Month: February 2011

Day Two of Quarantine

The quantities and varieties of illness in our house are really unpleasant, but having the whole family curled up together to watch Doctor Who is kind of a win.

Sick Day

I will assuage my guilt at postponing my son’s birthday party by chanting “Infectious diseases do not make good party prizes.”

Current sick count:
1 case of pneumonia (Howard)
2 flu cases with chills, fever, and body aches (Kiki and Me)
1 sore throat (Gleek)
1 unsettled stomach (Link)

That’s 5 out of 6 people. Hopefully quarantine will prevent us from being Typoid Taylers. Also hopefully everyone will play nicely all day. I’m in the head cold with body aches category.

Edited to Add: Over night the sore throat manifested as stomach flu with attendant middle-of-the-night clean up. The unsettled stomach is now feeling fine.

Howard is sick

“There’s a funny thing about X-rays.” The doctor said as he leaned close to his computer screen. I leaned forward as well and we examined the image of Howard’s lungs together. “X-rays run a day behind because of tissue penetration. So we’re really looking at what Howard’s lungs looked like yesterday.” The doctor lifted his pen and traced over a faint spidery white spot.

Howard lifted his head from his place on the examining table. His hoodie was pulled down over his eyes because the light was too bright. “So what you’re saying is that X-rays time travel.”
The doctor smiled. He was quite familiar with Howard’s jokes, as he is our neighbor as well as Howard’s doctor. Howard continued to crack jokes until I made him stop so the doctor could concentrate on filling out the battery of prescriptions that we’d use to help fight the pneumonia which was not quite showing up on the X-rays yet. Howard felt fine yesterday. This thing slammed into him during the middle of the night.

We used a wheelchair to get Howard to the car. His walk had become a breathless shamble and he shivered constantly from the fever that had taken hold during the two hours we sat in various waiting rooms at the clinic. At home we fed him industrial strength antibiotics and I put the flannel sheets onto the bed for extra warmth. The doctor says he might be able to function again in a couple of days, but that it will be a week or two before he feels well again. Howard has spent the majority of this winter being sick. This new manifestation does not thrill us at all.

Dead Men Don’t Cry by Nancy Fulda

I met Nancy Fulda when I was four years old and she was two days. I have a vague memory of thinking she was cute, but our mother assures me that I also exhibited significant signs of resentment at not being the baby of the family any more. These feelings were somewhat appeased by the present–From: Nancy To: Sandra–of a small stuffed rabbit. It was a golden orange color and the perfect size for hiding in a coat pocket and sneaking to school. So upon her entry into my life, Nancy gave me something I treasured. She still does. Often.

For many years Nancy was an ancillary character in my story of childhood, but anytime I looked around to check my progress, she was always closer on my heels than I thought she would be. I had to go faster just to stay ahead, though I never once acknowledged that keeping ahead had any importance to me. Years later, when she was pregnant with her first child and I with my fourth, we dropped our defenses enough to lament to each other how difficult it was to have a sister who seemed better at everything. We laughed together and from that time began to collaborate instead of competing. Nancy is one of my best critiquers for my writing. What a loss it would be if I had stayed too jealous to show it to her.

Nancy has a book for sale called Dead Men Don’t Cry. It is a book made out of the best stories she’s written in the past 10 years. These are all reprint stories which sold to various Science Fiction and Fantasy magazines. She’s collected them for convenience sake so that people like me can find them all in one place. You can buy it on the site she created called Anthology Builder. She writes. She runs a business. She has three kids. She supports her husband in his creative endeavors. She does all of this while also battling various personal challenges. She is amazing and she writes stories I love to read because they are about people with problems who happen to live in fantastical worlds. Can you see why I was intimidated all those years? You should take a look at her book and her website.

Thoughts on Identity and Categorization

I was in High School and the assignment was to create a quick drawing to represent who you are. The teacher did not mean for it to be an important or profound assignment, it was the prelude to a guessing game activity. I was completely unable to comply with the request. I knew I could draw a picture that would allow other students to guess who I was, but somehow I became emotionally tangled in the idea that such an image would be a false representation of who I was. I felt like a person of infinite possibility and to draw an image would be to show only a sliver of who I was. Anything I drew would be boxing me in, limiting my possibilities, and ultimately be a lie. My teacher was quite frustrated with me. He wanted quick drawings, not an identity crisis.

