Month: May 2010

Thoughts on external perception, internal experience, and CONduit

The lobby of the Radisson Hotel in Salt Lake is so familiar that it feels like the living room of a good friend. This is not surprising since I’ve attended CONduit at this same hotel for at least 5 years. Many conversations with many friends have taken place there.

On Saturday evening there were only seven of us, Bob Defendi, Dan Willis, Eric Swedin, Mette Harrison, Julie Wright, Jessica Day George, and me. Other people drifted in and out during the course of the evening, Including my daughter Kiki. Prior to dinner the same space had held a different mix of people. In past years the group gathering in this space gets so large that we moved the lobby furniture. Then the hotel staff came by and we had to put it all back. But for the larger part of Saturday evening it was the seven of us who planted ourselves in chairs. None of us had any intention of moving until it was time to go home.

I have known and loved all of these people for years. We always manage to fill our time together with fascinating conversations. This time the conversation turned to family histories and childhoods. The breadth of experience was a bit staggering. Three people had been through medical traumas sufficient to kill a person, stories were told of depression, family strife, mental instability, alcoholic parents, neglect, cancer, and abandonment. After the conversation moved on and fragmented into smaller pieces, Eric Swedin and I spoke about how interesting it was to learn all this new information about people we have known for so long. As Eric said, “It’s always interesting to learn the back story.”

I have to agree. People are the reason I return to CONduit year after year. I love the gradual unfolding of friendships. I love that each year my group of acquaintances expands as more people become friends. It simply is not possible for me to spend time with everyone that I would like to in one short weekend.

Reading that back story list in print makes it seem that the conversation was deep and heavy, but it really was not. Everyone spoke cheerfully about their experiences, while still acknowledging they were hard. I thought about it afterward and was once again amazed by these people whom I have claimed as friends. They have been through some very dark places and you would never know it to look at them. They all seem bright, brilliant, healthy, and whole. The experiences give them a well of sympathy and understanding without weighing them down.

I’m sure they feel burdened at times. I know that I do. But that was not what I saw. I saw survivors who took their hard experiences and made them useful. These are people I can aspire to emulate.

Julie Wright and I had a short conversation about when we first met. She told me how early in our friendship she felt so cool because I invited her out to lunch during a convention. I laughed because I spent that whole convention amazed that someone as awesome as Julie would want to spend time with me. We laughed together about how internal experiences are often far divergent from what is apparent to others. In those early years we both felt out of place while assuming that the other belonged.

It was particularly interesting to me this year to be attending CONduit without Howard. We usually attend together and tag-team to cover events and run a table. Howard was greatly missed and frequently asked after. What was heart warming to me was that not once was I dismissed as unimportant without Howard in attendance. Cavan did make a joke saying, “You mean you exist when Howard isn’t here?”
“Apparently.” I smiled back. But the truth is that for years I felt like my professional acceptance at conventions was only because I trailed in Howard’s wake. People came to know me because I was Howard’s wife, part of the Schlock Mercenary team. Over the years I’ve earned the respect I was given, but my internal perception remained the same. I know this because I keep being surprised when professional respect is shown to me in Howard’s absence.

Revan and Malak came to request an interview for Dungeon Crawler’s Radio. I assumed they were attempting to schedule Howard, but they already knew he was elsewhere. It was me that they were seeking out. For fifteen recorded minutes we had a wonderful conversation, in which very few of the questions focused on my role in supporting Schlock Mercenary and XDM. I’d assumed those would be their primary interest. I did talk about them some, because those things are a big part of my life, but I also got to talk about mixing marriage and business, my Hold on to Your Horses book, and my book of essays.

Mette Ivie Harrison and I shared a reading. Just the fact that I had one made me glad. Mette and I arrived together to an empty room. We joked about how we could just read to each other. Fortunately a few more people came. Mette went first and read from one of her many books. She was so calm and competent reading from her bound book, when all I had were sheets printed from my computer. After the reading was over, Mette confessed that it was her first reading and she worried that she should have brought something new rather than reading from a published book. She’s been a published author for years, I’d assumed she was reading from a wealth of experience.

Thoughts about external perception, internal experience, and amazing people continue to percolate in my brain even though the convention is done. I looked around my church meeting this morning and realized that it too is filled with amazing people whom I admire. These people have also lived through dark times and survived them. Some of them are probably going through a dark time right now.

