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February 2019
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Checking in with a quick update

With shipping in full swing and LTUE only a week away, I am living by lists these days. Of late the lists have been on paper since I’m finding it useful to see the lists for each day side by side. Sometimes it also serves as a useful memory trigger to be able to picture where on a page each task resides. I still have an electronic task list that pops up reminders to me, but mostly those reminders serve to prompt me to add it to the page for the week. Last night I even numbered the tasks for today so I’d have direction on what to do first, second, etc. I’ve already departed the numbered instructions since “blog post” is nowhere on the list. Nor is “500 words of fiction” Both of which I’ve already done this morning.

Most of the days this week have felt scattered and less productive than I wanted. There were some emotional impacts because family needed support, there is also the new Eating Healthy project which will theoretically become habitual and simple, but which for now is taking significant time and attention. So I’ll wrap up this post and move onward with my list by announcing two things.

1. I’ll be at LTUE next week. It is a fantastic symposium event where you can come and learn how to be better at creating whether you’re an artist, writer, game designer, film maker, etc. The focus is on speculative fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy. I’ll be most easily found in the dealers’ room at the Schlock Mercenary tables.

2. Since December I’ve been sending out monthly newsletters. They include progress reports on my writing and a long-form letter where I muse about something that is on my mind. I’m hoping to send out my next one later today. If you would like a letter from me, you can sign up here: Letters from Sandra.

On Memories, Objects, and Letting Go

I held the plastic horse in my hands, felt the solid weight of it. The touch of it’s smooth and shiny paint brought memory. The horse came to me as a gift from my Grandpa when I was ten or twelve years old. I don’t know if he knew about the collection of Breyer horses that I’d been spending all my money on for the prior few years. I just know that he saw the horse at some flea market or yard sale and thought of me. The horse had a missing leg and would not stand, so Grandpa solved the problem in his practical use-the-tools-you-have-on-hand way. He squirted silicone gel all over the leg, let it dry and then carved a vaguely-horse-leg-shaped leg out of the rubbery lump. My grandpa loved me enough to spend hours on a gift for me. That meant the world to me at the time he gave me the gift and in all the years since.

Holding the horse, I also remember that even while thanking Grandpa and hugging him, I knew that the horse did not fit in my collection. It was the wrong size. Its paint was shiny, not matte like the other horses. Most important to me, the horse had a static pose rather than the dynamic running, prancing, or rearing poses I found so lovely on the other models. It was not a horse I would have chosen for myself. Nor was the repaired leg how I would have chosen to make it. Even carved, the leg was lumpy, oversized, and pocked with the spaces where air bubbles had been trapped in the gel. It wobbled when I flicked it gently with a finger, sproinging like the doorstops found behind bedroom doors in my childhood home. So I carried this horse in my life that was simultaneously not something I wanted and also a representation of love so important to me that I clung to it.

I once saw the title to a novel that has stuck in my mind ever since: The Hidden Memory of Objects. It is a Mystery novel that I never took time to pick up or read, but the concept contained in the title stayed with me; the idea that objects have memories hidden within them. That is how I feel when I pick up a long untouched item like a book or a plastic horse. It is as if the memory was there inside the object and I access that memory by touching, smelling, or sometimes just looking at the object. “I’d forgotten about this” is a frequent thought when I am sorting through old things. The memory would have remained forgotten had I never seen the object again. The storing of memory in objects is the fundamental drive behind the purchase of souvenirs and the acquisition of memorabilia. When we are in a moment that we want to keep, we sometimes seek out an object to store it inside. Our effort does not always work, of course. Another frequent thought as I sort through old things is “where did I get this thing and why did I spend money on it?” Objects which are deliberately acquired with the intent of them being memorabilia are often poorly matched to the task.

I’ve had hours of opportunity to consider objects and their memories as I’ve been participating in the recent zeitgeist of clearing out clutter and minimizing possessions. It is as if people of my generation (and the one just older than mine) have shaken ourselves awake to look around and think “why on earth am I keeping all this stuff? It is just clutter that complicates my life.” Since I’m a willing participant of this Konmari/clutter reduction/minimalist effort, I obviously feel that the decluttering is a good process, but I also feel wary about taking it too far. I remember my Grandma’s last years and how she depended on familiar surroundings and familiar objects as anchors in her slipping mind. The memories in stored in the objects and photographs were far more stable than the fog and lights in her brain that sometimes showed clearly, but more often obscured, her ability to know who and where she was, or who we all were.

