Month: April 2010

That kind of day

Today is the kind of day where I start blogging and then discard everything I wrote because I realize that I’m telling the wrong story, or framing it in the wrong way. In fact today is the kind of day when I do that twice.

It is the kind of day which begins with Howard and I talking business as we bustle the kids off to school. Howard has to re-invent all of his work processes because his computer crashed to the blue screen of doom and the only solution was to reformat his drive and restore from back ups. Thankfully Howard is compulsive about backing up thoroughly. Then I buried myself in my office to plow through accounting work, which I was not looking forward to because it included a letter from the Utah State Tax Commission claiming that we owed them more money. (We didn’t, I explained it all over the phone to a nice man who agreed with me and shifted a mis-credited payment. $790 which stays in our pockets is a good thing.) The morning also included helping a business partner find a solution to an urgent problem and calculating funds against expenses and proposed purchases. Also, I shipped packages.

Today is the kind of day which takes a sharp left turn in the middle of it and spins off into something entirely different. Gleek was crying when I pulled up at school. I don’t think her whole day had been hard, but it ended in frustrated tears. Which almost brought me to tears because I don’t know how to fix it for her. Also I worry about next year and who her teacher will be. Gleek requires deft management or things go bad in a hurry. So today became the kind of day where I talk with school officials and neighbors, trying to piece together exactly what the budget cuts are going to do to the staffing of fourth grade. Teachers are being shifted all over the place. I’ve put in my requests and tried to make clear why my requests are not frivolous. Time will tell if I’m believed.

Today is also the kind of day where I sit down with Gleek and we weed three flowerbeds together. She seemed to enjoy the quiet together time and even expressed that pulling weeds was a good solution to angry feelings. I agreed. Gardening is calming for me as well. At the end of the work, Gleek was hot. Then today became the kind of day where we break out the swimsuits, turn on the sprinklers, and invite neighbor kids from four different houses to come and splash. I stood outside for more than an hour catching a toddler at the bottom of the slide and regulating trampoline turns. The crowd of children grouped and regrouped as games were created and abandoned. I listened to the words of the four-and-under crowd, amazed once again that persons so small could express such complicated thoughts with limited vocabulary. I watched them all and loved them all. It was the kind of day where I am grateful once again for the neighbors that I have.

I left the yard to create dinner, which started with a bag of Spanish Rice mix, but expanded into a Mexican food sampler with black beans, refried beans, and grilled chicken. Then it became the kind of day when I spoon small amounts of new foods onto the kids plates and insist that they try everything. I also said they had to pick three things to eat completely. Gleek and Patch both eschewed the refried beans. Link left a pile of grilled chicken. Kiki abandoned the black beans. Good thing I provided variety. Fortunately I also made the last of the Easter eggs into deviled eggs. (Did I mention that we only got around to coloring eggs yesterday? Easter tradition was delayed by book.) The kids filled up on the eggs mostly.

At the end, today became the kind of day where we pile everyone in the car to go buy gelato (Italian ice cream) from Mia Terra. We sat at the high counter and told a round robin story which petered out into absurdity. But no quarrels were had and at home the kids read until lights out.

Next it will be the kind of day where I fall asleep hoping for tomorrow to be just as good, but perhaps a little emptier.

Spring Flowers

The bulbs arrived on a day that I was busy. In fact the whole week was not ideal for planting bulbs. I was a little grouchy with myself for ordering them. This is exactly why I’d ordered them by mail several months before. I knew I would never make time to go buy bulbs and plant them, but if they were already there, I would find time to prevent them from dying. So I took my trowel and went out in the chilly wind.

I scraped holes in the dirt, trying not to disturb the few remaining annual flowers which had survived the first frosts. I placed the bulbs in groups of five, which gardening books tell me is an aesthetically pleasing way to group flowers. I even mixed tulips with daffodils to add variety. The smooth, tear-drop tulips looked so elegant next to the messier daffodil bulbs. A layer of dirt and then crocus bulbs went over the top before I filled the hole completely. Planting bulbs is an expression of faith that spring will come. I need that when all the greenery is shriveling up to hide for the winter. I want to shrivel and hide too. Instead I hid bulbs in the ground to wait for spring.

