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July 2018
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Quick Thought About Today and Dreams

In preparation for my presentations at GenCon, I’ve been reading materials about breaking creative blocks and organizing a creative life. A thought I keep encountering is that my days should match my dreams. Any future with my words published begins with a today where I wrote those words. Any future where I am healthier begins with a today when I took time to tend to my health. I won’t have the life or dreams that I want unless I am willing to sacrifice pieces of today’s time and comfort in service of those dreams. The hard part is that every thing I want to do requires me to give up some other thing that I also want to do. Even worse, many of the things which carry me closer to my dreams require me to give up something that is comfortable/happy in order to do something that is uncomfortable/difficult. However if I just do a few things every day, over time they become easier to do, less uncomfortable, and I begin to see progress.

Switching Gears

I shipped out the last of the RAM books this morning. That concludes a Kickstarter that began last October. I was also notified that the big shipment of shirts will arrive on Friday. Once that arrives and is shipped out, I will have completed the second Kickstarter. It is possible that by the time I leave for GenCon I will have zero pending Kickstarters. Even if we pull of an amazing scramble to get the next two Schlock books ready, I’m not likely to launch that Kickstarter until I get back from GenCon.

Right now our business plan and personal finances have us going from Kickstarter to Kickstarter. The landscape of ways that audience, internet, and software tools interact means that we have to constantly be evaluating what combinations are best to supply stories to our audience while also being able to pay our bills. One of the next experiments on the list is to try out Print on Demand products like shirts. Because I am never again planning to do a shirt based Kickstarter. The logistics on this one have been convoluted at every step. In theory POD products give customers more choices and me less inventory to manage. It is a worthwhile experiment.

Through all the business experimentation and shifting, both Howard and I are constantly aware that pretty much all of our income is based in Schlock Mercenary. We’d like to have other income sources, other books, other worlds. Unfortunately it is sometimes difficult for me to shake free from all of the administrative work so that I can focus on the creative work necessary to make other income sources happen.

When I was young and trying to picture my adult life, Small Business Owner was nowhere on the list. I did not know that to be an author also requires me to run a small business.

GenCon is looming large in my attention. I only have three weeks until departure. Most of the organizational work is done, but the writer’s symposium schedulers expressed an enormous amount of faith in me. I pitched five presentations expecting them to pick two or maybe three. They put all five on the schedule. I’m excited about this, but I have to make sure that I am up to speed on all of the presentations. I need to do this well, and that means brushing up in advance and making sure I have the latest available information.

But first I need to get past this week, which has a cluster of appointments for family related things.

Thought Experiment

If I were not worried about money, how would I spend today? It is a thought experiment. It isn’t the question of unlimited money and how that would transform my life, but just one of current needs met. If I could maintain my status quo, bills paid, with no additional effort, what then? The exercise is designed to help me see my priorities. Which work would I step away from because it is motivated by the need for money? Which work would I lean into because it is work I truly want to do? My answers change depending on the day. For today, I would spend the day more like I do when I’m on a writing retreat. I would go for walks in pretty places. I would read. I would think thoughts. And I would write. Other days I discover more of a desire to organize and improve my spaces.

With the thought experiment complete, I now need to figure out how to shoehorn into my day some of the things I would do if my day were unconstrained.

After an Unintended Silence

The number of blog entries that I partially write and then never finish is significant these days. It is increasingly hard to tease out stories I can tell on the internet from those that are too personal, too religious, too political, or simply not mine to tell. Would-be memoirists are told that they have to be bold and willing to give offense in telling their truths. I can see why when I read a memoir or blog and I am not given a full emotional picture because the writer has chosen to protect something. The words become vague rather than powerful when they are separated from full context. Yet there are relationships and duties that I prize more than I prize being a writer of raw truth. So I myself am intentionally vague at times. That likely limits my audience and reach. It also means that I will begin a post only to discover that the threads of thought are tangled up with something I choose not to share with the internet. So I leave the post fallow, incomplete.

I trust the internet less than I used to. In the past two years the level of anger and vitriol expressed on the internet has increased greatly. The algorithms of social media have had the unintended consequence of turning people I know to be good, into people who generalize and speak dismissively of others. I watch as people I used to enjoy interacting with either become unpleasant to read, or step away, drop out, vanish from the homes they used to inhabit online. I do not wish to vanish, but I have always been a person who falls silent when the conversation gets loud / vigorous / contentious. Yet on the internet to be silent is to vanish.