Forty-six year old me can look at a plastic horse and say “I do not need to keep this horse in order to remember that my Grandpa loved me.” and she will be right to say so. But what of eighty year old me? What will she need? Of course holding onto objects because we might need them later is the source of much of the clutter in the first place. It is exactly the behavior that the zeitgeist rails against, the desperate clinging to things in the belief that by holding things we can prevent future pain. Which is, of course, false. We have no way to control the future, not with objects, not with actions. All we can do is try to arrange our possessions and ourselves in a way most aligned with the people we want to be and the future we want to have.

I want to carry the memory of Grandpa’s love forward with me, but not a plastic horse that I never loved for itself. So I look around me for other objects which could hold that memory. Grandpa loved me my whole life until the day he died and probably after. That horse is far from the only thing he gave me. In fact, on the shelf next to the not-beloved horse, stands a beloved horse that was also repaired by my Grandpa at my request. The only difference is that one was a spontaneous gift of time and love vs the other being a requested gift of time and love. The beloved, repaired horse is as suitable a receptacle for the memory as the not-beloved one.

So much thought and so many words spent on a simple plastic horse. Most of the things I have let go did not require this much consideration. Not even close. I can feel the impatient observer in my brain huffing and saying “This is ridiculous, just take a picture of it and give it away.” I put the horse in the donation box with a pile of other less-than-beloved horses which are also destined to leave my life. They took up space in my life for thirty years because of the memory of me treasuring them. Now I am ready to honor the treasure of my twelve year old self by keeping only a few extra-special horses rather than keeping them all. With only nine horses, each horse carries a larger portion of memory than when there were thirty of them. I kept the nine whose names I remember.

The other twenty-one were so important to me once, and letting them go would feel easier if I could be certain that they would be treasured again by someone new. But that is me not wanting to fully relinquish. I have a lingering desire to control the fate of these objects. It is a trap. If I seek to control their disposition, then I am continuing to carry responsibility attached to them. If I give them to someone I know, I’ve retained the ability to ask after them, to fret over them. These are the strings that must be cut in order to do the emotional uncluttering work which is even more vital that the simple act of giving away stuff. I’m also ironically aware that in writing more than 1500 words about letting go of plastic horses, I am, in a way, keeping them. I transfer their memory from physical objects into digital words, far easier to store. Also easier to lose track of if I don’t take effort to curate and manage the storage of those words. If, on the other hand, I’m willing to treat words written as a live music performance which is expressed without expectation that it will be retained, then even in writing words, I am letting go.

I’m learning that I don’t have to keep all the things for fear of future need, and I don’t have to keep all the memories either. At forty-six years old I have over 24,177,600 minutes of memory. It would drive one mad to try to retain each of those minutes as a separate, always-accessible memory unit. Instead we have to consolidate, categorize, and blend. Brains are wired from birth to do exactly this. I lose memories all the time. It is a necessary conservation of mental resources, not a tragedy. When I pick up an object and am filled with memory, that same memory could likely be accessed in a different way with a different object, location, or smell. Even if that one plastic horse had vanished from my life years ago, I would not have forgotten that Grandpa loves me. In fact I am certain that I have forgotten hundreds of other events that were evidence of the same fact.

Objects come and go, memories come and go also, whether or not they are attached to objects. For right now I’m in a period of time where what I need is to clear away the accumulated detritus of who I used to be so that I have space enough to grow into who I want to become. This means bidding farewell to less-than-beloved objects and their associated memory clutter.

