Listening to the City

I wake up to the shouting of seagulls. They have a lot to yell about in the early morning. By ten am, they’re either quieter or farther away from my hotel room window. I find their calls pleasant to listen to, a reminder that the ocean is nearby. In the middle of the day I hear music. Someone is busking with a horn instrument. My ear isn’t attuned enough to be certain, but my guess is either a trumpet or a french horn. Though when I’m out and about I see a person with a saxophone. I wonder if they’re the same person I heard from my room, but I don’t know for sure. At night when I return to my room, I hear the sounds of people in the alley and parking lot that my fourth floor window looks over. Sometimes it sounds like two angry people. Once there was a large group cheering. Occasionally it is a lone voice wailing or yelling. In all cases I’m glad for the walls between me and whatever is going on.

To be in a city is to be adjacent to homelessness and people making desperate decisions, or criminal ones. Which is why I’m grateful for my friends playing tour guide when we go out. I can watch my friends to decide whether behavior I observe on the street is a risk to me or not. Mostly it is not, though once or twice we’ve crossed the street for a block or two. It amazes me that the “safe” block and the “dangerous” one are only ten feet apart, but that is the reality here according to my friends.

Underneath the sounds of the gulls, or the music, or the people, I can hear the dull rush of vehicles, the drone of fans, the buzz of electricity. They combine into a low level mechanical roar occasionally punctuated by sirens. It is all new to me who has not spent very much of my life dwelling in cities. I’m enjoying my visit and I’m curious to know what I’ll notice differently when I go home tomorrow.

The Story of the Trip

I saw my fiftieth birthday coming from a long way away. In general my family keeps birthday’s low key, especially now that the kids are all grown up. A small giving of gifts, birthday person gets to pick some favorite foods for dinner. But fifty feels milestone-ish and I’ve observed in the past that if I hit a supposed-to-be-celebrated moment (like a birthday or mothers day) in an emotionally depleted state I sometimes have bigger-than-expected feelings about what does or does not happen on that day. This year I am over stretched and carrying a lot of fatigue, so the probability of me feeling a lot of things on my birthday seemed high. From a month or more out I started thinking about what structure to give to the day so that it fell into a happy place rather than a sad one.

Howard was thinking about it too. In early January during a late night conversation he asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday. I started spilling all of my thoughts, talking for at least five to ten minutes. At the end of it, Howard said, “I’ve just listened to you talk yourself into and out of six different plans there.” It was exactly what I’d done. So I went back to the pile of plans and pulled out the one where I went to Seattle to visit a glass museum. He said it sounded like a lovely plan. We went to bed.

Over breakfast the next morning I said to Howard, “I’ve rethought the go to Seattle birthday plan. It would make much more sense to save the money and send me to a writer’s conference that takes place in October.” I’m pretty sure I added a bunch of detail about why this was the logical choice.

Howard listened until I wound down. He let the silence sit for a moment then he looked at me over his glasses and said, “Did you just cancel your birthday plans for business reasons?”

Yes. That was exactly what I had done.

I wriggled a lot more over the next several days. Confronting why I feel so anxious and awkward making a plan that is purely selfish. One where I inconvenience everyone, spend money, and abandon my regular post. I kept thinking about how I should take one or more kids with me. Or how I should stay home. Or, or, or. All of which showed me clearly how difficult I find it to claim space in my own life. How I am so much more comfortable planning things that are primarily for the benefit of someone else, but which also let me enjoy things I want. But this year I’m trying to claim space in the middle, not just around the edges. I’m trying to show up whole rather than with only the portion of me that feels like it will be comfortably unchallenging for other people to deal with.

Eventually I took a deep breath and pinged my friends who live in Seattle to see if they were willing to play tour guide for a few days. I booked flights. I booked a hotel room that I don’t have to share with anyone else. Then when the day came I packed my bag and got on the plane even though I wasn’t just leaving my routines, but also leaving Howard and the kids to deal with kitchen construction mess while I was gone.

Today is my Birthday and I’m in Seattle. Yesterday I went and saw the Chihuily Glass Museum, spent time working in the Amazon Spheres, went out to eat at an indoor space that mimics an Asian street food market. I’ve filled my head with new sights and sounds. Today I’m taking slow, giving myself the gift of time to process and write. A birthday without demands or expectations.

More than all of that, the biggest gift actually happened weeks ago when Howard saw me and helped me see myself. When he not only made space for me, but nudged me to claim it. That gift is both invaluable and priceless.

