticing is that many of these historical stories take place during my living memory. Some of them I even remember seeing in the news. It brought to my attention that the older I get, the more of my life is considered historical. My Grandma was an adult during World War II, which I studied in school. 9/11 is beginning to be taught in history classes to current day teenagers who were born after it happened. I don’t mind this really. It doesn’t make me feel old. But it does remind me that the older people get, the more history they carry with them. Talking to older folks is very worthwhile. My grandma is gone. Getting her to tell stories about her childhood took lots of coaxing. She wasn’t a natural storyteller. There is so much about her life that we don’t know.

I noticed a third thing when I saw a pair of episodes close to each other. One told a story of smuggling fugitive slaves from the US South into the northern states for freedom. Another told about smuggling Chinese refugees into the US. In both cases the action was the same: helping oppressed people travel from a place of fear to a place of hope. Yet one story was pitched as an act of heroism while the other was presented as a crime. It is true that the mass smuggling of people had a profit motive that was likely not present for the smuggling of single fugitives, yet I couldn’t help but think about the fact that history is always biased. Any time we hear a story it is colored by the person and the society who tells it. A person who is a villain in one context may be perceived as a hero in another.

This is true not just for historical events, but every single day. I once had a front row seat to a friend’s divorce. I got to hear from both halves of the splitting couple, and gradually I came to understand why it is hard to be close to a situation like that without taking sides. I’m still friends with one half of the former couple and long ago out of touch with the other half. Every story has another side, another way of seeing things. This is part of why my head gets so noisy because I automatically try to see those alternative views. Yet eventually I have to choose how to act, which means I have to chose which version to act upon.

Life is complicated. People are fascinating. History shows us this, particularly when we look at the small scale stories instead of the large sweeps that are taught in school.

Days slip away

At this moment I am sitting in my warehouse, waiting for a truck to deliver four pallets of Force Multiplication. I’m also wishing that the AC in the warehouse worked better, may need to call the landlord about that. The truck is due to come sometime between now and two hours from now. Hence me sitting and waiting at my warehouse. Fortunately I have an internet hot spot and a pile of computer work that I can be doing. It is good to get ahead on the computer work, because the arrival of books is the beginning of the physical work of shipping. After I’m done sitting here, I’ll need to go home and sort invoices. Howard and I will need to plan a signing day and order the stamp for sketch editions. Packages of unsigned books should start going out during the first half of next week.

Mixed in with the shipping work will be ongoing work for Planet Mercenary and the Seventy Maxims book. And then there is family stuff. And the days when my brain simply will not kick into gear to get things done. I don’t like those days. Some of them are required to emotionally process events. I had to sort through all the thoughts and feelings that were stirred up by helping clear my grandparents’ house. I also had to sort some emotions relating to the end of school and shifting roles in our house. The heightened level of ambient anxiety meant that some of it attached to pending business tasks and conversations. I had to detangle that. It gets pretty messy and noisy in my head

And with that quick update, I need to go find my contract brain so I can re-write for a contractor we want to hire.