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.
This morning I have a long list of things that I want to do, tasks I want to clear off of my list before the holiday weekend begins. I look at my calendar and starting tomorrow I have six days completely free of appointments. It looks glorious and spacious. Perhaps I could do glorious nothings in that space, excuse myself from productivity. Or I could pivot from business tasks to personal ones. I am very, very tired of looking at the partially deconstructed wall that separates my front room from my kitchen. Do I want to rest or do I want to cut a hole in the wall of my house and move a door? The answer is that I both want a chance to rest AND I want that door moved. I wish there were some way to grant myself a bonus month during the next five days.
I looked back over the last several blog posts. There is a strong theme (which this post continues) of longing for more open space in my life. That theme is the reason for this post. This is me stealing some moments at the beginning of my day to let my thoughts spill through my fingers rather than shoving the thoughts aside to get stuff done. I am taking a few minutes to process my life before addressing my task list. I am delving a bit to discover why I woke anxious. Why, mere days after concluding a wonderfully successful crowdfunding which will pay our bills for a while, my mind wants to balk at spending any money. Why a desire to cry is near the surface when I pause to feel things. On that last point I can make a list: The mass shooting at Club Q which demonstrates, again, how people I love are at risk for simply existing; the potential Twitter implosion/dissolution which changes the social media landscape and reminds my how very powerless I am in the face of corporations and billionaires; being greeted on a morning that I’m tired and could use help with the fact that one of my disabled household members is not able to carry any weight today so the dishes he usually does will have to be redistributed; the expensive chair that was delivered yesterday to help Howard with ME/CFS management has already had a mechanical failure.
So I suppose that is a sufficient list to justify the tension in my mind and heart. The question is what to do about it. Most of the stress is caused by things I am powerless to change. This too is a regular theme in my life. I have to find ways to claim autonomy and joy in the face of powerlessness. I must remember that Joy is an act of defiance. Today, as I contemplate my tasks, I will try to reframe them as things I get to do rather than things I have to do. I will steal moments to photograph small natural things, pet kitties, hug people, buy a new Pride flag for my lawn. I will pause and remember the whys of all of my tasks, the reasons that I put them onto my list in the first place. At the front end of the day this feels like (and is) additional effort, but it is an effort like putting tire into the wheelbarrow wheel. It makes every load so much easier to push that over the course of a day’s work I gain energy rather than lose it.
Deep breath. I can do this.
Over on Twitter much of the chatter is about the instabilities that have been created by Elon Musk’s purchase of the platform two weeks ago and the series of rushed (and bad) decisions he has made to change the platform since that purchase. For people who have been using Twitter as a professional networking platform or a professional promotional platform (a large segment of the publishing world) this instability is alarming. Some people are having to completely re-think their business plans around the possibility that Twitter will crash and burn. I haven’t been panicked, but only because I’m tired and having a tech giant make a decision that requires me to reconfigure my business is a familiar problem. I’ve come to recognize that any tech platform I use I might need to abandon or it might abandon me. Both Google Ads and Amazon associates were at one point a large part of our income stream. Both cut us off with no warning and no appeal. Both Patreon and Kickstarter have made moves which had me wondering if I’d need to leave, and if I left how I was going to continue feeding my family. And now Twitter.
I’ve begun looking at all of these social media platforms with a very important question: If I have to pick up and move, how do I carry with me the connections I want to keep? Because that is the real question, the real value of social media, it allows people to easily make and maintain connections. The heart relieving secret is that those connections don’t actually exist in the social media platform. They exist in the minds and hearts of people. Which means that if a connection pathway burns out, the connection can be re-made elsewhere. Theoretically. But it requires all of us to do the work to identify our important connections and make sure they flow through multiple points of contact instead of just one. It has become extremely popular for people on twitter to post “here is a list of other places you can keep in touch with me.” I’ve done it myself. And I’ve followed the links of others, followed on Instagram, signed up for newsletters, made a Mastodon account that I feel very ambivalent about.
