Month: December 2009

Gifts of the Storm

I’ve been feeling lots of decade resonance lately. Things that happened 10 years ago are coming back in unexpected ways. We’ve been watching kid movies that were the 10-years-ago favorites. Howard met a man at the gym who was in the cardiac care unit at the same time he was ten years ago. I just finished an essay that discusses my radiation therapy in 1999 and the effects in my life since. Six months from now will be the 10 year anniversary of Schlock Mercenary. None of us intended to get all retrospective about our lives ten years ago. It happened anyway.

Do you see? asks the universe.
So I look at where we were then and I look at where we are now. Then I answer.
Yes I do.

I offer what I see as hope to anyone out there for whom 2009 was an awful year: 1999 was really hard for us. Some of what came after was also hard. Some of it has been amazingly good. But the amazingly good stuff was made possible by the hard stuff. So hang in there. Ride out your storm. Then see what you can make out of the gifts the storm brings to you.

Sometimes shoveling snow is a good thing

I was right about getting outside and active helping me feel better. Nature obliged the effort by dumping 6 inches of snow on my double wide driveway on a day when I’m expecting guests. I had to get out there and clear it or else they would not have a place to park. I also did not want a repeat of the last snow storm where we did not shovel and our driveway was an icy mess for almost two weeks. So I shoveled. And then I was tired so I napped.

After that I woke up and felt normal. I’m a bit stiff and sore, but I actually made some progress on my projects and on getting the house clean. This counts as a very good thing. The plan for tomorrow also includes getting outside, although I hope that it will take a form other than shoveling snow.

The Writing on the Calendar on the Wall

My calendar is three feet by four feet and it hangs on the kitchen wall. All of the months are laid out in a grid; each with its own square foot of space. This is where I write the family schedule in multi-colored inks, one color per person. I spend a lot of time standing in front of the calendar. It allows me to quickly review a week, or a month, or a year, as I’m planning ahead to see what will fit, and what will not fit, into our lives. Each day gets about a square inch of space. It is common for the entire inch to be filled with a rainbow of notations about what is to happen that day.

Today I ventured out into the snow covered wilds to fetch the calendar for next year. Upon my return, I sat down with the pens and noted all the scheduled events of which I am currently aware. It used to be that a new calendar stayed mostly empty, only filling up as each month drew near. It was like a wave of scheduled events which rolled across the blank squares. It doesn’t work that way anymore. The wave is still there, but the empty is not. I have events scheduled through November of next year. Our path for the next year is set, complete with wayposts and planned respites. All of it is waiting for the wave of little events to roll through and fill up the gaps.

From now until that mythical day when we’re not so busy, I will be working rear guard action. I must defend the white spaces on the calendar. Because those blank days are not empty days. They are days which are full of the mundane things which don’t get written on calendars. I have to leave time for us to do laundry, and read stories, and clean house, and go to the park, and sit still. There has to be time for the boring stuff, which is the important stuff that we remember best.

I will not always be able to keep spaces empty. I can already see a couple of months that are going to be insanely busy. That happens. That is why it is all the more important to defend the spaces that I can defend. Defending the spaces means not volunteering for things even though I have the skills to get them done. It means telling people no. It means setting aside some of my shiny ideas indefinitely. It means making choices about the activities in which we choose to participate. Turning down an obviously good thing so that I can keep a day empty feels backward, but I have to do it.

My new calendar is on the wall now. In two more days it will be this year’s calendar and the adventure will begin.


My brain is a noisy place. When I say that, I’m using the sound engineer definition of noise. (Or at least I’m trying to. Apologies to sound engineers out there (including my husband) if I get it wrong.) To a sound egineer, ‘noise’ means that there are things interfering with the ability to hear the sound you wish to record. For a sound engineer this can mean static introduced by faulty cables or connections. It can mean other sound sources in the room. It can even mean echos from the walls of the room. Eliminating noise is a major part of the sound engineer’s job.

So my brain was noisy, and I couldn’t sort out much of anything from the mess. Some of the noise was work which needed done. Some of it was attempting to create a schedule on a school holiday. Some of it was feeling mildly depressed. Some of it was physical noise from having all the kids home all day. Today was a friends-come-to-our-house day rather than a kids-run-off-to-friend’s-houses day. Some of it was being cooped up in the house all day.

The piece I really wanted to get a handle on was the mild depression. It was the static in the line. I kept thinking that if I could just find the causes, then I could swap out the line before it spills into any more days. Winter darkness, being cooped up in the house, and not having any quiet time are all contributors I suspect. Unfortunately rather than doing the logical thing and getting out of the house, I curled up on the couch with a book and felt frustrated when I was interrupted. Tomorrow will begin with a trip to the gym. Perhaps that will help me sort out the noises and help me hear the happy themes which surround me.

Outside the Routine

Christmas is a Holiday, but it is not a vacation day for me. I enjoy Christmas, but it is a day for focused energy rather than relaxation. I do this to myself. I plan the day around the traditional schedule and emotional arcs of my family members. Each hour is carefully planned to make the entire Christmas experience lives up to the heavy expectations that it must carry. The day is satisfying and happy, but I am tired at the end.

Yesterday was a vacation day for me. I dodged all responsibility for most of the day. It started by bouncing out of bed to run off with Howard and watch Sherlock Holmes in the theaters. This left the kids to eat Christmas cereal for breakfast. I came home and then, rather than fixing lunch or answering email, I played a card game with Kiki and Link. Dinner was left overs pulled from the fridge and given a pass through the microwave. The day also contained reading, and eating treat food, and sitting around doing nothing in particular.