The people at church have no idea how amazing they are. Just as my friends at the convention do not see in themselves what I see. Just as I doubt myself and others see something different. I need to remember this when I feel like nothing I do matters. I need to remember to step confidently, smile brightly, and work to transform my hard experiences into something useful. I need to take my own insecurities and self doubt, then look around me. Others feel the same. Just as the words of others are gifts that teach me to believe in myself, I need to find ways to give out similar gifts.

I also need to use the connective powers of the internet to help me meet up with my friends more often than once per year.

Coming home to the kids

I pull into the cul de sac and peer toward my house. The front room light is on, but the bedroom lights are out. There is no evidence for any of the catastrophic imaginings my brain began to supply when the kids did not answer my phone call to check up on them. This bodes well. I park and walk into the house. The sweet smell of home hits my nose. It is another bit of evidence that all is well. I walk into the kitchen and it is a wreck. The counters and table are covered with boxes, dishes, and debris. Odd though it may seem, this is also reassuring. I can see that they ate dinner and that they had a bedtime snack. I find the kids themselves asleep in beds. Link is in my bed. He obviously fell asleep while trying to wait up for me like a good babysitter. This is likely why he did not answer the phone call. The two fly swatters next to him are a mystery, I’ll have to ask tomorrow. All is well. More than that, every evidence I have is that they took care of each other and followed the script I walked them through before leaving. This is good and a lovely contrast to the last time when there was weeping and yelling for me to sort out upon my return. I kiss all of my children and am glad to be home.

I went to CONduit today

I think that any day where I get to participate in a panel, do a signing where people actually buy my books, read out loud to an attentive audience, go out to dinner with marvelous people, sit around talking for hours, and am not interrupted by phone calls from crying children, can count as a really good day.

Everything went well. I am glad. Now I shall sleep.

Last Day of School

I sat in the sunshine on a bench out in front of the school. In a few moments children would burst forth from the building, free for the summer. At the moment all was quiet and a breeze flipped the pages of the planner in my lap. I closed my eyes and tipped my head back. I was at the school early for a reason. I needed to find the principal and have a talk with him. But he was not available for a few more minutes. So I sat.

Sometimes everyone means well and things still go wrong. Those good intentions can be so deceptive. I can talk to the teacher and feel her love for my child. I can talk to the child who puts a brave face on yet another incident. I see all the love, the compassion, the good intention, and I think that everything is fine. And it is. But at the same time it is not. All children have difficult days. Teachers, school administrators, and parents know this. And so we manage the difficulty, hoping for a better day tomorrow. But somehow, without anyone quite noticing, my daughter slipped into a place where difficult days were normal. Where the rare day is the one when she climbs into the car and says “I wasn’t mad today at all.”

Kindergarten children burst forth from the building with parents in tow. This means that the principal now has time to speak with me. I walk into the building, leaving sunshine for shadow. I rehearsed this conversation in my head all morning, now is the time to speak it. I was going to just let it go. I did not know that anything could be fixed so late. Then yesterday I overheard my daughter telling her brothers about a conflict during which she hit another child and had to be physically restrained by her teacher. It sounds like the incident itself was handled with wisdom, but if not for me eavesdropping, I would not have known. I am left to wonder what other emotional events have occurred at school about which I have not been informed.

I told the story to the principal and he was quite concerned. He agreed with me that I should have been called. We spoke to the aide in the LRR (think time out room) to discuss the times my daughter has been in there, other incidents about which I was not called. That room is bare. A single desk with a computer on it sits off to the side. Across a sea of carpet, huddled against the wall are five cubicles. A desk and a chair sit in each one, all facing the wall. This is the place where children are brought when they need a space to calm down, or when they must be removed from regular classes. The aide prints out a sheet documenting four times when my daughter was brought there. I was called once.

Behavioral modification techniques rely heavily upon a very fast action and consequence cycle. The most effective systems use an almost immediate penalty or reward for a specific behavior. The younger a child is, or the more impulsive a child is, the more immediate the consequence must be. These techniques have no chance at all of working if the consequence is too far delayed. Even more important is targeting a specific behavior with a specific consequence. I can’t even begin to work on modifying a behavior if I do not know the shape of the problem. I am not guiltless here. Part of my job as a parent is to communicate with teachers, to ask how things are going. This I did not do. I was not in the school regularly. I did not check up on how things were going. I was busy and distracted, so I trusted that the school staff would contact me if things got out of hand. And they did. Sometimes. Because they are busy and distracted too.