In a strange way this process of identifying connections I want to keep has been heartwarming. I’m seeing alternate sides of my Twitter acquaintances, because different social media bring out different aspects. Also, every new follower on Instagram or for my newsletter is evidence that someone doesn’t want to lose connection with me. It is like getting a note in elementary school “will you be my friend, check yes or no”. I’ve told my kids multiple times when they were trying to figure out friendships, that if you want to turn an acquaintance into a friend, you need to bring them into a different aspect of your life. A school friend stays just that unless you invite them to come hang with you at home or at the park or at a movie. So I’m in a period of discovering which Twitter friends will become Instagram friends or newsletter friends, or convention friends, or pen pals. We’re all shaken up and open to these possibilities in ways that we weren’t a month ago when the connections were comfortable and settled. It is oddly enlivening and fraught with possibility as well as fear.
I am not a nomadic person by nature. I have one childhood home where my parents still live. I currently live in a house that I’ve owned since 1998 (twenty-four years and counting). I tend to settle in and stay put. But I’m learning to think nomadically in the digital portion of my life. I’m learning to configure my connections so that they are portable: an email list that I can download, a contacts list on my phone which I can back up, a physical address book or address spreadsheet I can reference in case my phone decides to brick itself and I lose half my contacts. (Learned that last on the hard way two months ago.) Putting in this work to identify people I want to keep has helped me remember people I’ve already lost. It happens all the time, someone fades out of social media (or departs deliberately) and I didn’t see because all there was to see was an absence. Absence can so easily go unnoticed. Yesterday I looked up a woman whose blog I used to enjoy and follow to see if there is any trace of her online, any way to see if she still lives in a yurt doing yoga. I found nothing, so I’ll continue wondering how her backbend is progressing and if she finished knitting the sweater she was working on six years ago. There are so many people online who fit into that same space for me. I enjoyed getting glimpses into their lives. I learned so much from those glimpses. My life was enriched, but I don’t know if I ever interacted directly with them.
The challenge of being nomadic, even digitally is that everything you want to carry with you represents work. When you stay put, things can accumulate in undisturbed corners, but the moment you move suddenly everything you take has an opportunity cost. There is a limit to the number of friendship connections one person can reasonably maintain when that maintenance requires conscious attention. I’ve been feeling the reality of that as I contemplate what I’ll do if Twitter dissolves and as I look at how I’m interacting with the communities I already have. I’m already over stretched and not fully participating in some of those communities, even the ones I’m trying to build.
And thinking of that brings me back to the beginning of this post. I’m tired. I didn’t want to reconfigure my business model for the fifth time in three years. I’m also hugely grateful that the Twitter shenanigans got into full swing after our latest crowdfunding venture was already doing well. Whatever comes next, we’ll have some financial resources to carry us through the next six months. That piece is probably a large portion of why I’m able to write a philosophical post instead of being locked up in tight-lipped panic. I wish all of my Twitter friends could also have a similar stability, or something even more long-lastingly stable. I wish that Twitter weren’t being unstable at the same time as the economy is shifting, at the same time that publishing is having some upheaval, at the same time that we’re all still riding out the social and physical health waves of pandemic.
But these are the conditions we’ve got, and so I hope that Twitter sorts itself out without totally imploding. I hope that we’re all able to build ancillary connections that allow us to keep and strengthen critical supportive networks. I hope that as we move, if we have to move, we pay attention to who falls through the nets because the new platforms don’t serve them well. We can be the “no one left behind” type of nomads instead of the “those that fall behind stay behind” version.
It has not been a good brain week for me. I probably should have expected it as the cost for an exceptionally productive weekend. Or perhaps I should have anticipated it as the natural result of election week combined with convention prep week combined with deadlines on event registration launches combined with I’m-running-a-crowdfunded-project, all of which resulted in a schedule so tetrised together that there was zero wiggle room. And then the driver side window on our 20-year-old car broke so that it couldn’t be closed and I found myself fighting wind and a tarp to try to keep the interior of the car dry during the stormy week between now and when the part to fix it arrives. There was no space in the schedule for car window tarping, nor for us having to juggle around having a single car instead of two. Nor for reconfiguring convention plans around not having two cars. I kind of broke for a couple of days. Today I’m functioning, but in a held-together-with-duct-tape way, not a running-smoothly-again way.
