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December 2018
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Clash of the Titans (1981)

Sometimes we review beloved entertainment from our childhoods and cringe at the terribleness of it. Other times old entertainment hits the sweet spot of being cheesily bad without being cringe worthy. Tonight I took over our big TV to watch the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans. I giggled all the way through, part out of nostalgia and part because of the ridiculousness of what was on the screen. It helps that we recently watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 so I was primed to riff on old movies. This meant I could watch a scene, remember how I felt about it as a kid, see how I felt about it now, and imagine what sort of jokes would liven the scene up even more. Like the moment where soldiers very seriously announce that they’ve looked everywhere, they rode all the way around the lake, while the “lake” is in the foreground of the shot very obviously being a small pond. Or when the stygian witches make a big deal about how Perseus’s red cloak is now imbued with magic… only he’s never worn a red cloak at any point in the movie this far. It makes its first appearance two scenes later.

I imprinted on this movie a bit when I was 10 and 11. It was the source material for games of pretend at recess. When it came on TV, my family recorded it on video cassette, so I was able to re-watch it. It turns out I still have most of the lines memorized, not to the point that I could recite them, but I always knew what would be said next with what inflection and tone of voice.

No one watched it with me. Howard is five years older than I am. This means that the movie showed up when he was past the developmental sweet spot. Or something. His memory of the film is being disappointed in it. So he didn’t really want to sit through the whole thing, but he wandered past occasionally and I’d fill him in on whatever ridiculous thing was on the screen. I was pleased to be able to note that this movie had 10 speaking parts for women and 8 for men, which surprised me to notice and may explain some of why I found it compelling. The women-as-goddesses matched the men-as-gods in petty squabbling, as is appropriate for Greek gods. The heroine is a damsel-in-distress some, but there are also moments when she took control. And her most damsel-in-distress moment is one that she deliberately walks into in a noble attempt to save her people from destruction. I can see why I liked her and wanted to be like her. I can also see the unconscious societal biases that are stamped all over the film: women are valued for beauty, love at first sight, ugly = evil. I absorbed all of that too. As we all do from entertainment we love, particularly at early ages. There were some things I had to unlearn later. Also a common life experience.

Analysis aside, I’m just glad that I got to spend this evening being happy while watching a compelling munged-together hodge podge of story lifted from Greek myth and presented with only the vaguest attempts at any sort of historical accuracy.

Learning Confidence of Self

The young dancers moved awkwardly on the stage, their motions tentative and lacking in confidence. Unlike elementary school performances where the dancers move freely and joyfully whether or not they’re in time with the beat, these teenagers were the embodiment of self consciousness. I could see it in every motion. The arm which should extend out two more inches to really hit the mark. The hip motion which ought to move further from center of balance. The foot that needs to plant more firmly. The beginning dancers on the stage moved cautiously, more focused on matching motions to beats than on making the motions flow. It was a stark contrast to other numbers with more experienced dancers. Yet they were beautiful. All of them. The confident and self-conscious alike. They had the courage to get on the stage and show what they had learned, whether or not it was perfect. My favorites were the ones who smiled as they performed, they felt the joy of motion and music, which was far more compelling than perfection of steps.

As I watched this high school dance performance I considered what happens to children that moves us from the unselfconsciousness of childhood and into teenage years where our every action and word becomes constrained inside a box of “what will people think.” Even those teens who deliberately disrupt the norms are still reacting to the norm by defining themselves as outside of it. Then some of us, but not all, manage to break free and be who we are without reference to others, just as some of the dancers on the stage had learned to extend to the very edges of their bodies and even to project themselves so that they seemed larger than their forms could contain. For a dancer the only way to achieve this confidence of motion is practice. They must learn their bodies, their center, their edges. They must train mind and body to work in harmony. So it seems that the way to achieve confidence of self is also practice.