Winter was long, cold, and dark. But I survived all the storms both internal and external. The sun grew warmer and the world began to be green again. My expression of faith is rewarded, for now I have flowers.
Spring Flowers

Talking about my book(s)

My work presents me with a confusion of language. When I talk about being done with a book to my writer friends, they naturally assume that I am discussing the book I am writing. What I’m really talking about is the layout work that I’m doing for a Schlock Mercenary book. Then I find myself saying “Oh I’m not talking about my book. It is Howard’s book that is done.” Only Howard’s books are my books too. I have as much hand in them as he does even though my name only appears in small print on the credits page while his name graces the cover.

This confusion of how to describe work is far from unique to me. I’m sure agents, editors, copy editors, and layout designers have been dealing with this for far longer than I have. All of these people have a right to feel some ownership over the finished product that is a book. It takes the love and effort of many people to bring a book to market where it will hopefully find the love and support of many readers as well.

Even more confusing is when a friend comes up to ask “How is your book doing?” My mind always stutters for a minute while I try to figure out which book the person might be inquiring about. There is the children’s picture book (selling slowly,) the essay book (still in first draft,) Resident Mad Scientist (just off to the printer,) XDM (selling strongly,) or one of the other five Schlock Books in print (selling well and some in second printing.) I don’t have one book. I have many books. I wonder if authors with many books in print have this same problem. I suspect that they do.

Palace Beautiful

palace beautiful

I first heard about Palace Beautiful when I met the author, Sarah DeFord Williams. It was one of those friend of a friend on the internet introductions. The things she wrote intrigued me and so when the chance came to meet her in person, I jumped at it. I discovered she was even better in person and had the good fortune to visit with her regularly. That is how I came to have an Advanced Reader Copy of Palace Beautiful. I read it and loved it. The book is not without flaws, but I can’t tell you what they are, because I don’t remember. Even while I was reading the book I was too engaged to analyze, which is kind of rare for me.

I handed the book over to Gleek, who is squarely in the middle of the intended audience. She read the book, loved it, built her own Palace Beautiful hiding place, and began to incorporate various aspects of the book into her life. Books really speak to Gleek. They give voice to her feelings and allow her to view herself in new ways. She saw herself in the characters of Palace Beautiful. Even more, she took things from the book and used them. She used the fanciful names for colors. She asked to be taught how to crochet granny squares. She even wrote her own origin fable to try to capture who she is and where she came from.

Because Gleek is young, these interests faded as life moved on. But just a few weeks ago, she read the book again. The book and the characters spoke to her again. She picked up the interests again. I am pleased about the timing of this re-read. The Palace Beautiful Launch Party takes place tomorrow at The King’s English bookstore in Salt Lake City. I’ll be taking Gleek to buy her very own hard cover copy of the book, and to introduce her to my friend Sarah. Sometimes a book or a person comes into our lives at exactly the right moment. Thus it was that Sarah Williams and Palace Beautiful came to Gleek, and I.

Temporary Laurel Resting

I sent a package today. Me shipping something is a common occurance, but this package was special. It contained color proofs and digital files for Resident Mad Scientist. This means the count down clock is ticking toward the day when two pallets of books arrive in my driveway. I’ll get a schedule from the printer once they review the files. At that point I can schedule the opening of pre-orders and the likely dates for the shipping party and release party.

It feels really good to have the project finished. I’ll be resting on my laurels and doing family stuff through the weekend. On Monday I’ll pitch the wilted laurels and get back to work. We have five conventions in the next six months. I have to plan so that the merchandise and art displays all arrive in the right places on schedule. It will also be time to start work on Emperor Pius Dei as well as an XDM adventure module. There will also be assorted family events. Believe it or not, this actually represents a slow down from last year. Listing it out like that brings home the necessity of making sure each day has a balance of work and rest. It is the only way to be happy in the life we have chosen.

Getting Excited for Penguicon

In a little more than two weeks Howard and I are Michigan bound to attend Penguicon. I’m looking forward to the trip, both as a chance to visit with online friends and to get away from my regular round of things to do. It will be exhausting, conventions always are, but the company is going to be excellent.