I had a conversation with a friend last week where I mentioned feeling a bit over stretched. I admitted concern that the level of stretch was not sustainable over a long period of time, so I either needed to increase capacity or knock some things off of my schedule. She looked at me over her glasses and gently suggested that I look into knocking things off my schedule because it isn’t actually possible to increase capacity, particularly not from a starting point that is over stretched. I listened. I eliminated a few things. Others I just had to hold tight and ride to the point where they naturally conclude. Then the car broke and I broke and some of my spinning plates came crashing down.
One of the nice things about a crash like that is that once the plate is smashed, I can just throw it away and not have to worry about keeping it spinning anymore. In some ways that is easier than making a conscious decision to put down a task. I’m always aware that when I decide not to do a thing, that doesn’t make the thing cease to exist. I’m just making it someone else’s task instead of mine, or I have to be willing for the thing to not be done at all. Which is hard, especially if it is a thing I care about. Sometimes I’m just moving the task from being a problem for me today into being a clean up for future me to deal with.
Truthfully, the only critical thing that broke this week was me. Everything else is “minor annoyance” levels of rearrangement which I can normally adapt for, but for some reason this week it broke me instead. Which means either I’m just having a bad brain chemistry week which will turn itself right side up in a few days, or I’m under estimating how over stretched I am and I need to be more aggressive about pushing some things out of my schedule. Either way, the correct response is to grant myself extra rest time today. Push off anything that isn’t absolutely necessary and evaluate after next week. Because next week is both Dragonsteel Con and the last push of crowdfunding. The week after that, the week of Thanksgiving, is beautifully clear of calendar appointments. I will definitely feel better once I get past this over-crowded week and into that empty one.
For now, I’m taking a moment to process in writing. Then I’m going to eat lunch. Perhaps after that I can think about what else is absolutely necessary today.
Over on Twitter I put up an introductions thread. Then I realized it might be nice to put that here as well, so that people who happen to find this blog can seek me out in other places too.
I’m Sandra Tayler as my twitter bio (currently) states I am a writer of words, maker of books, and caretaker of many things. This introduction thread talks about my work and where you can find it.
I have a newsletter! One of the best ways to know what all my projects are is to subscribe to my newsletter. I send it out once per month. It contains a short letter of thoughts and progress updates on my projects: https://emailoctopus.com/lists/1978c760-f9d9-11ea-a3d0-06b4694bee2a/forms/subscribe
I write books! I’ve written picture books, short stories, RPG books, essay books, and I have lots more books I want to write. You can buy many of them here: https://shop.schlockmercenary.com/collections/by-sandra
I have a Patreon! This is a way for people to provide support if they enjoy the work that I do. https://www.patreon.com/SandraTayler
I co-own Hypernode Media! We are a small press specializing in works created by Howard and Sandra Tayler. You can find our books here: https://shop.schlockmercenary.com/
I collaborate! @howardtayler and I are a team who have been running our business together since we launched Schlock Mercenary in June 2000. Schlock Mercenary is our best known work and can be read for free at https://www.schlockmercenary.com/
I have a blog! I’ve been blogging since 2004, so there is a deep archive. I don’t have a particular topic or theme other than “I was thinking about this” or “I have a story to tell.” If you want blog entries mailed to you, there is a handy sign up form on the right hand side of the page. https://www.onecobble.com/
I consult! I’ve got a lot of experience running a creator-owned small business that uses crowdfunding. If you’d like to have me look at your business or crowdfunding plan, I love helping people succeed at their projects. https://www.sandratayler.com/index.php/consulting/
I teach! I don’t have a regular schedule for when or where I teach. Sometimes it is online. The best way to be alerted is to sign up for my newsletter or join my Patreon. If you have an event or group you’d like me to teach to, please contact me and we can make it happen. https://www.sandratayler.com/index.php/contact/
I community build! I actively run and build several Discord communities and communities via Zoom. If you are looking to connect with other creatives and need help doing that, you can contact me. (Or sign up for my newsletter or Patreon.) https://www.sandratayler.com/index.php/contact/
I organize events! I’m part of the team that runs the Writing Excuses Retreats. http://writingexcusesretreat.com/
I organize events! I’m the Director of Operations for Teen Author Boot Camp, Tween Author Boot Camp, Lean into Literacy Professional Development Conference, Teen Poetry Society, and Teen Reader’s Choice Awards. You can read more about all of those things here: https://www.teenauthorbootcamp.com/
I stared at the walls in my office today. For an hour. At least I think it was an hour. It might have been more. When I resurfaced from my thoughts, I had no idea what I’d been thinking about exactly. The thoughts swam past me like fish in a murky ocean, appearing and then vanishing. I know that only a few of them were about cleaning my office, a flock of tasks that really need to be done. More of them were about the books on my shelves because those were in my line of sight. Most of my books are familiar friends that I want to revisit. I’ve been doing poorly at making time for reading, so I feel sad that I probably won’t get around to reading them again for a long time. If ever. Yet I’m also content that they continue to sit on my shelves as tangible reminders of journeys I’ve taken and things I have learned. So much of my life work is centered around books, it is strange that reading somehow slipped out of my life. It is a piece I’d like to re-collect.