I have always disliked being pigeon-holed or labeled. As a child I claimed all the colors as my favorites. As a teen I entered high school with the deliberate intention to re-define myself in the eyes of my peers. Later I had to undo all that work and re-connect myself with my true interests. It was only well in to my adult years that I learned that I did not have to constantly challenge other people, daring them to accept all the aspects of who I am. Only in the last five years have I learned that allowing other people to categorize me for their convenience is a courtesy I can extend which has absolutely no bearing on my life or what I accomplish. I have an array of labels to describe me, but none of them define me completely. Having lots of labels means I can display whichever one is appropriate to the social situation.

I spent this past weekend at LTUE, a symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy. It is always interesting to me to see what panels I am placed on, because it is a reflection of how I am viewed by the local writing community. I had one panel on organization, one on parenting, and two on business/financial things. It is endlessly amusing to me that I, the person who picked a humanities major in college because it required no math, am now teaching basic accounting and business structure. Yet these are things I know very well because I had to learn them. I think it is encouraging for creative people to know that organization and structure can be learned. I love teaching about these things. They are good things. However I am more than just business, organizational, mommy lady. I would love to teach classes on story, blogging, and creative non-fiction. I believe I could do these well, but I don’t yet have the credentials to back up my belief. I don’t have visible evidence of my capability and thus that is not how I am thought of when the time comes to arrange panels or presentations.

The need to categorize is built into human brains. We have to be able to file experiences and dismiss them or else we will be in a constant state of mental overload. One of the primary drives of early childhood is the creation of categories. No one wants to examine each and every fork we encounter to determine it’s qualities and use. We need to be able to label it quickly as a fork and move on to something else. We do this same thing with people. We have to. Every person in the world is a being of infinite possibility, but contemplating that for every cashier at the grocery store and every person you drive past would overwhelm. Thus to me the young lady with a head full of hopes and dreams is just a cashier. To her I am just a customer. This is good and necessary, no matter how much I hated it as a teenager.

I think I worked so hard to dodge categories because I was afraid to be trapped in them. This is a very real problem. Sometimes the imposed categories of others can limit a person’s potential, particularly if the categories are applied by people in power. A child may have a very difficult time breaking free of being “the smart one” if that is how parents and neighbors see her. I have friends who make a full time living at writing and yet are still treated as if they’ve picked up an amusing hobby. This can be infuriating and emotionally crushing. Repeated application of a particular category can make even a being of infinite possibility accept limitation. I am in a very fortunate position. None of the categories that other people apply to me block my pathways to my goals. I am not barred from my dreams by being too female, white, Mormon, maternal, scattered, reliable, messy, or any other category. Fighting against the perceptions of those who have power over your dreams is hard. The first step is to not accept the limitations of the categories assigned by other people.

I never did draw a picture for that class game. I sat out while the other students played. Several months later I realized what my visual representation should be. It was a dandelion puff scattering seeds on the wind. All of the seeds had the ability to sprout into a new plant and they had the potential to travel far. It still was not a perfect representation, but I liked it because it represented possibility rather than limitation. The fact that real-world dandelions are often treated as weeds was perhaps a meta-commentary upon the fate of people who defy categorization. Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe I just loved to remember blowing the dandelion puffs, watching seeds sail off into the blue, and wondering where they would land. I gave my teacher a hand drawn picture of a dandelion puff months after the assignment was forgotten by everyone else. He gave me an odd look, not quite sure where I fit. I felt quite good about that.

Thoughts after a panel on self publishing

You’ve probably never heard of Anna del C Dye. I hadn’t until I sat next to her on a panel and listened to her talk about her books in heavily accented English. She talked about the stories she’d loved writing, the process of working with a self-publishing company, and the enormous confidence she’d gained by proving to herself that she could write a book in her adopted language. Anna also talked about the satisfaction she receives by hearing from people who have loved her books. I’ve never seen Anna’s books. I can’t speak to their literary quality. I know for certain that Anna herself was a good and admirable person who has worked really hard to achieve a personal dream.