Edited 2/8/2019 to add: So after spending more than 1500 words talking about how it is okay, important even, to let things go, I kept the horse my Grandpa repaired for me. It stands in a solo space not with the rest of the collection, which feels better as it never really fit the collection. The deciding factor was my daughter poking through the box full of horses and asking to see the one Grandpa repaired. Then she mentioned that she’s always liked seeing the herd of horses on my shelves, a reminder that childhood is a thing to be proud of rather than shuffled away and forgotten. So now I have another series of thoughts on how objects can mean different things to different people and why, in a shared household, it is important to communicate about which things are important to us and why. Two boxes of horses got donated. I have my shelf of named horses. I have the one that Grandpa fixed. And I have about five more in an undecided box. They may be donated, they may go back on the shelves. I’m still thinking.

Being Done with High School

I don’t know what the paper will look like when I sign it. It might be mostly bare with a large line waiting for my scrawl. It might be dense with fine print, all of which I should read first, but the content of which I already know. I sign the paper and my third child is done with high school. She’ll still attend one class on campus, but only because she wants to, not because it is needed for her diploma. The paper changes her from needing 28 credits to graduate from her high school to needing 24 credits and graduating from the school district. It is an option that is not advertised, it is rolled out and explained only in answer to need. I was prepared to ask for it when I went to the school to explain the state of my child, but it was offered before I wound the conversation to where I could ask.

I sign one paper and one stage of life is over, the next one begins. I’ve spent eighteen years tracking, supporting, cajoling, helping so that she could have a high school diploma. Now that diploma is guaranteed. She already has more than the required 24 credits. She could walk away from all of her classes if she chose. Instead she chose to keep one. That this shift nearly coincides with her eighteenth birthday only underlines the change. We’ll probably forgo all the trappings of graduation, skipping the cap-and-gown ceremony for something quieter and smaller. She doesn’t want them. I see no reason to insist.

From here, my responsibility in relation to her is far different. She gets to make the choices, try, fail, pick herself up to try again. I step back to a support role. Advisory status with attached financial support. And as soon as she figures out how not to need that financial support, she won’t have to listen to me at all. She will listen, because she is smart, kind, and empathetic, but she won’t have to.

Strange how triumph can arrive so quietly without looking like triumph at all.

Before Dawn on a Saturday Morning

I was awake before dawn this morning. On a weekday morning, that is just my normal schedule: up before the sun to get kids off to school. But this is Saturday. I’d planned to sleep in. Instead I was awakened by a combination of bio-rhythmic patterns, a mewling cat who’d managed to shut himself in a bathroom, and my daughter’s alarm going off endlessly. (Time to have another conversation about “please set your alarm for a time when you actually plan to get up instead of letting it go off every ten minutes for two full hours.”) With alarm off and cat freed from his trap, I crawled back into bed, but sleep was not to be reclaimed. My brain was full of thinking instead.

There is plenty to think about. This has been an eventful week full of repairs, expenses, doctors appointments, book release work, and emotional management of a teenager in (maybe) crisis. Strange how “crisis” can sometimes be hard to measure. It sometimes takes an outside mental health professional to point out that the thing you and your child have been managing for months-on-end is actually something which should be treated as urgent to the point of upheaving many of your life routines. This included new medical intervention, the acquisition of a new therapist, and a major sorting of possessions to transform a bedroom. The process is not done. Won’t be for an additional months-on-end I think. But I also think that it will only take another week or so to settle into the trajectory shift.

Mixed in with all the home and human maintenance, was work on the latest Schlock book release. I hauled 1500lbs of books into and then back out of the house with Howard signing all those books in between. I then hauled almost 2000lbs of books into the house to await signing and sketching. I had assistants for some of the hauling, but as I was the only worker who participated in every hauling batch, I did a large portion of the physical work. Days later, I’m still physically tired. The physical work continues with hefting books out for Howard to sign and putting books into packages so they can ship.

The sun is up now. The ground outside is coated with a hard frost. Soon I’ll need to venture forth, there is shopping to do for the bedroom transformation in process. Also groceries. And perhaps an hour or two at the warehouse assembling packages. I’m not sure yet how the day will play out. I just know I won’t run out of things to do before I run out of energy to do them. But first I need to go eat the yummy breakfast that Howard is making.