Sandra Tayler in the glass house of the Chihuily Glass Museum

Stealing Moments

I am in Seattle until Sunday. There is a whole story about the origin and purpose of this trip that I want to write about at length. The short version is that for my fiftieth birthday my family decided that the best gift I could have is to send me to a place where I could just be Sandra without also being Mom, business manager, household administrator, chauffeur, or any of the other dozens of hats I wear on a daily basis. It is a lovely gift and a fun story. The trouble I have is that most of my work tasks are portable and have traveled with me. Yes, I could just ignore them all for a few days, but if I do that I will emerge from my trip to a deluge of things that are overdue, which would feel like failure. What I want to do is take a few hours while on this trip to send overdue emails, knock some tasks off my list, get out from behind the 8 ball, hand off some of the things I’m juggling, and any other metaphor I can think up for “I would like to end this trip feeling like I’m ahead on work instead of behind.” Of course I also want to emerge from this trip with photos of the places I’ve been and stories to tell about the sights I’ve seen. AND I want to emerge from this trip having written piles of words on the books I want to put onto the table this year.

As I lay in bed this morning I thought about the two hours I have before I’m due to meet my friends in the lobby to go see sights. Should I send the two work emails which are nearly ready to go and for which I feel guilty I didn’t send during the first week of the month? Should I send the personal email to my friend that I’ve been wanting to send correspondence to for months? Should I write this blog post? Should I lay in bed and just let my thoughts wander, allowing my brain to process the travel day, the home construction that is ongoing in my absence, the estate planning I’m participating in for my parents, the complex web of personal and professional relationships that I value and maintain? The truth is that I want all of those things. Whatever I choose is stolen from all of the other things. I am burdened with too many things I want to do, not with things I wish I could get rid of.

I’ve identified (and written about) the fact that one of the things I’m lacking in my current life pattern is time to process. So I’m trying to pull that to the top of the pile during the next four days. Which is why I’m writing about stolen moments first. And I’ll process a lot of things verbally with my friends who are playing tour guide during my stay. (It is amazing how much less tangled my thoughts get when I talk to people who are willing to listen while I unpack my brain.)

The birthday gift I would most like to give myself is to get caught up on a bunch of things and to feel like my life has enough space in it for all of the things I want to do.

Processing and Tasks

I blink and January is half gone, whisked away in a whirlwind of appointments and tasks. This beginning-of-the-year rush is once again leaving me with very little space to think and process between events and tasks. That is a problem, because I have many things swirling in my head that would benefit from closer attention. I spent the weekend at a director’s retreat for WCI with multiple classes on self awareness and life prioritization. I had hours-long conversations with amazing people who have different perspectives on life, parenting, work, and writing. I spent half a day in deep conversation with my parents about estate planning and hard decisions that are ahead of us that might be a little bit easier if we pre-plan some of them now. I feel a lot of things about all of it. I also feel the pressure of overdue tasks, packages that should have gone in the mail days ago. Emails that ideally would have gone out last week.

I want a day with nothing to do but think with no agenda for where my thoughts wander. I want a day were I can spend all of my thinking on getting tasks done. I want a day where I watch shows and read until my brain feels rested again. I want all of those days between now and tomorrow.

Since I can’t bend the space/time continuum to my will, I’ll settle for getting some sleep.

Priorities for the New Year

As I’m writing this I am floating in the space between Christmas and New Year’s Day, caught between finishing off the efforts of last year, and preparing to launch my plans for next year. Of course it isn’t nearly so neat as that. As you’re reading this, you’ll definitely already be in the new year since I’m scheduling it to go live on January first. Some of this year’s (2022) efforts will slop over into next year (2023), and for the efforts I want to launch, some of them aren’t ready yet. So I’m at a pause.

In this pause, I’m thinking about what I wrote when I started my new notebook in December. I want to pay attention to the life I had in 2022 and to make conscious decisions about what I carry forward with me into 2023. In 2022 I had a long-ish list of goals I was reaching for, not because I expected to grasp them all, but because the act of reaching would help my capabilities expand in the same way that in yoga practice you reach for your toes even if you can’t touch them. Then suddenly one day, you CAN touch your toes because over time reaching changes our capabilities. I reached for a lot of things this past year. I grasped very few of them, but I am much larger inside and more confident than I before. I’ve grown. However, the fact that I grasped so few of the goals tells me that the goals were misaligned with my priorities and I was reaching for too many things all at once. Also I spent large portions of this year feeling over-stretched. I must re-align my efforts and pick a few things instead of so many.