How does one practice self? For a writer this question might be more familiarly framed as “what is my voice?” And the same answer applies to both voice and self. You find voice by writing many things, and self by attempting many things. Over time you discover which of these things feel natural to you and which don’t. “Attempting many things” does not mean an endless round of activities. Some people do find themselves in sky diving, hiking, running, dancing, but finding our self is both smaller and larger than the activities we do. It is imitating a friends sense of humor or their accent, either consciously or unconsciously. It is wearing different styles of clothing. It is seeing how various interactions make us feel. In hundreds of tiny ways we experiment with self daily. Practicing, learning, getting better at it. And hopefully we reach a time in our lives where we have a solid sense of who we are. Then we are able to live to the edge of our skin and make our choices confidence of motion.

But if we are not there yet, we must remember that there is also beauty and courage in the beginning dancer. The one who is willing to get on stage without being perfect. The one who will be a better dancer tomorrow because they experience the stage today. Be kind to your self whatever stage you are at, because you’re beautiful.

Frosty Morning

The air was crisp against my face, the ground crunched with ice underfoot. I looked up at the dawn brightening sky, attempting to determine why this morning was lovely when others had merely been cold. It was certainly not the task which occupied my hands. Pulling a garbage can to the curb is arguably the least-lovely of possible tasks. The sky had no explanations for me, just a broad expanse, pink tinged at the edges. The difference then, must be in me if the sky, cold, and ice were unchanged from days prior. This morning I carried with me a soul ready to appreciate and see the beauty when other mornings I focused on my steps and task. Work focus is so often necessary in a world where productivity is survival. Yet the tiny pause in appreciation of the frosty sky did not impede the completion of a mundane task. It elevated it. And I returned to warmth and light a little better for knowing the frost.

My To Do Lists

Design Work
Gather art for Retrospective Sketchbook, then do preliminary layout, then write commentary, then rearrange the layout because I’ve finally figured out how the book actually needs to go, then go find additional art to fill gaps, then write more commentary, then hire a book designer to make the whole thing shiny.
Preliminary layout work for the next Schlock Mercenary book Big Dumb Objects.
Layout and write additional material for Escape from the Friggen Jungle
Create a marketing page to go on the back of Planet Mercenary packages.
Help design five challenge coins
Prepare PDF files for Broken Wind and Delegates & Delegation

Warehouse and Shipping
Prepare store for holiday sales
Inventory every item in the warehouse for taxes
Package up 100-300 Planet Mercenary games for release in retail stores
Order in supplies for holiday shipping
Do the holiday shipping.
Go through dead mail pile and attempt to contact customers one more time
Put scratch and dent books into store
Set up the Backerkit fulfillment for the latest Kickstarter

Once I have counts, place orders for coins
Once I have Kickstarter funds, pay down the credit card used for book printing.
Keep the calendar up to date, scheduling events in 2019 and 2020
Ongoing accounting
Ongoing customer support

Ongoing homeschool preparation and follow-up
Managing some upcoming medical appointments
Help my kid apply to some colleges
Ongoing laundry and housecleaning tasks
Rake all the leaves (buy a composter?)
Harvest walnuts
Research cupboards, how to design, how to order (The next step in our long, slow kitchen remodel.)
Christmas is coming with all the planning that entails.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something that should go on these lists.

Four Days Left on our Kickstarter

We’re running a Kickstarter and it has only four more days to run.

This means we’ve been pushing on social media for the last three weeks and I’m starting to feel like a broken record. I do my best to be interesting and to vary the information in my streams, but the core fact is that if we don’t get the word out, the Kickstarter won’t meet the goals we need it to meet. As of this morning there are three stretch goals left and we’d like to hit all of them. There are things we’d really like the chance to create, but we don’t get to unless we hit the necessary stretch goals.

So I’m on social media being excited about my projects. And I’m trying to advocate for people to go vote in tomorrow’s mid term elections. And I’m trying to make sure that my social media presence is a net gain for people who read things from me. I always want to give more than I ask. Balancing all of that for every online place that I frequent can get tricky.