Remodeling and Responsibility

We’re having an expensive week here at Chez Tayler. We finally called in a plumber because we got tired of an ever-filling bucket of garbage disposal water accumulating under the sink. While the plumber was here, he corrected a faulty tub drain, which has leaked at random intervals since we bought this house twenty years ago. Later this week we have someone coming to examine our garage door, which has begun making an alrming clanging noise each time it opens or closes. Howard has a dental appointment for a crown, and two kids had doctor appointments. The financial squirrel in my brain has been making distressed noises, she wants to hide away all the money into safe reserves against impending need. Sometimes it is hard for her to accept that ‘need’ is now.

Even as I’m paying out all of these bills, I’ve been contemplating a minimalism documentary I watched, and that new tidying up series from Marie Kondo. First let me say that Ms. Kondo is adorable, I just want to put her in my pocket and keep her. She radiates happiness and optimism. I like her approach to objects and to adjusting our relationships with them. I’m less enamored of the minimalist philosophy from the documentary which pares down living spaces to echoing rooms and dependence on the infrastructure of others to maintain comfort. Living out of two suitcases means that you’re dependent on someone else to own and manage a laundromat for your use, also you require hotels, rentable furnished apartments, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. A life of extreme minimalism (without being impoverished) is a life of extreme privilege. And yet, the minimalists have reasonable points to make about the fact that most modern Americans acquire far more stuff than will make them happy. The acquisition of stuff becomes a financial, physical, and emotional burden. I just prefer Ms. Kondo’s approach for readjusting that burden.

The thought floats through my mind, all the spending I’m doing this week is to maintain things that we already have. I would not have to spend five hundred dollars (my guess at the cost) repairing the garage door if I decided not to have an automatic garage door. This thought leads my inner financial squirrel to pipe up and say “Do we really need a garage door?” She makes this sort of noise at any expenditure, which is sometimes useful in helping me be conscious about how I’m spending resources. Other times it contributes to anxiety-related decision paralysis.

In the next few months our family plans to do even more spending. We’re going to be buying materials and assistance to reconfigure our kitchen. I spin in mental circles as I contemplate this. I believe that re-configuring our space to match how we want to be living is a good thing. However spending money to replace cupboards when we already have functioning cupboards is kind of wasteful. But I plan to offset that waste by salvaging the existing cupboards and donating them to Habitat for Humanity. Yet the project will require money and time both of which could be spent on other projects, perhaps projects that cost less and would do more to make the world a better place. Also, if we spend money improving our kitchen, we’re committing to spending money in the future to maintain that kitchen. But I believe in the power of Place and doing the work in order to create a place with a particular spirit and beauty about it. Putting in the time and effort to make my home into such a place seems worthwhile. Particularly if I also enjoy the process of creating that place.

Around and around I go contemplating in small scale (my kitchen remodel) issues of resource management and the value of personal fulfillment vs public good; issues that have application in much larger scales in society. It would be kind of nice to just be excited about remodeling without all the attached mental churn. But for now, I need to get back to work earning the money that will pay down debts, buy materials, and grant me a life comfortable enough that I can afford to contemplate these thoughts.

Courageous Intentions for 2019

I’ve never thought of my self as a New Years Resolution sort of person. I’m absolutely a goal-setting person, but I didn’t like scheduling my goal setting for the onset of a new year. Yet here at the beginning of 2019 I find myself with a New Year’s Intention for the third year in a row. Not a resolution, not something I plan to will into existence, but instead an emotional approach for the next portion of my life. (I grant that the difference between resolution and intention may be splitting hairs, but this is about me, and my life, and how I want to dwell inside my life, I figure I get to use whichever words feel right to me.)

I did not decide ahead of time to find a new intention for the coming year. I didn’t consciously decide them at all. The intentions just arrived mid-to-late December as I was contemplating the year ahead of me. They were like gifts “Here Sandra, this is the focus you need for the year to come.” So I won’t complain at getting a gift again this year.

At the onset of 2017, I felt a need to Grow My Heart to whatever size was necessary to encompass the emotional load ahead of me and to love more people. When the Grinch grew his heart three sizes, he became strong and sure. I wanted that.

At the onset of 2018 I set out to Be Less Afraid. I took the strength I gained from growing my heart and used it to confront my own anxieties. I practiced staying with uncomfortable feelings instead of always taking action to resolve them.