You are also unlikely to have heard of Jill Hancock Reeder. I sat next to her at a book signing. She set out her children’s book about surrogate pregnancy next to my picture book about impulsivity. Jill was supremely qualified to know how to explain surrogacy to children. She has three kids of her own and has been a surrogate for other people three times. She decided to have her 12 year old daughter do the illustrations for the book as a family project. Her book is well known in the online surrogacy communities and is hailed as both useful and necessary. She sells very few books to the general public, they glance, refuse to meet her eyes, and walk away.

Since you’re here on my blog, you probably have heard of me. I self-published a children’s picture book. I take it with me when I do appearances and sell copies here and there. The project was a story my daughter needed and then published so that I could pay the artist. I’ve paid the artist now, but still haven’t made any money on it myself.

These are the faces of self-published authors. I’ve met many, and I expect I will meet many more as I continue to attend conventions and events. With only a few exceptions I have found self-published authors to be intelligent people with solid reasons for choosing the path that they took. They have their fair share of insecurity and eagerness to promote their work, however I see that among commercially published writers as well. In the end we are all writers with stories that we want to share and I see no value in trying to enforce a social class system based upon publication venue. Commercial publishing has as many toxic people as self publishing.

It is possible, even probable, that my self-publishing background has impacted my views on this. I’m inclined to consider self-publishers as good people because I want to be considered in that light myself. Hopefully I will retain this viewpoint even after I have a project published commercially. I know many commercially published people do hold this view. Anna talked about them and was extremely grateful to the ones she had met. I am always glad to meet writers whose love for story is more important than an imagined status system.

In which I explain my current sleep deprivation

Three days of high intensity social and public presentation time came to a conclusion when my cell phone rang multiple times. Link, having been an excellent baby sitter for most of the evening, abdicated his post 30 minutes too soon. Kiki failed to back him up and to do a couple of simple chores that I specifically requested. So instead of coming home to a clean quiet house, Howard and I had to come home and be parentally disapproving. The kid are contrite and perhaps a lesson has been learned which will result in long term good. We all dragged off to bed, quite thoroughly drained.

Sleep was interrupted at 2 am when Patch crawled into bed with me and declared “I need a pot!” I ran for the pot, he ran for the bathroom. Thus began twelve hours of a particularly vicious stomach flu. Howard stayed home from church with the sick boy. I went to church with the other three. This was when I learned that my newly acquired church job (Relief Society Committee Member) came with an attached afternoon meeting that precluded me taking a long nap. I’ve been sleepwalking all day, fortunately the day is drawing to a close and the kids have no school tomorrow. I will be shutting off the alarm clocks and sleeping late. Patch seems to be feeling better and has managed to keep water down for two hours now. As long as no one else comes down sick in the middle of the night, I should be able to sleep.

I’m far too tired to feel much about the concatenation of tiring events. At most I feel a mild amusement, knowing that this will be fodder for good stories in the future. It really has been a good week and a good weekend. I need to hold tight to that thought as a shield against anyone else in the family getting sick.

Lunch at LTUE

Julie Wright and I walked fast as we exited the conference center where the hall was filled with LTUE attendees. We waved at friends as we passed, but kept moving. When the doors closed behind us we looked at each other and giggled like teenage girls ditching school. One of the joys of conferences and symposiums is the fact that there are always large groups of people with which to have lunch or dinner. I like having the chance to visit over food. The disadvantage is that large groups are hard for restaurants to seat and I only really get to visit with the five people seated near me anyway. So this time I took a page out of Mary Robinette Kowal’s book. When she came to visit in Utah, she arranged her schedule so that she could have small group visits with many of her friends. I loved that. Large groups are for laughing. Small groups are for talking, catching up, and really learning how the other people are doing. I wanted to make sure I had some of both as part of this year’s LTUE experience. What I’d really love to do is sit down and visit for an hour with each of my writer friends. That project would take about a week of 8 hour days. Instead a casual facebook conversation resulted in lunch plans with Julie Wright and Jessica Day George. I figured the plan was a good place to start.