Last December I planned to write 12 short stories in 2022. There was no way for me to know that I would pick up piles of freelance work starting in April. I could make similar statements about many of the goals, there is simply no way for current end-of-December me to know what the me of next July will have to juggle. Instead of creating a list of goals I am likely to abandon, I shall pick some guiding priorities and trust the me of next July to set her own goals around those priorities. It has taken me several weeks of thinking, but my priorities have come into focus. Each priority comes with its own story.

Pay down debt and stabilize finances. I remember being a teenager in California during an earthquake, laying under my kitchen table in full body contact with the floor while the single story house with only a crawlspace between in and the earth moved underneath me. In that moment I had to re-evaluate my understanding of stability. The pandemic was like that.  The givens of our lives were thrown into question and we are all still riding out the economic, social, and emotional waves. There are still ripples that make our footing unsteady. My family had two added layers of destabilization. In 2020, while we were all still in the mask-and-isolation-we-have-no-vaccines stage of the pandemic, the twenty-year Schock Mercenary story arc came to an end. Thus ended the daily comic which was our primary source of income.  Disability is the third axis of movement that staggers me. Howard is disabled with a chronic fatigue form of Long Covid that impacts his ability to work. We’ve had to recalibrate all of our life patterns to accommodate for the disability all while trying to establish an income stream based on something new before the Schlock Mercenary income dwindles away completely. At no point have we been unable to pay bills, but sometimes we’ve had to increase our debt load to keep things covered. I can see in my private journals the amount of stress and thought that I’ve devoted to long-term financial worries. I want to spend less emotional and creative energy on financial contingency planning, which I can do if I pay down some debt and stabilize our income streams. The manifestation of this priority as I launch into 2023 is that we will run two more Schlock book Kickstarters next year. I’ll have to bend my life around that. I will also be continuing my work for Writer’s Cubed Incorporated because the steady freelancing paycheck will smooth out the lows between Kickstarters. There may also be other revenue generating activities. Some of them may team up with creative priorities.

Get more books onto the table. This goal is a bit nuanced to explain, because any time we set up a booth at a convention our tables are covered in books that I participated in creating. Every single book that Tayler Corporation has produced is my work. I am immensely proud of all of them from Schlock Mercenary collections to X-treme Dungeon Mastery, to Planet Mercenary RPG. Yet there is a different emotional resonance for the books where my vision, my creation, is the heart of the project. Right now the only two books on the table which fit this second category are Hold on to Your Horses and Strength of Wild Horses. The difference between these categories is nebulous, it isn’t work-for-hire vs work-for-passion, because I’ve been extremely passionate about many of my collaborative projects. Perhaps it is just that the creative works of my heart, the ones I feel called and compelled to do even though they cost money instead of earning it, have been forced to take up the space around the edges. Just like Hold on to Your Horses and Strength of Wild Horses get a corner of the table, an odd corner which makes people wonder why, in a convention booth full of space mercenary graphic novels and RPG books, there are two children’s picture books. I can’t help feeling that if more of my projects were put onto the table, if I took up more space with things based on my creative vision, the explanations would become easier. If we can expand to have Howard prose projects (Shafter’s Shifters, his new world that is percolating), shared projects (Schlock Mercenary, XDM2e), and Sandra projects (more picture books, my SLSC workbook, a middle grade novel) then it all feels more balanced. Whole.

I need to take up more space on the table. That starts with taking up more space in my daily life instead of relegating these heart projects to the scraps of time and attention that are left over once I’ve done all of the necessary work. I must remember that stories of my heart are also necessary.  And, yes, since my heart stories tend to be expenses instead of income, this priority may be in competition with the first one.

Go for more stupid walks. There is a meme with a picture of a bald eagle walking hunched over and looking rather grouchy. The caption says, “Going for my stupid little walk for my stupid mental and physical health.” That eagle is my vibe critter. In August my doctor informed me that I’m pre-diabetic, in January my calendar informs me that I’ll be 50 years old. I am healthy and energetic, but I have a giant list of things I want to do and I’ll only get to do them if I pay regular maintenance attention to my physical body. Mind and body are not separate, and time spent tending to my physical health will result in better mental health and more creative energy. So I’ll be going for more stupid walks, and I’ll be doing more yoga, and I’ll be thinking consciously about what I eat and how it affects my mood and body. This priority isn’t just about walking, even though I’m encapsulating the priority with “go for more stupid walks.”

Strengthen core connections. This priority is about the anchors that keep me stable when life becomes storm tossed. It is the family and friend relationships which save me when I’m drowning and where I drop everything else to rescue when called upon. It is the faith which connects me to deity and to my own inspiration, that clear voice which says “yes, this is your path.” It is the traditions and rituals personal, religious, secular, and public that help me remember who I am and what I hope to become. If I want to emerge from next year whole and more healed, then I need to put time into tending my core connections. I need to be reading books that help me think deeply about humanity and spirituality. I need to be scheduling time with people where we can do more than a quick summarization catch up. I need to go where I can find art and nature and the wind and the sky and blades of grass, all things which invite me to be present in the moment instead of always allowing my thoughts to gallop off into the future or memory.