Both Christmas and the day after represent a step outside my regular routine. I enjoyed both, but I will be glad to reassert some normality into our schedule on Monday. We can’t be completely routine, the kids are out of school and my parents are coming for New Year’s, but I can certainly put work back into the schedule. And the kids will discover that there are chores to do. I don’t expect this to please them, but it will be good for all of us to have a little more structure in our day.

The quiet of Christmas Evening

I was going to write a post called “The Art of Christmas Day” in which I detailed all the planning, pacing, and managing that Howard and I do to make sure that Christmas Day runs smoothly. I even wrote out all the notes, complete with the psychology behind our choices. I may write that post tomorrow, just now I’m too tired. And I’m feeling wistful/thoughtful after watching UP rather than amusing or logical, which are the moods required for the other post.

Still love that movie. It makes me cry every time. It also makes me want to write a list of Stuff I’m Going To Do. For now I’m going to go hug all my kids a couple of times each.

I hope you all had a marvelous day. And remember sometimes the boring stuff is the stuff you remember best.

On Christmas Eve

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house resounded the thumping of young children bouncing in bed, winding themselves up into a frenzy of excitement instead of calming down to go to sleep. Exhortations to lay still produce about 10 seconds of silence. It is hard to be six years old and fall asleep on Christmas eve. Patch has already been out of bed three times in the last ten minutes. Gleek, at 8, does better. She is laying still, or at least quietly. I’m standing guard. Guard duty may be a long haul this year.

It was a squabblish evening, despite the effort at orchestrating happy family memories around the making of pizza and the lighting of candles. This is fine. Family is about loving despite squabbling. And in between the minor upsets we had laughter and reverence. It was a good mix I think.

Merry Christmas to all.

My little boy has run out of ‘little’

Yesterday I was standing next to Link when his voice wobbled. For just a moment his voice changed timbre and dove downward. It was so fast. Link certainly didn’t notice. He kept talking and it did not happen again. But I heard it. And Howard heard it.

Today I gave Link a haircut. His hair is solidly and definitively brown now. It used to be bright blonde. He’s lost the last of his baby teeth, and when I hug him, I can’t see over the top of his head anymore.

I have this memory of him at three years old, running across the lawn with the toddler run that goes up and down as much as forward. He had a little blue flower clutched in his pudgy fist. He proudly presented it to me, even though the stem was broken and the flower flopped over.

I miss that little boy. Link misses being that little boy. But I wouldn’t trade the Link I’ve got. He’s earned every one of his inches and smarts.

James Cameron’s Avatar

I know everyone must be sick of hearing about it, so I’ll keep my reactions brief and spoiler free:

I was not sure I wanted to go, but I am glad that I went. It was like a beautiful retelling of a fairytale. I knew exactly how the story was going to go and how it would end, but I didn’t mind because I was completely engaged with the characters. It has marvelous themes including coming-of-age, understanding differences, facing fears, the fragility of humanity, and self sacrifice. Also on display were dozens of amazing science fiction concepts which are just part of the scenery. I did not feel like the film had an agenda. The special effects are not what sold me on the film. It was the characters.

Sometimes Giving Up is the Right Thing To Do

Today I came across yet another not-yet-published writer who stated her personal manifesto that publishing is tough, but the people who succeed at it are the ones who stick to it. She ended by stating that not everyone has the will to make it in the publishing business. She is right. People who work persistently and consistently in pursuit of publication are likely to achieve their goals. I’ve seen many similar manifestos. I’ve even said the same thing myself a time or two. What has begun to bother me about these statements is the unintentional implication that a writer who stops pursuing publication is weak, a quitter.

There is a huge difference between the person who makes a reasoned decision to stop pursuit of a difficult goal and someone who gives up because they don’t want to work. Everything has an opportunity cost. Pursuing publication costs the writer in time and energy. Sometimes it impacts relationships or financial stability. Those costs need to be weighed. Also, life circumstances change. Altering dreams in response to a change in circumstance is a success, not a failure. In my life I’ve had times of poor health. I’ve had times when I had to put writing down in order to do other things. I wrote about that last April in an essay called Letting Go.

All the determination and sacrifice in the world can be completely undermined by things outside our control. Loss of employment, loss of health, needs of friends and family, these things happen to all of us at one time or another. They are all good reasons for giving up on writing either temporarily or permanently. Finding something else to do is also a valid reason for ending publication attempts. There is nothing wrong with choosing contentment over endless frustration and rejection. There is nothing wrong with deciding to chase a different dream.

At the moment I am pursuing publication. I am writing and compiling essays so that I can embark on the terrifying adventure of querying agents and editors. At this point in my life this is something I feel I must do. But my goal is not “getting published.” My goal is to get my stuff out there; to work as hard as I can; to learn as much as I can; to try. Whether or not publication is the reward of my effort, the effort itself is worthwhile. That said, I really want to hold my book in my hands. I want to be published.

But being published is not the only thing I want, and I am aware that somewhere down the road I may have to put the publication dream down for something else. I don’t want to, but I may have to. The ability to deliberately set aside a dream for something else is a measure of strength, not weakness.

Many thanks to my friend Janci. My thoughts on this subject were, and continue to be, refined by the fascinating conversations we have.