Every day on social media I see people shouting about causes that are important. Every moment has some emergency where I should signal boost, or send money, or lend my small weight toward swaying the choices of legislators. I could spend every penny and every minute on these causes. But then I would be in need of rescue. In scrambling to answer crises, I would have failed in doing the creative work which has the potential to heal on a larger scale. I am a teller of stories. I always have been. Stories are the most valuable piece of what I have to give to the world. Stories help us decide who we are as individuals. Shared stories are how we decide who to be as communities. So I measure out a portion of my time to crises, and a portion to daily maintenance, and a large share to the people who are mine to teach/serve/love directly, and a portion to the possibility of a brighter future. A brighter future that I help create by taking the time to craft words into stories which then move people, who then move society in better directions.

This is why I will come back to writing, even after a period of unintended silence. It is why, after dozens of abandoned blog posts, I will find the way to finish some.

Fixing Our Spaces

This past week we’ve had workers in our house doing some construction. I sometimes feel self conscious about the conspicuous consumption involved in home improvement projects. I was raised in the “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” school of thought. However I’ve increasingly become aware that the way we arrange our living spaces directly impacts how we live inside those spaces. If I am constantly surrounded by things that are falling apart, it contributes to me not making effort to take care of my surroundings. On the other hand, if my surroundings are beautiful to my eyes, I feel more at peace in my life. Unfortunately, beautiful is often the more expensive option, so it has been a long time coming. In fact, we’re working to re-make our house a little bit at a time. This week we finally had the funds to fix up the stairs.

Here is what our front entry looked like before any work was done. The big blocky thing you see to the left was a coat closet. You may infer from the hooks with coats on them that this closet was filled with things which we rarely had a need to access. It was shove space. And it was taking up square footage at the entrance to our house.

About eighteen months ago I decided that the closet needed to be removed. So I dismantled it. Unfortunately right after the dismantling we hit a financial tight patch and we ended up living with bare studs for the next year and a half.

This is what the space looks like today.

We have beautiful railing where once there was a big block of shove space. obviously there is still work to do. The wall needs paint, the flooring has to be replaced, and there will be additional fittings to make this front entry way a better place to put coats, backpacks and other items that are taken off when entering the house.

But I’m so glad that visitors to my house are no longer greeted with this view.

Instead they get to see this.

And when I’m sitting in my kitchen I don’t see this anymore.

Instead I have a view of beautiful railing and the front door.

These railings are only the beginning. They define how we want our main floor to one day look. They are a promise to ourselves that bit by bit we will make our primary living area into one that makes us glad to enter instead of one that constantly frustrates us.

Linkfest 2018

Sometimes I read an online article and I want to keep track of it for some reason. I might want to write a blog post. I might be planning to send the link to someone else, but now isn’t the right moment. It might be any one of a dozen things. What I tend to do in a case like this is paste the link into an email draft then close it. I was doing some digital housecleaning and noticed that my drafts folder had topped 50. Keeping links in email drafts is a sloppy way to store them. So instead I’m going to put all of them into a blog post with an easily searchable title. This is something of an experiment to see if this works as a long term link storage mechanism. So here are things I wanted to keep track of in the past several years, roughly sorted by category.

Business links
An etsy guide on writing a GDPR qualifying privacy policy.
A checklist for making sure your business is GDPR compliant.
A guide to getting started setting up a Shopify Point of Sale.
A list of crowdfunding options that can be linked to a website.
A detailed set of instructions on how to correct identity theft and credit problems. This was very thorough and explained not just what to do, but why doing these things was for your benefit.

Things about Mental health or parenting
An article saying that the increase in teen depression is probably caused by screen use, which I want to site in an eventual blog post talking about how the picture is far more complex both societally and personally than “screens are to blame, take them away.”
A concrete guide for parents who want sensible (not fear-driven) ways to guide their children’s tech use. This is written by a woman who has spent her career studying the interactions between tech and teens. She knows her subject.
An examination of race and emotional labor in the show Mudbound. Gave me some new thoughts to think.
Looking into the future for a child with autism. Key quote: “Your future should look like the best parts of your present.”
A powerful piece of writing on the interior of grief. Quote that particularly struck me, “There are some things in life that can never be fixed. They can only be carried.”
Thoughts from Jay Lake on grief. Key powerful thought: ”
It’s so damned hard, being careful of my own emotions and others. The people around me don’t feel free to express their negative thoughts for fear of upsetting me. I don’t feel free to express my negative thoughts for fear of upsetting my loved ones, family and friends. We all dance this strange dance of toxic consideration like elephants on ice, slipping and occasionally crashing.”