That’s it. Four priorities. It feels good to state the priorities out loud, to feel how they resonate when I say them. (Even if I’m “saying” them in written text.) I could tell that they were the right ones because as I found each one, it clicked into place like it belonged. Obviously the exact expression of these priorities is going to shift and change from month to month. Sometimes they’ll be in conflict and I’ll have to choose between them, but most of the time I hope to have them working together. Being healthy in body contributing to my ability to pay down debt. Smaller debt giving me more space to work on heart projects. Publishing heart projects strengthening my core connections and voice. Having more books on the table helping to stabilize finances. The cross connections are multitude.

To support my priorities I need to put structure around them. One thing that I noticed as I was reviewing my year and assembling my annual book of blog entries, was my monthly practice of giving updates on all of my projects in process. Writing them out that way was hugely beneficial for a long time. It helped me see that even in a month where I felt like I accomplished nothing, I actually did progress on several fronts. It helped me quantify the work that I do and give it value and weight in my life.  However I also think that the shape of the update list was encouraging me to spread myself thin across dozens of projects. Rather like the vaudeville spinning plate act where I have to scurry from plate to plate keeping things in motion lest it all come crashing down. I want the new year to feel calmer instead of hurried and stretched. So I’m changing the way I think about and report on my projects. I’m going to pick a main focus and let the other plates rest neatly stacked in a cupboard until I’m ready to pick them up again.

In January my debt reduction focus will be fulfilling the Kickstarter for A Little Immortality with a side order of work for Writer’s Cubed Inc. My books on the table focus will be the Structuring Life to Support Creativity Workbook, since that project feels like it has the best chance of being a completed and publishable book before the summer convention season hits. My health focus will be pulling diet back on track, and getting moving more often. My core connection focus still feels nebulous. I have some books I want to read and I’m considering how to honor my 50th birthday.  Maybe I’ll pull blogging into the service of core connection. Or perhaps I’ll just try to put focus and attention onto the accomplishment of my other three priorities for the month.

So that is my plan for the new year 2023, but here I am writing this letter on December 27. I have a few days yet of the year 2022. Before launching into new efforts, I may steal these quiet few days and work on House in the Hollow, which is a project that even when draft complete still has years of revision and submission before it can land on the table. I want to write it anyway. So working on it is a gift to myself both past and future.

I don’t know how this liminal space between last year and next year finds you, whether you’re weary or hopeful. Just know that I’m wishing the best for you, that you can be heart-whole with enticing possibilities for the year to come.

All the best,

Sandra Tayler

Honoring the Occasional

Sliced avocado with a southwest hash and sourdough toast. Flanked on one side with a mug and the other with a book.

Sometimes the avocado is perfectly ripe on the same morning when I have leftover southwest hash, a loaf of sourdough bread, and a brand new mug that changes colors when hot. On such a morning I can pretend that I’m the sort of person who always reads complicated books over a lovely breakfast. The reality is that I spend more breakfasts with a microwaved burrito and social media on my phone, but occasionally everything aligns.

Yet, while I’m acknowledging that the majority of my breakfasts are far less photogenic, I should also recognize the occasional. The only part that is pretend is the part where I imagine that all of my breakfasts are like this, instead of just some of them. I’m sitting here with photographic evidence that gorgeous breakfast reading is, in fact, a thing that takes place in my life. I AM that sort of person. I give myself too little credit when I try to pass off today’s lovely breakfast experience as a form of cosplay.

We may not always be our most ideal version of ourselves, the person we want to be, but if we honor those anomalous times when we do have an idealized moment, they become less anomalous. Tomorrow’s sloppy and rushed breakfast does not counterbalance or erase today’s lovely leisurely one.

And every so often, the avocado is perfect when I slice it open.

Why I Reached Instead of Setting Goals

I found the post from last January which explains why I said I was “reaching for” things instead of setting goals. It is a beautiful thought that I want to carry forward with me. You can find the whole post here, but this paragraph catches the idea:

The yoga practice has been a particularly useful addition. For the few in-person classes I attended (before Omicron necessitated staying home again), I found a teacher who constantly emphasized accepting our bodies for where they are at. Reach for your toes. It is okay if you can’t grab them, because the reaching is what matters. I discovered that sitting in that reach, breathing in and out, slowly the reach extends farther. By repeating this practice gently day after day, in an unexpectedly short amount of time I can touch the toes I’ve been reaching for. Patience, breath, and acceptance has led to far more progress than I thought possible. Yet I’m not reaching for progress, I’m reaching for the sake of reaching, progress is just the inevitable result. There are so many lessons in this physical practice that I can use in all the other aspects of my life.