I watched a short video this week about the attention economy. I wish I could find it again, but it would require me to search twitter and I’d just end up down half a dozen rabbit holes. The person in the video was doing either an interview or a panel where he discussed how corporations will happily colonize every moment of my attention in order to acquire money. Sometimes I am the source of that money. Other times my attention is the commodity for sale. Either way, much of the internet is optimized to grab and hold attention. My attention. My time. My focus. That thought sits with me as my phone pings me with a weekly report on how many hours I spent on various apps. I did not ask my phone to give me this information, it drew my attention by making a noise. So many apps want to do the same. To reach into my life and pull my focus back to things that are online. I read the report and I don’t like what the numbers have to say. It was only a few posts ago when I was lamenting how I lack space in my life for emotional processing. This report gives me some clues as to where that processing time has vanished to.
I am tired so often lately. Worn out by all of my administrative work with its endless round of small decisions and crafted emails. In between tasks I seek a small break, so I noodle on my phone trying to rest my brain and re-set so that I can face the next set of tasks. There is a flaw in this. My noodling gives my mind more things to process and track. My little game requires me to remember which in-game goals I was reaching for. Social media is full of new thoughts to think and world news that often creates stress. I am discovering (again) that five quick breaks to noodle do not equal an hour of brain wandering while staring at the walls of my office. I can feel the difference between these things when I resurface.
The challenge is that sometimes I need to spend my attention on internet things. I have learned so much from reading twitter threads. My thoughts are broader and my understanding deeper from reading the thoughts of others who take time to open up their experiences so that I can glimpse inside a life different from mine. I’ve had my focus drawn to causes that matter, things that I deliberately choose to support. Many of these asks for attention are good, even if they sometimes disrupt my peace and comfort. In seeking to reconcile the benefit and the strain of the attention economy, I think about a conversation I had with a friend this week. She described the difference between diving into media to engage with it and diving into media to hide from something else. This is such a smart distinction. The media may even be the exact same, it is just my internal approach that changes. My approach is what determines whether I resurface depleted or rejuvenated.
So I have to be self aware enough to decide how best to spend my little breaks. Do I need to engage with something new in order to give myself thoughts to think. Or is my head full of unprocessed thoughts already and I just need to sit quietly with them while they sort themselves? Lately I think I need to be better about befriending boredom. Letting my mind be quiet. Seeing all those asks for my attention and saying “no, you can’t have my attention today.” One way I’m trying to do this is to pick up a book instead of the internet when I’m having a little brain break. It is a very fragmented way to read a book, but if I wait for uninterrupted hours to read I’ll never get through the stack of books I purchased but haven’t yet read, let alone revisiting those books on my shelf that I’d like to re-experience.
The job description is deceptively simple: Cut back the wisteria. Yet it has been a project that has occupied many hours because I’m clipping and detangling, packing whatever will fit into my green waste bin each week. I’m doing this by hand rather than using a buzz saw. My way is less efficient, but more therapeutic. Years ago I planted wisteria because I watched a film called Enchanted April where four women went on vacation in a villa that was grown over with beautiful blooming wisteria plants. The plants did not cooperatively spread across the wall. They kept flopping over, and entwining, ending up more like clumpy bushes than graceful vines. Where they did climb, it was to take over and smother other plants, such as the nearby pine trees. Also they were fairly stubborn about blooming, only sending out a few blooms each spring. I loved the blooms, but over the years I’ve grown tired of rescuing my trees from the wisteria’s clutches.