Things with religious content
An article for Mormons talking about how maybe we shouldn’t claim sole ownership of all truth. Which I’ve saved as a potentally useful link for helping some expand how they think about the religion we share.
A blog post about making religion more than a checklist of things to do. We shouldn’t be just aiming for checkpoints without examining why.
An article on making a prayer book. I’ve since discovered that writing prayers is a useful mechanism for me to focus my devotional thoughts.

Writer resources
A twitter thread with links to articles about the weird stuff that birds do. Potentially useful for worldbuilding.
The way that schizophrenics experience the voices in their heads depends on the culture they were raised in.
An article on why idle time is crucial to creativity. Grabbed this one to show to my son who lives most of his life with a screen in his field of vision.

Social or political topics

A woman examines her reactions to MeToo accusations, specifically where her own desire to minimize comes from. This is a fascinating glimpse into psychology and why we sometimes get defensive about things.
A woman examines the idea of redemption in the era of MeToo.
Words from Mike Rowe on following dreams. “Don’t follow your passion, but always bring it with you.” I thought I’d disagree, but discovered that I don’t.
A list of specific things to do to fight hate. This is from the Southern Poverty Law Center and helps deconstruct why some of our first instincts to fight back against hate speech are ineffective at best and harmful at worst. They instead give concrete, useful ways to redirect energy from empty confrontation into useful action.
A woman of color discusses cultural appropriation vs creative synthesis.
A woman who is tracking the abnormal things in the current US administration. This one is from week 10. I’ve been meaning to go check and see if she’s still making lists more than a year later.
An article on the problem of liberal bias in science.
You can’t actually boil a frog by heating it slowly.

The word Howard and I created to describe how fun it is to smoosh words together in the German language. wortrauchenvergnugen, literally Word smushing pleasure.

School is Done

School did not end so much as it faded away. My two school kids opted out of the last week of school because none of the teachers were taking attendance, neither of them ever used their locker (and thus had no need to clean it out,) and they didn’t care about year books. So there was no point and they didn’t go. Officially school ended yesterday. My kids celebrated a week ago.

On the day that school officially ended, I began the summer schedule. This process merely means that I stick a list to the front of their computer screens at bedtime. When they wake up they do the things on the list before using their screens. It is a workable system. It went beautifully yesterday, less well this morning. Weekends don’t get morning lists. Instead the residents of the house may get dragged into a project if I have one going. For tomorrow I’m eyeing the garage. There are things in there that we haven’t used in years. It is past time to evict them. Also, we need to fix up their bikes, because one of the goals for this summer is that the kids spend more time outdoors, preferably active. Also, if they aren’t going to use their bikes, then the bikes are among the things which should go.

I have felt much calmer and happier these past few days. I hadn’t realized how much psychological space school was taking up. I’m paying attention to that, because there is a cost/benefit analysis to be done between public school and home schooling. Next school year needs to be different, even if that means ditching public school. For now the plan is to do a mixture. And I can’t make final decisions until I have more than two days of data on how the list-in-the-morning plan goes.

Stepping Outside My Bubble (Sort of)

When I was a teenager headed off to college. I was firmly of the opinion that I didn’t want to raise kids inside the Utah “Mormon Bubble.” I had Utah-raised cousins, and my California-raised self saw patterns in their thinking and attitudes that I felt indicated they were out of touch with reality. Because life is not always what we plan when we are 18, I’ve spent my entire parenting life raising kids in Utah. I did what I could to broaden their perspectives, but my kids are totally bubble raised.

Except, so are everyone else’s. That’s the thing I did not realize at 18. I’d grown up in my own bubble. I lived in a town where a significant portion of the kids where children of parents who worked at a National Laboratory. These parents were gung ho on education and demanded opportunities from the school system. There was a series of honors classes at the school, and there was a group of us who took all of them. It created a bubble of “honors kids” who pretty much had the same people in their classes from elementary school all the way through high school. We all shaped each other. And we were shaped by the teachers, and the town, and a dozen other factors we shared. All of this combined to create a sense of “this is how the world works and how we should view it.” I could clearly see the ways that my cousins participated in their cultural bubble. My own cultural bubble was invisible to me.