Friday at 4pm, the Kickstarter closes and I can step back from all of it for awhile. Until then: We have a Kickstarter. It has Schlock books and a short story collection. If we hit a stretch goal I’ll get to make the Howard Tayler Retrospective Sketch Book. If we hit the last stretch goal, Howard gets to write a novel. Perhaps these are things you’d like to help make happen.

See the Kickstarter here:

Testing Again

The program my son is attending has requested additional testing. I was surprised by my strong negative reaction to this request. Particularly since at times in the past testing was exceedingly useful to figure out how to proceed. We’re going to do the testing, and jump through any other required hoops, because we need things that are best available through this program. However I’ve spent the last week sorting feelings and trying to figure out why I’m feeling angry and resentful about a fairly reasonable request for further information.

Today I got into my files to find reports of prior testing done for this son. The file is thick. This kid has been tested with pretty much every academic, psychological, or intellectual instrument that exists, starting at age 2. Including, I discovered, the exact test that his current program is requesting. So now I need to go have another conversation with the staff to decide whether they want to accept test results that are three years old or if they want updated results. I bet they’ll want updated results.

I think I’ve lost faith in the usefulness of further testing. The tests were incredibly valuable in prior years, but repeats won’t add useful information. Also, I can’t escape the feeling that “We’d like to run a test” directly translates into “We don’t know how to help.” Which is a discouraging thing to hear from people who are supposed to be experts. It turns out that even in a program specifically designed for societal outliers, my son is an outlier. Which puts me back in the space of negotiating and trying to forge a way forward off the beaten path.

Fall Break

My kids were out of school for five days. Instead of packing up everyone and heading out for adventures, we stayed home to do comforting things and a few projects. Some of the projects took place in the video game world, but mine were house and harvest.

Years ago we planted grape vines. The starts were gifted to us by a Schlock fan who worked at a vineyard, so we have varieties that aren’t typically seen in home gardens. The vines have matured and we now get a huge harvest each fall.

This year there was a boom in snail population, because for each batch of grapes we brought in, I had to rescue dozens to a hundred tiny snails. The finger pictured is a pinky finger.

The snails had to be rescued because once the grapes were de-stemmed, we cooked them into juice.

Then the juice was cooked into jelly. It was a lot of stove work and glass bottles.

The kitties had their own ideas about how to spend the weekend.

On the Monday of the break there was a different project entirely. We had a big solid redwood playset that we purchased when our kids were little. For the past five years or more, it has sat in our yard unused gathering detritus. We decided that it was time for the playset to move to a home with two six year old boys and a baby. So bright and early we began work.

The job and playset were bigger than the new playset owners expected. But I put my crew of adult-sized kids to work and things came down pretty quickly.

The disassembly process showed me all the ways in which this playset is amazingly solid after sitting outside in the weather for more than 15 years. It also let me see that being disassembled is the best possible thing to happen to it. The new owners will be able to clean everything up, replace aging bolts, re-stain, and replace the few boards that are showing structural wear. I’m glad it is going to people who are excited to do that work. I would never have gotten around to it.

It is always interesting to see what you find in a project like this one. I figured out where all the kid scissors went. We used to have so many rules about scissors not going outside. Rules that were apparently not heeded as evidenced by the graveyard of lost scissors.

Now there is a big empty space in my yard where the playset used to stand. Everything feels open and new possibilities are beginning to be mulled over.

All in all, it was a lovely use for a long weekend. Though I was physically tired at the end of it.

First Week of October

I hadn’t intended to participate in Inktober. I generally don’t commit to anything link Inktober or NaNoWriMo because I’m already juggling enough things every single day that adding an additional daily pressure just hasn’t appealed. I’ve figured that if I want my life to be different, I should permanently readjust my schedule to make up for the thing I lack rather than doing a one month push that I drop at month’s end. I see the value in stretching oneself for a month, but haven’t felt like the timing or practice coincided with my needs.