Exiting the Cocoon by Sandra Tayler

After reading that, I feel much better about failing to achieve so many of the things I was reaching for. The reaching was valuable and the process of reaching was part of what propelled me forward into lots of growth that isn’t measured by the list of things I was reaching for. My list for next year is starting to take shape. It isn’t going to be a long list of things I’m reaching for. Instead it will be a short list of priorities, pillars around which I’ll organize everything else.

Or at least that is the shape things have today. I’m still in the process of pulling blog posts, journal entries, and stray thoughts into my annual book. I’m moving through a year’s worth of growth and beginning to understand the journey of the past year. This annual practice helps me set important lessons and decide how to move forward. Like the practice of yoga, the process is far more important than the result. The reach matters more than the grasp. So I’m not rushing to define my thoughts for next year yet. I have reaching and processing still ahead of me.

New Notebook, New Lists

Today I’m starting a new notebook, the one I carry around with me to make lists of To Dos and catch thoughts before they escape. It would feel more neat if I could start the new book on January 1st matching my books to the calendar years, but I’m out of pages and I have things to keep track of in the two weeks left to this year. So I launch into my new book ready or not. The primary task of starting a new notebook is to decide what to carry over from the old one. Task lists are easy to copy over, no thinking there. But which of the quotes that I jotted down in the margins do I want to carry with me into the next book? Which tracking processes should be created anew and which should be abandoned?

In considering this, I am confronted by a list titled “Reaching for in 2022” that contains things like “teach 5-6 times” and “write 12 pieces of short fiction.” I didn’t call them goals, because I knew some of them were a stretch that I wouldn’t achieve. And in fact, I did not reach most of them. Some of them I barely reached for. My first impulse was to copy the list over, give myself another chance to reach for these things. Except the fact that I reached so few tells me something. These goals / hopes / reaches are somehow misaligned with the life I’ve been living. If they weren’t misaligned, I would have grasped more of them. Instead of assigning them to myself again, I think I need to take this space between now and the end of the year to assess what I’m really focused on and what it makes sense to reach for in 2023.

When I make my new list, I won’t even look at the old one. If I forget to put something onto the new list, that means it is no longer a high enough priority to be alive in my thoughts. After I’ve made my new list, I may compare them, just to see how I am different and how I am continuous. Perhaps when the new list is settled and feels right I’ll share it here as well as writing it into my new notebook.

Sidling up to Christmas

I’m sidling up to Christmas carefully this year. I would like to engage with it as a traveler to a strange land who comes to be surprised and delighted with what it has to offer. Unfortunately Christmas requires conscious creation and if no one shows up with lists and tasks and advance planning, the the space for Christmas to arrive does not exist. And in our house, I am the keeper of lists. But my list-brain is overtaxed and reaching exhaustion. I’ve never done the experiment where I do nothing, plan nothing and wait to see if anyone else steps up. I’ll admit that thought is attractive this year when I am tracking and planning so many other things. But it is always unfair to spring a test on other people unaware and unprepared. Doing that sets everyone up to fail. Also, disappointing people is a huge anxiety trigger for me. I would only add to the stress I experience around the holiday, not lessen it. I cannot abandon my usual holiday role wholesale. But I can, perhaps, offload pieces. Make it so that I am not the working solo on a holiday that must always be a group project if it is to function.

To be fair, it has never been only me making Christmas happen. The others show up gifts in hand. They’ve always participated in our shared production of Christmas. But maybe I can let go of being the Christmas taskmaster. I can let us all drift into the middle of December before someone puts lights on the tree. I can wait and see who decides that putting up ornaments is an essential element. I can let go of checking in on everyone else’s portion of the project. I could even abandon any lists related to the holiday and instead do the holiday things that happen to land in that triple intersection of available time, energy, and interest.

It is a scattered approach to a large scale project, but I might be tired enough to pull it off. And it might help me rejoice in the holiday instead of being burdened by it. I would like for this to be a season of rejoicing. It is supposed to be, after all, a joy to the world.

Frost

Frost viewed from the interior of a car windshield.

I’m trying to pause in my day to notice small beautiful things. Mostly this results in lots of mediocre photos that don’t really capture the beauty I was seeing. I’m not happy that the days are shorter and the world is cold. But frost can be beautiful.