I held the paper in my hand. It contained four paragraphs telling me the details of four incidents. Removed from classroom for fighting. Would not settle down. Did not want to go back to class, said it was quieter here. My eyes water for what I read between the lines of text. But I must know if I am to help. I must know all of it. I must feed that intuitive center in my brain from whence solutions might spring. What I hold in my hands is evidence, solid evidence about my child’s experiences. I need more.

At my request, the aide makes a note that I am to be called even for small incidents. Next Fall I will have to check and make sure the note is still on the file. I have already decided that I have to be in the school much more often next year. I need to be speaking with her teacher at least weekly. I need to hear all the stories, see how she interacts with peers. If I do this, I expect that the staff of the school will be happy to support me. And if they do not, that is evidence too.

Meeting over, I return outside. My kids are already waiting in the bright sunshine, with class assignments for next year in hand. My daughter has a new teacher. That is what it says on her paper “New Teacher.” She will be in class with a complete unknown, someone who has not yet been hired. This could be good news or bad. I will know next Fall. For now, I breathe a sigh of relief as we walk away from the building. Summer will have conflicts aplenty, but I will witness them. I will know what they are. And perhaps by summer’s end I’ll have a better grasp on what my daughter needs.

CONduit this weekend

I’ll be attending CONduit this weekend and they’ve assigned me some programming.

On Friday at 2 pm I’m part of a panel called “If I Were a Space Pirate.” Unfortunately a last minute family conflict popped up and I may be late for it (or possibly absent.) If that happens I’ve arranged for Eric James Stone to take my place. Eric is a wonderful writer and a good panelist, well worth listening to.

Saturday at 2 pm I’m participating in “Raising Geek Kids.” It should be a fascinating discussion about the cross section between parenting and geekery.

Saturday at 3 pm I have a signing. I’ll bring copies of Hold on to Your Horses and Ages of Wonder for people to buy if they wish. Mostly I expect to have nice conversations with the folks waiting in line for James Dashner.

Saturday at 4:30 I have a thirty minute reading. I’m really looking forward to this. I enjoy reading aloud and it will be a fun chance for me to read a selection of essays and flash fiction. Hopefully I won’t be reading to an empty room. If you’re in the area, please stop by.

RMS Pre-order day

The nice thing about having a week packed with important things is that if I start fretting about one I can distract myself with another. Pre-order days always turn me into a scattered mess. The first few hours in particular are like the first few steps onto a stage. You’ve practiced your lines, the set pieces are there, the lights are filling your view, but until the audience laughs at the first joke, you just can’t be sure it is all going to work together or just be an expensive mess. Apparently pre-order days also inspire run-on sentences. So at 10 am Howard and I were both terrified. The orders were coming in, but all the pent up anxiety over the success of the book and our business, threatened to overwhelm us. So we stood in the kitchen and talked of anything but business.

I think Howard did a better job of keeping his day on track than I did. I frittered away the day on distracting activities. By afternoon the fear subsided and we were able to function almost normally. Tomorrow I have to get back to work. Too many things for me to do.

The pre-orders are going well. We’ve sold over a third of the sketched editions. This is excellent for the first 12 hours. I hope this trend continues.

Some weeks are not normal

This weekend is CONduit and Balticon. In a normal week having Howard and I attend two separate conventions at opposite ends of the country would absorb all our extra energy for the week. Planning and packing would be the focus for the week.

However this week is also the last week of school. This is a bigger thing than any convention. There are end-of-school things to be done and summer preparations to be made. Normally I would spend the entire last week of school attending year-end events and planning the summer schedule in detail.

But this week is also crunch time on Quest for the Tavern layout. I really should have had it done last week. So every spare minute should be spent in my office hammering away at that project.

Only tomorrow is the day we open pre-orders on Resident Mad Scientist. Since pre-order is our biggest sales day of the year, and the core of our financial stability, it trumps everything else. So instead of all that other stuff, I spent all of today entering new items into the store and tweaking other merchandise entries. We have new prints, new stickers, magnets reordered, and re-prints on t shirts. This is in addition to the miniatures, Writing Excuses CDs, pins, prints, and books that were already in the store. We’ve poked and prodded and stressed all day until things are as ready as they can be.

Tomorrow will be a day of nail biting. Pre-order days always are. Only I can’t bite my nails because I need them to look reasonably nice for CONduit this weekend.