So I am surprised to discover that I’ve now done four Inktober drawings and posted them on my Instagram. The first I meant as an encouragement to people who might feel intimidated that their art isn’t good enough to participate. The other three each expressed something that was in my head that day. It pleased me to combine word and image to capture an idea.

I don’t know that I’ll continue daily Inktober. Tomorrow’s prompt is “cruel” and I have no desire to add cruelty to the world. Perhaps I’ll jump to a prompt from a prior year. Perhaps I’ll let it go and only participate in Inktober as the prompts match my thoughts for the day.

We’re in book-push week where the last pieces are falling into place so that we have books ready for print. This time there are two simultaneously. My week is a mix of regular work, still trying to unload the last of the t-shirts, final book prep, beginning Kickstarter set up, and end-of-term scramble to make sure kids pass all their classes. Only the end-of-term is less of a scramble than it has been in years. For the first time I’m saying “Hey maybe we should bring this grade up a little since we have time” instead of “You need to hurry and finish this list so you don’t fail this class.” Perhaps we’ve finally found the right balance of classes, or perhaps they’ve just matured enough to step up. Either way, I’ll take it with gratitude.

This week was further made interesting by a four and a half hour power outage which completely disrupted Monday evening plans. During the outage I had time and silence enough to contemplate power and the loss of it, also habit and convenience. All of these thoughts came in relation to the national politics of my country which feel like an angry tangled mess, and also the recent dire reports about climate change. In both cases I need to make my life less convenient in order to make the world a better place for everyone.

At the End of the Trip

When I got to the hotel room, after the long winding lines to debark the ship, after the last hugs to friends, after the week of beautiful sights and new thoughts to think, after all that, I crawled into the hotel bed for a nap. While adjusting the covers, they flipped over my head and I realized how comforting it was to be completely enclosed in a soft, dark cave. So I slept. Cocooning to recover from massive over stimulation of cruise/conference week.

I keep cocooning every time I lay down. I’ll lay there and flashes of memory come and go. Sometimes they are linked to a task I should probably do in the days to come: a person I should reach out to, a request to fulfill, a thought for improving next year. Other times the flash comes with a stab of adrenaline as for a moment I remember a moment that suddenly feels like I made a grievous error in something I said or did. I do my best to let those anxieties pass through me and not dwell on them. Most of them are my brain lying to me. The thoughts and memories are fleeting, they vanish unless I work to retain them. Even when I do work, my odds are poor unless I immediately write them down.

It does not help that I discovered that I had somehow scheduled my ride to the airport for tomorrow’s flight so that they planned to pick me up in July of 2019. Now I’m triple checking everything to make sure I actually get to go home tomorrow.

Yet. My head is full of images that are beautiful, faces whose existence makes me happy. I remember sitting to the side of the R Bar on board the ship and watching as 30-40 writers mixed and mingled, laughing and talking together. That was the best part, with our efforts to build the conference we worked to build a space where community could form but it depended on others to fill up that space and connect with each other. And the attendees did. They flowed into the space, they reached out to each other. They solved each other’s problems. They made friends. They formed sub groups. They took a raw framework of schedule and classes, then turned it into something beautiful and lasting.

The travel day, filled with brief periods of activity and long periods of waiting for either departure or arrival. Once at home, the beginning of an orientation process.

Tweet: I have succeeded at task: make suitcase empty. Now contents are strewn across every flat surface in house and I’m out of brain for remembering where things belong. It is possible I didn’t fully think this plan through.

Tweet: I’m trying to remember how to Normal Schedule, but I keep accidentally napping instead. #wxr18 #recoveryday

First day I feel like I’m close to my regular capacity for thought, decision making and planning. I finally catch up on shipping, accounting, and email.