I’m thinking about that long ago decision as I peel back the top layers of growing vines to reveal the dead and rotted mass of vines underneath. (Wisteria is even a bully to itself, killing off its own under layer of vines, leaving them to decay in the darkness underneath the green leaves.) I’m thinking about how sometimes things grow in unexpected ways, colonizing spaces they were never meant to occupy. I’m thinking about how far away we can end up from our original intention, and that sometimes we have to do the work to untangle and cut out the rot.
That last paragraph was entirely too vague for anyone who can’t see all the parallels I’m building in my head. As I clip and crunch and pull vines I think about some relationships where I did harm to another person. (Still vague, sorry. Not my story to tell on the internet.) Usually it wasn’t active or deliberate harm, but I had power that I did not recognize or use, and the result was harm. I never intended to hurt someone, just like I never intended for the wisteria to go this wild. But I was busy, and not paying attention, and suddenly my pine tree was half covered with a carpet of vines. I pull the vines down, but even with the vines gone there is a bare spot where pine branches died. Neglect on the part of the gardener resulted in the dead branches. I can’t undo that. But I can recognize that wisteria is a bully and I either need to commit to tending and controlling it regularly, or I need to remove it and plant something that will be a better member of my little garden community.
In a strange way, cutting through the wisteria tangle is a bit like time travel. I’ve found two frisbees from Howard’s frisbee golf set, some mostly decayed plastic bags, the remnants of the sand box which used to occupy that entire section of yard, and the rocks that we unearthed while planting trees and I tossed into a pile. The wall is becoming increasingly bare, ready for new planting. I’m remembering the choices we made long ago about all of those things. I don’t think I regret any of the choices, not even the wisteria. But I am different, the weather is different, my garden is different, so the choices about what to plant for the future are also different. I can do better.
“There is a difference between claiming a calm space and defending it from encroachment vs happening upon an open space where you can rest.” I said these words to a friend this morning as part of a conversation about how my week was going. Now the words are sitting in my brain, because I long for an open space, free from urgency. I (kind of) have that scheduled for Saturday, but today is Wednesday and this week has already had a lot in it.
In the past I’ve given advice to others (and to myself) about building a life you’re happy to dwell inside rather than one you need to escape from. I’m sitting with that advice today and wondering if I’m a hypocrite as I feel harried by tasks without pause. Tasks I want to run away from. I find myself wishing I could shoehorn some bonus time into the middle of my week that I would just use for watching lots of brainless television. Or sleeping. It was just last night that Howard mentioned a task and I answered “I’d better write that down in my Book of Too Many Things.” He laughed and thought the name was appropriate. I laughed too. And wrote the thing down. I might actually write that title on the cover of my current journal / To Do book. Then I’ll laugh/cry at the truth of it any time I look at the cover.
The fact that I want to laugh/cry over my lists tells me that I need to find a way to be joyful while doing the things instead of weary.
So I remember other advice that I gave out while teaching Creativity in All Things. Often our challenge isn’t with the tasks of our lives. It is with the grief or emotional processing that accompanies those tasks. This is my problem right now. Not that I’ve taken on too many things, but that the incessant stream of urgent tasks has left me with very little space to process the emotional loads of those tasks. Some of the the emotional loads have been fairly epic in scope. Some of the griefs are persistent and pervasive. I’m storing them in my mind, tucked as far out of the way as they can be, while I try to work in the space that is left over. Struggling to accomplish things in tight quarters creates additional frustration, which I also pack up and stow, tucking it in between and around the other bundles. Except most of the room is taken and I’ve reached the point where sometimes things come loose and land on my head when I’m trying to focus. Emotional clean up in the middle of my work space is kind of a daily occurrence this week.
On Saturday I need to sit down with myself and list out my griefs. Name them. Describe them without judgement. Let them be as petty, or unfair, or deep, or wide as they are when I pull them out of storage. It is likely to be messy work. Organizing always creates additional mess before it can create order. When I’ve looked at all the bundles, then I decide on action items for each grief. Who can I talk to about the experience of having your life partner become disabled? What actions can I take to set right a hurt I helped cause? When can I sit and feel sad about an experience I wanted to have, but which the time for has passed? Those action items get space on my upcoming To Do lists. My one defended emotional processing space will spawn a dozen more, which I’ll also have to defend. I may feel more busy for a while rather than less. But this is the heart of self care. Claiming space to tend to yourself.