Appreciating what I have

A week or so ago, my sister commented on a post I made about preparing for the Balticon Art Show. She thanked me for the peek into my life and expressed a little bit of envy for all the cool things I get to do. In particular she mentioned the conventions I get to attend, the podcast I got to participate in, the book layout I do, and organizing panels for an art show. It was a good reality check for me. I am so busy scrambling to get everything done, that I forget how fortunate I am. Howard and I are able to make a living doing work that we really enjoy. Of course, being an older sister, I had to point out to her that she lives in Europe where I would love to go, but never have. Also she has gone on writer’s retreats, which I envy.

Humans have an amazing capacity to find extraordinary experiences boring. If you have ever been bored on a plane or surfing the internet, then you have done it too. I remember seeing a video clip of an interview where the interviewee starts talking about how the world we live in is amazing and people get so impatient with it. I particularly remember the line where, talking about cell phone reception, he said “Give it a minute, the signal has to go to space!” Just because it is common, does not qualify as an excuse. I need to spend more time appreciating my life and less time tolerating it.

Geek Girl Party

My house is full of teenage girls. So far there has been a total lack of nail polish, gossip about boys, hair fixing, and telephone calls. Instead Kiki ran a water balloon toss, a massive battle with padded swords, a showing of Dr. Horrible, and a Super Smash Brothers tournament. Howard supplied double-decker dutch oven pizza. Everyone has been having a great time. I love that I don’t really have to run things. I just make sure there is food and supplies, then I get out of the way. The party runs for one more hour, after which there will be blessed quiet.

“Ten makes a celebration loud loud loud. And one is wonderful after a crowd.” –Sandra Boynton 1 2 3 Book.

My Head is too full of things

I have fragments of half a dozen blog entries pinging around inside my brain. They are the result of my life being pretty eventful right now. I would love to give each of them the space that they deserve, but mostly I just need to clear my head so that I can survive the next week. So I offer up fragmentary blog entries in no particular order.

There is a beautiful post in which I describe taking Gleek to the local temple grounds. We went with the activity days group a couple of days ago, but the experience was a frustrating one for Gleek. She wanted to sit by herself and absorb the spirit of the place. Instead she had to bend her wishes to the needs of the group. I promised to bring her back on a day when she could be alone. Today was not ideal, but she needed it and so we went. We sat quietly. Gleek made rings and crowns out of grass blades. Birds chirped and flew nearby. It was the essence of peacefulness. Gleek was calm and happy. We could both use more of that. We’ll go back again. And I want to make the words reflect the beauty of the experience, but it is all fragmentary in my head.

I am now the owner of a cash register, which was not something I expected to ever be. This is merely one in a long line of things that I never expected to be, but ended up doing while in pursuit of something else. I haven’t opened the box yet. I haven’t had time. This is a sad commentary on how busy I am that I have a cash register and I haven’t even played with it yet. Instead I’ve been looking at the box and remembering fondly the toy cash register of my youth. I wonder if this one rings a bell when the drawer opens. Probably not. Sigh.

One week left in the school year. I’m glad. I’m ready to be done with this year. I’m ready to ditch homework and getting up at 6:30 am. I’m not even dreading the lack of quiet space in the house. I’m also looking forward to knowing for sure about class placements for next year. Mostly I just want to be able to ignore all the school stuff for a few months. (This post is just a repeat of things I’ve already said, so it’s probably best that it doesn’t get to sprawl out by itself.)

I’ve begun working on layout for Quest for the Tavern, which is an adventure module in the XDM system. Once again the text is delightful. Remembering how to work with a text heavy book did not take me as long as I feared. It is coming along nicely, but there is lots of work left to do. I’m hoping to have the first pass on layout done by the end of the weekend. This will give us a page count so we can decide what to add and eliminate.

CONduit is next weekend. I’ve got two panels, a reading, and a signing. Most of it is scheduled for Saturday. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone. I’m particularly excited about my reading. I’ll mostly be reading essays, but I may do a short story as well. Hopefully I won’t be reading to an empty room. Howard will be on the other side of the country attending Balticon.

I’m really longing for unscheduled time. I have so many things to do that it all fills up. We have a vacation scheduled in Mid June and a another Mid July. Hopefully I can find some more calm in my daily life once we’ve finished out school and opened pre-orders.

Pre-orders open next Tuesday. That’s another thing I am simultaneously feeling unprepared for and anticipating.