At the onset of 2019 the words that have come to me are Be Courageous. Being less afraid was holding ground without letting fear drive my actions. Being courageous is stepping toward things even if I am afraid. It claims ground. In order to be courageous, I’ll have to continue the practices of growing my heart and being less afraid. Apparently my annual intentions are cumulative.

These intentions aren’t goals. There is nothing I can measure. No progress I can check off of a list. I think that is good for me. Task lists are one of the ways I hide. I wield my tasks-accomplished as evidence of personal value. Not realizing I was even doing that until I started pondering on being courageous and how terrifying it felt to believe in my own worth without outside validation of it. I shy away from that, and from many other things. Courageous me must start doing and claiming the things that task lists were letting me hide from. The specific daily actions I need to be taking become clearer as I continue to think about what courage means in my life.

All of it is a work in progress, not something that will be completed. The ways I live courage in January will likely be different than in August, responding to the differing needs of those periods of time. I have to stay in tune to figure it out as I go. No simple answers or quick fixes here. It will be big and complex. Life is always complex no matter how much we try to compartmentalize and control so the vastness of existence doesn’t overwhelm us.

Be Courageous. It is a worthy work for the coming year.

Closing Out 2018

The days between Christmas and New Years feels like they reside in a place outside of time. According to a tweet I saw this week, they used to do exactly that. Calendars used to end on Christmas and the new one wouldn’t begin until January 1. I’ve no idea if that factoid is accurate, but it amuses me to think it so. Days outside of time is how this week feels.

But then today is New Years Eve, and that feels fixed. Tied inextricably to the beginning of next year. My family celebrated by going out into the sub-freezing garage and loading my car full of donation items. The garage does not look much cleaner yet, but it is a step closer to where it needs to be. We have plans for the house which involve using garage space to stain cabinets. A few closets and cupboards were also emptied out and sorted. That was where I discovered this stash of birthday candles.

For a long time I saved candles from year to year, particularly the big number ones. When the kids were little, that made sense. They haven’t been little for quite a while now. Yet these candles lingered in our lives taking up space in a cupboard because we never thought to get rid of them. Their purpose is done, we can move on.

Another thing I have been working on in this timeless space between the years is finishing up family photo books. I’ve reached the point where the only one left to do is 2018. This is the first time I’ve been caught up on those since 2012. As I began sorting photos for 2018, I find myself thinking “That was this year?” As I see news-in-review online, I think the same thing. Somehow 2018 feels like it was far longer than a single year. At the same time I see a photo and think “wait that was last January?” Some events feel much closer in time than they actually are, while others feel much longer ago. Perhaps there was a watershed (or several) somewhere in the middle of 2018 and everything before it feels “long ago” and everything since feels “recent.” Only I can’t identify a single event or time span with a large shift in it. Rather the whole year has been a constant and steady shift-of-course for multiple people in our family. We are not now who we were when this year began.

I know that I am not. For the first time in several years, I am not afraid of the year to come. I’m not feeling worn or weary. It is a good feeling, as is the clean emptiness of the closets and cupboards and the progress on changing the garage. Every little thing helps us move forward, and “excited to move forward” is a good feeling for New Years Eve.

Christmas Wishes

Callie wishes that you may always have a place of retreat when things feel too scary.

Milo wishes that you may remember that love is more important than dignity.

Kikaa wishes that you can always have someone you love close by.

And may we all remember to take care of each other.

Tradition and Renewal at Christmas Time

Christmas time is a tradition heavy season. We bring out decorations that only take part in our lives once per year and then are carefully stowed away. When we pull it out again, we are connected with last year and any years before that where these objects took part in our lives.

Christmas is a time of renewal. We are connected with our past selves through the medium of tradition, and then how we interact with those traditions for this year becomes part of who we are in the future. Some years I have let go of long held traditions. Some years something we did meant so much to us that we repeat it the next year and the next. Occasionally traditions can be consciously started and maintained, but often we don’t realize we’ve made a tradition until it pops up again year after year.