This weekend I’m back in my home town. I’m sleeping in the bedroom that was mine when I was a teenager and then was my Grandma’s, and now is guest space. All evidence of my residence is erased, but my Grandma’s existence is still evidenced by the wall decor and furniture that remains in the room. In this space I am definitely outside my usual life. I’ve stepped out of my usual way of living and I’ve stepped into patterns that are familiar-but-not-really-mine. I went for a walk in a park where I used to run cross country races with a woman I’ve not seen since we both graduated high school. Talking with her helped me see and remember the bubble I grew up in. Thinking about our conversation helped me pause and identify the bubbles I live in now.

My life is venn diagram of bubbles. I suspect many lives are. Yes I have a Utah Mormon bubble that consists of a neighborhood of fellow church goers who function as a small town inside the larger city. I also have a speculative fiction writer bubble which exists in my online spaces and at the conventions I attend. I know there are other bubbles: political, familial, etc, however these first two bubbles were the ones that became visible to me as I talked with a friend who shared neither one.

The thing about bubbles is that they are necessary. Human brains can’t hold all possibilities equally all the time. We have to decide what we think is acceptable and what we think is wrong. We have to find ways to spend time with people who share those attitudes and allow us to relax into them. We have to develop a sense of “I fit in” and “this is normal” Maslow’s hierarchy of needs teaches us this. We need to belong. We need periods where we can rest and be comfortable, because if we’re never able to rest that does things to our brains which are often expressed as anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Of course the risk of cultural bubbles is that the walls are reflective. It is sometimes hard to see outside them. And when we do sometimes we get baffled and angry at the lives and choices of others. Their choices make sense in their bubble (which we can’t see) but not in ours.

This is why it is good for me to step outside my usual bubbles. It is good for me to remember that the world is full of ways of being human that are different from my well-worn and familiar paths. This is particularly useful to me right now, since I’m taking specific steps to reduce anxiety in my life. I’m changing my physical spaces to disrupt some of my habitual patterns. I’m trying to bring in new ways of thinking about my life. Traveling outside my bubble gives me new perspectives and a reinvigorated desire to make changes, to shift my bubbles and expand them. I can take that desire and perspective home with me to view my habits and patterns in new ways.

GDPR Compliance

Today is the day that GDPR (General Data Protection Rights) goes into effect in the EU. It applies to EU citizens anywhere they might go on the internet. I’ve looked over what it takes to be GDPR compliant and it just seems like smart data management to me. So we’ve been working this week to make sure all our sites are compliant. It’s been a busy week. This blog is the last piece that needs to be updated with a privacy policy. Unfortunately today is a travel day for me, so I’m not certain when I’ll get to it. Signing up to comment is the only way this blog collects data. I’ve turned off commenting on the site temporarily. (Thus not collecting any new data from any of you) Commenting will come back once I have a privacy policy posted specifically for this blog.

How to handle a harassment complaint at your event

Alternate title: Good practices for organizational management of a harassment complaint

Note: This document is not exhaustive and may be updated with additional suggested policies. I am not a trained harassment manager and there may be more detailed documents that you should reference when planning your event.

Step 1: Have a harassment policy
You can call a Code of Conduct, or some other name, but you must have a policy that clearly states what behaviors are not allowed at your event. The policy should state that failure to follow it can lead to expulsion from the event without refund. It should also have clear instructions for how to report a violation. All of your attendees should be asked to agree to this policy if they want to attend your event. If you do not have a policy, stop running your event until you do. This is for your own legal protection as well as the protection of your attendees. You need legal grounds to remove disruptive people from your event.

Step 2: Safety Committee
You need some people who are designated to handle any violations of your behavioral policies. They need to be trained and given a detailed instruction set (like this one you’re reading) for how you expect them to handle any issues. Having set up your committee, TRUST THEM. If you do not trust their judgement, then you have an organizational problem. You as event organizer have enough things to handle, don’t spend time second guessing your committee. There may be situations where you need to be involved in the decision process, but for the most part let your committee have the power to handle things.

Step 3: The victim comes to you
When someone comes to you to report a violation of your policy, the first concern of the staff member should be to make the victim feel safe. If there is an imminent danger or ongoing disruption, that must be managed first. The victim should be brought into contact with a member of the safety committee as quickly as possible. Either walk them there (if in person) or perform an email introduction (if online). Any staff who are not on the safety committee should step out of the process at this point. Helping the victim feel safe might include finding a private location, getting a friend to sit with them, switching to a safety person of similar gender. Always thank the victim for coming to report the incident. Reassure the victim that you want to know what happened.