My very first year attending CONduit, the annual science fiction and fantasy convention in Salt Lake City, I attended a reading. It was a joint reading by James Dashner and Julie Wright. I stopped by because I’d never been to a reading before. I wanted to see what they were like. I don’t remember what Julie read, but James read from the manuscript that later became The Maze Runner. What I remember most is sitting around a table and talking to everyone. They were all published authors. Jessica was there. She had just sold her first book. I was not published, most of them didn’t know me at all, yet I felt completely welcomed and at home. It was the first time I felt like a professional writer.

After our escape from the conference center, Julie and I met up with Jessica at a nearby Zupas. We did not talk about anything profound. Profound does not quite fit with a crowded soup and sandwich shop. However I was able to catch up with a few details about how their lives are going right now. Of such small conversations are friendships formed.

I had friends in High school. Quite a lot of them, but then we graduated and no longer had shared experiences or proximity to keep the friendships alive. I lost touch with all but one or two. I had friends in college, girls who were my roommates or lived in my building. Then I got married and they moved far away. For awhile Howard and I had friendships with other young married couples, but they moved and somehow I found myself adrift. I did not quite know how to make an acquaintance into a friend. I remember hearing about other women and their Girls’ Night Out events. I wanted to be a person who went out to lunch with friends, but somehow it never occurred to me to arrange these things. I longed for them, but never was willing to risk calling and arranging an event. I look back at my younger self and I wish I could get her to say “Hey, next time you have a Girls Night Out, can I come?” This is exactly how I found my Writer Girls group almost a decade later.

I’m not sure how I learned to be a person who collects friends and arranges for lunches out. I think it was mostly by being around people who knew how. Some of it was demanded of me in the course of learning how to be a business manager for Schlock Mercenary. I do lots of things now which used to terrify me. The doing of terrifying things makes me stronger. Perhaps sometime I will try to identify core thoughts about making and being friends. Maybe I’ll even write up a list. Mostly though it is about arranging to be around each other and listening with sympathy. The women I observed did not have Girls Night Out because they were friends, they were friends because they arranged to have Girls Night Out. I had the causality wrong all those years ago.

I’ve been attending local conventions for six years now. They’ve grown to feel like family reunions as much as professional events. I had my stolen time with Julie and Jessica. It was the result of over a dozen emails as we tried to figure out where in three days there was a block of time long enough that none of us was busy. The effort was worth it. Tomorrow I will take time to step aside and talk with dozens more people. Inevitably I will miss someone with whom I’d dearly love to catch up. Thank goodness for the internet. Social media tools allow me to create a simulated proximity. I will be able to share messages and thoughts electronically. It is not the same as talking in person, but better than nothing.

I need to remember to make efforts outside of conferences to plan for lunches and dinners with other creative people. I always come away happier and with new thoughts to think.

Notes from LTUE panel: The Writing Life

My final panel of today was The Writing Life. On the panel with me were Julie Wright, Berin Stevens, and Angie Lofthouse. It was one of those panels where I scribble down notes, not only to help me remember what I wanted to say, but also because other panelists said things I want to remember. It was also one of those panels where I say things which I then have to write down because somehow the act of talking about living a writing life reshaped my thoughts in new ways, then the new thoughts spilled out of my mouth.

I knew before the panel began that I wanted to mention the inevitable break down of systems. Creative people get very excited and enthusiastic about their goals and plans for achieving those goals. When the plans fall apart three days later, they get very discouraged and are inclined to give up. The thing is to pick up the pieces and make a new system based on what you learn from the old one. Through iterations of this process a writer can find what works for her. Then life changes and iterations begin again.

The other panelists made excellent points about finding your priorities, setting goals, and scheduling time. I particularly liked the statement that writers need to not wait around for writing to be convenient. Time is made, not found laying around. Several panelists discussed getting up early, writing on work breaks, or staying up late. There was also much discussion of sacrifice, specifically giving up things like television and video games in order to make time for writing. We also touched on the importance of community. I loved all these thoughts and nodded agreement while scribbling notes.