Going to Penguicon with Howard will be an interesting closing-of-the-circle for me. We went together in 2004 when Howard was only a part-time cartoonist. At the time I was in the habit of describing Howard as a sieve I sent out into the world to net good friends for us. He would bring back the good ones and introduce them to me. The system felt very secure. I was safe and I still got to meet cool new people. The flaws of the system were made apparent at Penguicon. We arrived and Howard carefully introduced me to his local friends in the early hours of the convention, but everyone he knew was either on the convention committee or part of programming. Once the convention was in full swing they were all very busy. I ended up adrift and discovered that I had no idea how to meet people and make conversation without Howard standing beside me. The temptation to hide in my hotel room and cry was nearly over-powering. Somehow I found the courage to confess to Howard how lost I felt. He rescued me and a kind local woman guided me through the rest of that day. I got into the swing of things and had a great time. But I came home determined to acquire the skills I lacked.

I have changed a lot in the past six years. Already I know that Penguicon is going to be a very different experience. I will have my own circle of friends rather than gaining entrance to Howard’s circle by being his wife. The fact that most of the people in my circle are also part of Howard’s circle is pleasant, but not necessary. I’ve also gained a lot of expertise. This time around I’ll be on programming for some of the panels and I’ll be running a table to sell books that I helped create. It will be a good time.

Listening to the voices in my head again

Why does it matter? What do you write for? Why would anyone other than you want to read it anyway?

These thoughts come in the wake of two months when the only writing time I find is after I’ve already burned out my creative energies on book layout or parenting crises. In the middle of it all I had a pounding certainty that it was time for me to begin the query process. I felt I needed to get moving on submitting my book to publishers. So I put together a query and gave it to a friend to critique. Sending out queries sounded lovely, because then the fate of the book would be out of my hands for awhile. I would be allowed to rest because nothing I could do would make a difference. Sometimes that powerlessness feels awful, but lately my life had been full of things which depended upon me. The thought of having one piece finished and waiting on someone else sounded heavenly. Then the critique came back. And it was an excellent critique. And I saw that the whole project needs much more revision. This is not something I can hurry up and finish. This is something I need to take time and do right.

So the voices are fed by my fatigue. If the writing doesn’t matter, then I could let it go. I would have one thing less to do.

It matters. What you write matters.

The other voices whisper and chatter at the edges of my brain. This one resonates from the center. It is like a drum so large that it is more felt than heard. I believe this voice. But I can’t understand why. Why should it matter? Having it not matter would be a comfort in a way. But I know that it does matter, that writing will always be something that is part of my life. Writing will wait patiently during the times when I have no attention to spare and it will pounce on me when time is available again. I also know that I must finish this blog/essay book project. I need it to be complete, although again I don’t know why. I am tired when I think how much more work is involved.

This circle of thoughts is not new. I’ve been on this ride before. The same set of doubts and fatigue have besieged me over parenting, and gardening, and shipping, and just about every other piece of my life. Nor do I imagine I am alone in this. Doubting the value of our labors seems to be built into the human psyche. Knowing I’m being taken for a ride does not make it easy to climb off the carousel. All I can do is tune in to that drumming voice in my center. It is hard to hear, but if I can just follow that voice I’ll be fine.

Patch Contemplates his Future Part II

This morning Patch got ready for school with time to spare. He sat down with paper, pencil, and the boxes from his Halo toys. I watched as he began to draw. Then erase. Then draw. Then erase.

He looked up at me. “Mom, this isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.”

“Yeah. May be you should work on practicing drawing Halo dudes and worry about making comics later.”

Patch nodded. “Or I could just practice drawing Lego guys. Maybe I’ll make a Lego comic instead.”

I gave him a hug. “Just remember that practice isn’t about getting things perfect. It is about trying your best.”

Patch jumped down and fetched his Halo sets from his room. He began to carefully arrange them around his piece of paper. “I’m going to need more Halo sets, cause I’m a Halo collector.”

Patch carefully arranged the little guys on their vehicles and created a tableau. Then he looked at me.

“Dad had a harder time than me. He didn’t have anything to practice from. He just had to think it all up in his head. I’m lucky. Dad said if I start drawing comics as a kid, then I’ll be better than him. Really.”

After that the Halo guys were too busy talking to each other for Patch to have any attention left over for either me or drawing.

Patch Contemplates His Future

Patch climbed out of bed and approached me with a serious look on his face. “Mom, I’ve changed. Now I am thinking ahead. I’ve been thinking about how my life is going to be. Making Halo comics.”

“Oh?” I answered.