Step 4: Listen
Listen to an account of the incident. Have the victim write it down, or write it down as they tell it to you. Be sympathetic to the victim. Validate their feelings. Ask for clarifying details. Find out if there are corroborating witnesses who are also willing to report. At the end of this step you should have a document signed by both the safety person and the victim that states what happened. (and additional reports from any witnesses) Both the victim and the safety committee should get a copy of this document. This document becomes a critical legal protection to both you and to the victim should things get complicated later. In a case of false reporting, this document also functions as a protection for the accused. Do not promise the victim any specific outcome from the report.

Step 5: Help the victim process
As part of listening to the victim and validating their feelings, discuss with them what they feel would be an appropriate consequence for the incident, ask “what would you like to have happen?” Document this answer in the report. It can help your committee’s decision making. Thank the victim for making the report. Give them contact info for the person who will be case manager for this incident. (Probably the person they reported to.) Tell them they can reach out and add to their report as needed. If they do reach out, note that on the report with date and time. Tell the victim that you will confer with your safety committee to make a decision about what is to be done and that you will get back to them within 24 hours with further information. (A longer timeline is acceptable if the victim is informed about why the longer timeline is needed.)

Step 6: Immediately contact your committee
They should be on call for exactly this sort of thing. If any committee members are close friends with either the victim or the accused, they should remove themselves from the discussion. If the entire committee is friends with either the victim or the accused, then seek out someone who can be impartial about the incident and hire them to arbitrate. Share the report, the victim’s requested consequence, and any observations the safety person may have. Compare the report with your policies to see if the consequence becomes obvious. Decide on a course of action. This can include anything from taking no action at all, to immediate expulsion from the event for the accused, to contacting the accused for more information or their own report, to contacting law enforcement, to consequences for a false report. Get a counter report from the accused. Have one of your staff advocating for the accused. The step-by-step process you are reading does not cover what actions are appropriate as consequences. That is a separate and nuanced discussion that is outside the scope of this document. Hopefully you had that discussion in detail while writing up your policy. Deciding what action is appropriate is tricky. Impartiality is critical. Part of your decision is choosing who will confront the accused (if confrontation is merited) and what back up they might require to keep everyone safe. Also who will advocate for the accused.

Step 7: Report to event managers
This step may take place between Step 6 and Step 8, or it might be something that just comes up at the next business meeting depending on the severity of the incident and how empowered the safety committee is to make decisions. Do not allow this step to be a blockade that prevents action. The key is to make sure that event managers know that an incident happened and have enough information to not be surprised if they are asked a question about it.

Step 8: Take the action
You may cycle through steps 6 to 8 multiple times as you gather additional information and reports. The key in this step is to act decisively and in a way that ensures safety of everyone involved. Make sure your action matches your stated policies. Also make sure that you extend as much courtesy and kindness toward an accused person.

Step 9: Inform the victim
Within 24 hours of the report (or on the previously agreed timeline), the victim should be contacted with either an update or the resolution of their issue. Make sure you assign a safety person who knows it is their job to keep the victim updated and to relay any ongoing concerns from the victim to the committee. Document those contacts and concerns in the report. Maintain contact with the victim until the incident is officially closed.

Step 10: Appeals and press
Someone is likely to be unhappy about the decision your safety committee made. They may post angry things to social media. They may outright lie about the events that happened. The only answer you give to any questions about the incident from people who were not directly involved is “For confidentiality reasons, we do not discuss any harassment complaints.” This is the answer that protects everyone. It preserves the confidentiality of both the accused and victim. It saves your event from legal liability and ongoing drama. The only time you ever release information from your harassment reports to anyone outside your safety and event management committees is if there is a legal case in which those documents become evidence. You do not need to prove you made the right choice. You as event organizer have the right to expel anyone from your event. At least you do if it is in your written and posted policy. Both the victim and the accused have the right to go to a court of law to challenge the decision you’ve made if they so wish.

Step 11: Post Mortem
The safety committee should meet periodically to discuss any incident reports and make sure appropriate follow up actions are taken. Equally important is that they examine their own handling of the incident to identify any weaknesses in the process or in the written harassment policy that need to be addressed. Make changes so that the next incident is handled as well as this one or better.