Then I found myself thinking of fractals. The defining attribute of a fractal is that the large pattern is repeated when you zoom close to any particular part of the fractal. As you get closer and closer you see the same pattern ever smaller. Our lives are fractal. We don’t have to make our whole lives meaningful, but if we make each day balanced and good then the larger pattern will reflect that. I seized a microphone to share this insight and ended up talking about the five things I am still trying to put into my life daily. Every person will have different things, but the point is to try to balance each day so that priority items are front and center.

Since this was a symposium at a religious university, the authors on the panel with me shared that they often begin their writing sessions with prayer. They talked about how this calmed them and that they felt it inspired their writing sessions. I think this is a marvelous idea and I intend to try it.

A question was asked about specific practicalities of making time for writing. The truth is that I don’t always make time for it. There is a level of guilt attached to writing because sometimes I have to sacrifice things which are more important than television or video games. Sometimes it is a choice between writing and doing the laundry. It seems like a no-brainer, who likes laundry. But I know that if the laundry does not get done, then the next morning’s school scramble will be awful which will lead to a cascading failure of day. There are times when laundry is more important than writing and I choose it. Or I choose some other thing in my life. Other times I choose writing. Each day has its own answer and the only way I can find the right answer for today is to be in touch with my own priorities and inspiration. This is where my five daily things are so critically important. They center me in the priorities of my life. Often I discover that, contrary to what guilt would have me believe, writing first makes the laundry easier.

The panel wrapped up on the thought that sometimes what we have to sacrifice for writing are our own neuroses. We have to relinquish control of some things. We have to be willing to let kids do jobs poorly or to let them struggle and fail. We have to be willing to emotionally untangle ourselves from dramas which we can’t really solve, but which sap our energy. We have to find ways to allow ourselves to not be perfect. This can be very hard.

It was a really good discussion and I am glad I got to participate.

Contemplating the next three days

Tomorrow morning I get to put on my professional clothes and go to LTUE. I’m excited to see friends and visit with other creative people. I’m looking forward to all of the panels in which I’ll get to participate. My brain is fairly bubbling with points I feel are important for the various panels. It is all good stuff that I am happy about.

However, there is also a voice in my brain which counts the cost. In order to go on Thursday, I had to arrange for one neighbor to pick up my kids from school and drop them at another neighbor’s house. My teenage daughter has been tasked with catching a ride home from a friend. I’ll need to plan an easy microwavable dinner for my teens to feed to my younger ones. I need to spend most of today on preparatory work both for the family needs and preparations for the sales table that Howard and I will run at the event.

On Friday I’m skipping LTUE because it is the day to discuss with my son’s counselor about scheduling his classes for next year. Except I may run down to LTUE just for lunch to visit, but I have to be back home in time to pick up kids from school. All day Friday I will have an awareness that people I love to be around are having fun while I’m not there.

Saturday I’ve arranged with a third neighbor to take my younger kids for most of the day. At dinner time they’ll come home and my teenagers will babysit for the rest of the evening. I expect to get at least two phone calls from kids which will interrupt conversations or dinner. Saturday night I will be happy and socially exhausted. I’ll want to be very introverted, but my kids will be ready to latch on to me and demand attention. The house will probably be messy. There will be crankiness. In the whole process I will have inconvenienced 8 people to cover things that I usually do.

For the next three days I will be split between family and business. I will swap between parent and professional. In some ways it is much easier when I hand off my kids and don’t see them at all for the duration of an event. Then I can pack away the home and family parts of myself. On the other hand it is really nice to have kids to hug each evening. They remind me that I have an importance and value which is completely separate from my professional successes and failures. I like coming home and having everything be normal.

Being split is getting easier. Each year the kids are older and thus less unsettled by me being absent. I can depend upon the older ones to help with the younger ones, who need much less helping than they used to. I know it is better, but it is still hard. For the next three days I will not be as good a parent as I could be because I’ll be conserving energy for LTUE. Since parenting is a primary focus most of the time, the lapse will not cause any long-term harm, but it definitely creates internal stress for me. Contemplating the stress, some small part of me whispers that it might be better to skip the symposium.

All I can do is evaluate events on a case-by-case basis. LTUE will be good. It always is.