This year is one of forging new traditions for my family. Not in a big overhaul-the-holdiay sort of way, but in small things. It is the first year that not all of my children will be sleeping under my roof for Christmas Eve. He’ll join us for celebrations and rejoin us in the morning for more, but in between he wants to be at his own home in his apartment in his own bed. This is the second year when not all my kids share all my religious beliefs. So we feel our way forward trying to honor the holiday as a religious event for some family members, while not forcing religious aspects on others. It worked beautifully last year, so I’m not worried for this year. We’ll find our way forward with love and laughter.

Weeks ago I alerted all the members of our family that I was not going to be the orchestrator of gifts. They had to do their own thinking and planning. And they did. It was such a relief for me to not have to keep a long list of suggestions. I did not have to brainstorm what would be a good gift for this child to give to that child. In truth, that was a role I should have given up long ago, recognizing that one of the best ways to teach someone to be a good and thoughtful gift giver is to let them fail at it a few times.

This morning I went out in the pre-dawn to purchase the food we’ll need for the holiday. While I was out, I went in search of garlands for our new stair railings. We’ve never had railings before this year, now we do. And now we have garlands and a wreath for them. It makes me happy. There is so much work we have planned for our kitchen and front room, but this one portion of our main floor is exactly as we want it to be. It is new, and yet it fits in so smoothly with everything that has gone before that it feels like was already a tradition waiting for us to uncover it.

May your celebratory seasons be full of both tradition and renewal.

Measurable Improvements in December

One of the things I have been doing in the past couple of weeks is to occasionally pause and note how much better this December feels than last December did. Last December I was in a swirl of familial transition, very prone to getting pulled off balance, and not at all sure what the next steps should be. This year, almost none of that. Or rather, all of it to lesser degrees because transition and uncertainty are givens for any living thing, but I am not falling into pits of fear and tears. I can credit much of it to the fact that all four of my kids have found their own ways to balance. And I learned how to not be right next to them the moment they wobbled so that they had a chance to learn how to balance without leaning on me.

My goal for this year as I stated in this post was to build a life with less fear in it, to learn how to live, breathe, be less afraid. As I move through this December I can finally see some of that work coming to fruition. I still have more work to do. I just finished reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection and I’m embarking on reading The Gaslight Effect by Robin Stern which already has me rethinking my instinctive reactions in certain social situations. The work of not being afraid will continue, but in 2019 I will take it a step further. I will learn to be courageous.

If failing to write words is fear, then it is courage to write the words anyway and allow them to be read. And judged. Not knowing if the words will be inspiring or boring, useful or disappointing. It is this kind of courage I need to cultivate in the next year of my life. Quiet courage that does the work without looking like courage at all.

This is a snippet from a newsletter I sent out a few weeks ago. It was the first newsletter I’ve sent in years. I chose to format most of it like a letter from a friend rather than an Author Update. My effort was answered within twelve hours by an email from my newsletter service that I had a very high unsubscribe rate. So I’ll reconfigure and take steps to filter so that only the people who want that sort of newsy letter actually get it. This is the quiet courage I want to cultivate. The kind that gets negative feedback on a creative effort then gets up and tries again.

The need for this sort of courage became obvious to me when (in November) I was hit with a series of blows to my professional confidence. No one who delivered those hits intended me harm nor did they realize they’d caused it. Which was actually part of the harm. I was insignificant enough that they didn’t even realize they’d hit me. I had to step back and recognize that the only reason that these events registered as harm at all was because I was looking to external sources for validation on my creative efforts. Such an easy trap to fall into.

I had to decide whether to crawl into a hole and hide until it didn’t hurt anymore, or to get up and keep moving trusting that eventually it wouldn’t hurt anymore. I suspect that the amount of time it hurt would have been the same no matter which path I picked. Healing takes the time it takes, and we can rarely speed it up, though we can definitely slow it down. I did some hiding and some moving. And I rearranged my days a bit, using the holiday season as a reason to shed some tasks that I had been holding over my own head.

All of which is how I came to be a few days before Christmas and thinking the sorts of thoughts I usually think about between Christmas and the new year. I don’t mind the thoughts coming early. It is nice that I’ve been able to create enough space for them to exist. Yet another way that this December is so much better than last year.