“Yeah. I need to start practicing now while I’m a kid to get good at my things. I need to practice until I’m good enough to make comics.”

“And what things do you need to practice?” I asked.

“Drawing Halo guys from toy boxes. I need to get more Halo sets so I can look at the boxes. Or I could look at the boxes at my friend’s house” Then Patch begins to tell me the plot of his planned comic page by page. After every page is described, complete with explosions and sound effects, Patch continues.

“So I’ll start selling them now for $3. Then when I make my teenager connection I’ll sell them for more. When I’m in my 20’s or 30’s then I’ll start hiring people. And when I have five comics I’ll put them in a box together and sell them for $15. The boxes will be really expensive.”

“So I’m really thinking ahead. I think the changes will start tomorrow.” He paused a moment.

“It’s going to change my life completely.”

After another contemplative pause he added. “And I’m going to have a telephone.”

Thoughts on my front steps

I sat on the front steps, pavement warm against my feet. The grass needed its first mowing of the year, green only in patches, but beginning to grow. The scent of daffodils and hyacinths wafted around me, speaking happiness to my back brain. I love spring flowers. I looked down the bed of flowers next to the house. I planted most of them myself. I did not plant the weeds. Those showed up without permission. But this early in the season the flowers are blooming and the weeds have barely started to grow. Another reason to love Spring.

I missed Spring last year. I spent April in my basement office banging a text file and loose illustrations into a book in only four weeks. To add to the difficulty, I was still learning how to use InDesign. It was trial by fire. When I had thoughts to spare from work and kids, they mostly dwelt on how terrified I was that I’d make a mistake and ruin everything. I did make mistakes. Often. But I fixed them and we met our deadline. Sometime in May I emerged from my daze to discover that the daffodils had bloomed and died while I was busy. I had missed my favorite month for being outdoors. I grieved a little before running headlong into a summer which contained two book releases and two major conventions. When I reached Fall I planned to make the next Spring different.

I got up off the steps and walked to look at my flowers. I considered sitting down and weeding. But I found that I preferred to look and think, to see it all rather than focusing on a small patch. I considered the grass impinging on the walkway and the layer of debris which drifted up against it. When I clean it off, the cement underneath will be darker, stained by months of contact with the dirt. If I clean it off. I plan to do it, but I plan to do many garden projects which get pushed aside. No matter how well I plan, things change and the plans must change to accommodate. I intended for April, and particularly the week of Spring break, to be a quiet month, a lull in the business schedule. Instead I arrived with my head crammed full of tasks to track. Each day with its own extensive list of chores written in small handwriting to make sure everything can fit on the same page.

I walked across the lawn to the flower bed circling the baby oak tree. The tree is not a happy one. Each year it leafs out optimistically in shades of green, but this species of oak wants more iron than our soil provides. The tree must draw back nutrients to keep the core alive. The leaves fade to yellow-orange and crisp around the edges. Year after year the oak continues to struggle, trying to grow without having the necessary nutrients to truly flourish. Howard and I talk about cutting it down and planting something else, but we haven’t done it yet. My writing has felt like that oak this past two months. I want to write lush, leafy prose which will shade and inspire. Such leaves nourish the tree from which they spring. Instead everything I write has felt yellow-orange with crispy edges. It is all I can do. All my reserves have been drawn into my core to do the necessary work and to keep our family running.

At the base of the oak a tulip was blooming. It was one of the bulbs I hid in the ground last Fall. A gift to myself. Grass was growing around it thickly. I wanted to sit and pull the grass out. I wanted to prune back the grapes. I wanted to trim back the grass and clear the walkway. I wanted to do these and dozens of other gardening tasks. These things matter to me, but not to anyone else. If I do them it is for my own satisfaction. I softly touched the side of the tulip and wondered when personal satisfaction became insufficient reason to do a thing. When did I prioritize small happiness out of my life. It is a short term lack. Only a month or two, but already I can feel it. I can see it in my yellow-orange leaves. Already I knew that the garden hour and the tulip fed me. My next leaf would be more green.

The chore list is thinner than it was. I’m finding my way to the ends of tasks. But the solution is not in the finishing of tasks. Joy is found in the balancing of hours and days. Each needs to contain a mix of the different parts of me. My life needs to have work, ambition, peace, and contentment all in rotation. I’m getting closer I think. This year is better than last, despite the rescheduling.