Morning, the teens are off to school with instructions to acquire and make up the work that they let slide while I was gone for two weeks. I stood over my fifteen year old and talked to him about the work he’s been avoiding, saying the words “remember how unpleasant this scolding is, so the next time you want to avoid school work, avoid being scolded instead.” I’m trying to teach him to herd and harness his natural-born avoidance as an important life skill.

The house is quiet. I have a task list, and a general sense of urgency for getting things done. We need to enter the next release cycle. It is time to launch another Kickstarter with all the work that entails. Working for ourselves, we can theoretically set our own deadlines, but the fact of the matter is that accounting dictates the deadlines. We have to launch a release before we run out of money to pay bills. It is time for a release, particularly when our two vehicles have both needed repairs in excess of a thousand dollars this past month.

I close my eyes and I can still visualize the view of ocean from my balcony. I remember the hot humid air. The further I get from the cruise, the harder it will be to recall these things. Day by day I move further from the experiences I had, until some point next year when I stop measuring departure and start measuring approach to the next one. That next one is already scheduled. People on the ship were able to re-book on site. Registration will be open sometime in the next few weeks. I get to have, not this trip, but another one like it.

Until then, I seek to catch elements of purpose and incorporate them into my daily patterns. I use the internet to thread connections, social media to create contact, attempting to maintain a virtual proximity to the new acquaintances and the familiar ones.

I want to linger, to stay with the memories, write up all the thoughts, but already they begin to slip away from me. In their place, I think of home schooling assignments, finalization of book files, and a myriad of home maintenance tasks. I have to let go and move forward. I have to fully immerse myself in the portions of my life that make up the vast majority of my year. And I need to put in the work to make sure that this “vast majority” is as joyful, peaceful, and productive as I can make it be.

Thinking About Work and Being In Between

Being self employed gets inside your head. It pervades your thoughts and decisions. There is this constant awareness of time, that time not spent on business tasks equals income that won’t arrive. The correlation is not one to one, hours are not created equal. Some hours and tasks are more profitable than others. Unfortunately which hours and tasks are the profitable ones can often only be seen in retrospect. Work is survival, and that gets repeatedly pressed upon the mind of a self employed person.

I’m thinking about this as Howard and I are currently living an in-between space. We’ve left home for a two week trip, which puts us outside our regular business and leisure activities, and we’ve not yet fully entered the conference or recording sessions, both of which are another set of familiar business and leisure activities. We found ourselves with five hours to fill and nothing routine to put into them. It is in such spaces that we unfold our thoughts and have conversations we otherwise would not have. Those conversations are part of why taking trips together is so valuable. We have to remember who we are when we aren’t working, and sometimes the only way for us to not be working is to enter a space where work isn’t possible. Even though being unable to work is inherently anxious for us.

The other reason I’m thinking about the pervasiveness of work, is that the our websites are down this morning. (I’m actually typing this offline and will only be able to post it once the sites are back up.) It is no doubt a small problem, easily fixed once our web guy (who lives in New Zealand) wakes up and checks his email. Outage used to send us into panic. Lack of update felt like imminent doom, the inevitable death of our business. Back then we weren’t able to interrogate our anxieties as well as we do now. Also, we now have years of evidence that an outage blip isn’t going to do long term damage. We aren’t panicked and yet there is still anxiety, this ambient sense that if we don’t properly serve our audience, that audience will vanish and all our resources along with it. Our most common antidote to anxiety is to get back to work…which is difficult when we reside in the between space where we’ve deliberately made work hard to do.

In the between spaces, I ask myself questions about why I’m doing the work that I do and whether I like doing it. I ponder what work I would choose to do if money were not an issue. Where would I spend my efforts if I knew that the bills would always be paid. These are useful questions, not to make me dissatisfied with the life I have now, but to remember what small adjustment I should make in my daily efforts so that at future times when I enter an in between space, I can be glad about the changes I see.