Experience has taught me that if I claim and defend spaces for deliberate emotional processing, the result is that my mind and life begin to feel less embattled. Slowly the stowed emotions become integrated, which is when I begin to discover those surprise open spaces in which I can just be calm and happy.
The morning light is soft and quiet as I step outside for my walk. The walk I resent having to take, but which has become necessary to manage a medical condition that is currently incipient, and which I can prevent by getting more exercise. So I walk. For a few minutes I feel alone with the world even though surrounded by my neighbor’s houses.
I pull out my phone to make a note of the feeling. Perhaps I’ll write a blog post when I get home. It has been a long while since my last one. I write memos sometimes when I’m out in the world and have a thought I don’t want to lose. My phone is new in my hand. Only two days old. I didn’t particularly want a new phone, but my old one died dramatically between one finger flick and the next while I was scrolling and reading. It froze and went black never to wake again. With modern phones there are many ways to transfer data from an old phone to a new one. Few of them work when the old phone won’t turn on. So I spent time discovering what things I had backed up in places I could still access and what things were gone. Phone settings retrievable. Photos in the cloud. Contacts…the only back up was at least a decade old. So I spent hours finding phone lists and manually entering numbers, emailing friends and asking them to text me their names, deleting contacts which are no longer relevant but which were now sitting on my phone.
All of this weighs in my mind as the new phone sits lightly in my hand while I walk. The familiar memo button is gone. My memos are gone. All of those thoughts I captured so that I would not lose them, are now lost. Perhaps they weren’t important, perhaps I should trust that the important ones will come back around to me at a different time and place. Yet when I discover that a new version of my memo app has the ability to retrieve my old memos from a cloud I hadn’t realized they were saved to, I am relieved. My thoughts are safely in my pocket again. I add a new memo to the stack and keep walking.
I have reached the corner of the busy street. My walk is no longer quiet and solitary. Cars drive past. A helicopter chops over head. A young family is walking on the sidewalk opposite mine, taking a skipping child to school. It is the same elementary school I used to take my children to. In fact, my entire walking path is that familiar route I used to walk twice daily during the years when saving on gas expense was critical to our finances. My life is so different now. I’d forgotten how small a child can be while still being old enough to attend school. My days are not bounded by drop offs and pick ups. Yet I walk this same loop with different purpose, and I walk here in the familiar because I am choosing not to spend gas to drive and walk somewhere more scenic. Repetition and variation in my own existence.
I pull out my phone and catch those thoughts too. Typing while I walk, I feel vaguely guilty for not being more present in the moment. For allowing a screen to draw my eyes away from the slight seasonal variations in my neighbor’s yards. The thoughts I’m capturing aren’t truly important. They’re musings. I could just as easily let them go. But the musings are more pleasant than the alternative, which is to let my mind churn on the To Do items of the day. The biggest of which is making a final decision on which of the people I interviewed I’m going to offer employment. There are rejection notices in my future, for people I would like to get to know better and be friends with. I wish I had the resources to hire everyone. To give opportunity and funding to all of the amazing people. Instead there are decisions. So perhaps noting musings on my phone is not so bad a focus while I’m walking.
When my loop is complete and I re-enter my cul de sac, it is no longer quiet. My neighbors are on the move. Cars coming and going as their lives run in parallel to mine. Inside my house I kick off my walking shoes and pick up my book of lists. Time to do all the things.
After a week of near constant urgency, I’ve finally landed in an open space. It is the open space that all of my urgent preparations were designed to create. I spent most of last week preparing to leave for this conference trip, worrying that some last minute Covid disaster would prevent my going, and also trying to set things up for a smooth return. Then when I got to Houston, all my days were occupied with the organizational tasks of helping shepherd nearly two hundred people from a hotel onto buses then onto a cruise ship where we immediately had to run an orientation session and multiple classes. It was all joyful, but busy.
Today is the first day in a port. No classes are planned. I didn’t book any excursions. It is just me with hours available. I just cleared the small admin tasks that chase after me via email. I finally have a moment to pause and decide exactly what I want to spend time on next. And I get to do it while looking at this view:
The next three days are as empty as this one. I’m interested to see what emerges in the space.