Month: June 2011

Shiny New Business Card

I spent part of my day designing a new business card for myself. It feels good to have a tangible accomplishment for the day. Everything else is pending and my moments of focused energy have been sparse.

Busy has Arrived

Last night I was unable to sleep until 3:30 am despite going to bed around midnight. My brain was spinning with things to do and anxieties related to them. This is in sharp contrast to last week which was all drifty and lazy.
The things my brain spun in circles trying to solve:

I was notified that a space had opened up in the gifted program for which Patch was an alternate. Howard and I looked at all the factors and decided to accept the placement. This decision makes next fall a harder adjustment for Patch. As a result, both Howard and I will have to spend more energy to be available to him and to Gleek who is also entering the same gifted program. We finally made the decision to go ahead when we realized the only thing holding us back was knowing how hard it is going to be. If I spend my life trying to avoid hard things I’d never get anywhere worth being.

Books arrive in one week. By this time next week our garage will be full of books and we’ll be busy schlepping them around so that Howard can sign them and then sketch them. I’ve also got invoices to sort, shipping boxes to order, supplies to gather, volunteers to organize, and bundles to assemble. All of this is familiar work, but I need to not lose track of any of it. Our book shipping day is July 25.

GenCon is in one month. This means that the minute the new books arrive, I need to turn around and ship a bunch of them to our support crew over there. It also means we have to hammer out designs and plans for the booth space so that everything can be set up intelligently. I will not be going this year, so I have to make sure that Howard and his crew have all the pieces that they need. Also I need to buy plane tickets for Howard.

WorldCon is in six weeks. I have an outline of a plan which gets me, Howard, four kids, two booth helpers, associated luggage, and all booth supplies to where they need to be. It is time to start fleshing out the outline and pinning down details. The details will show me the faults of my outline, this has already happened. We have to be in Reno a full day earlier than I thought we did. I have to extend the hotel stay, hopefully that will work.

School starts in seven weeks. I will have to cart all my kids home and then immediately turn around to start them off in school. My brain is still going to be post-convention unsettled and I won’t have time to settle it before I have to start working with schools and teachers.

Somehow in the midst of all of the above, Howard needs to not just maintain the buffer, but get ahead on all of it. I’m supposed to be writing. The kids are supposed to be doing chores. In theory Gleek and Patch are practicing times tables and reading books. Kiki is working her way through an online course which it now looks like she won’t be able to finish before the end of the summer. Kiki is supposed to be learning how to drive, but we haven’t yet felt brave enough to take her on the freeway. Laundry and dishes are omnipresent. Things keep growing in the yard and I have to suppress the unpleasant ones so the nice ones can flourish. Howard needs to brainstorm bonus stories and outline the things he wants to write in the retreat this fall. And my house is full of people all the time.

It is my intention that on July 4th I will re-capture the blissful denial of last week. On that day I will be excused from everything except hanging with my kids, having a chalk drawing festival, eating ice cream, lighting fireworks, and visiting with neighbors.

No wonder I couldn’t sleep.

This Could Get Expensive

I was out of sorts today. I’ve been more or less out of sorts for at least a week. I wasn’t able to figure out why since so many things about my life are going so well. Then today I accompanied Gleek to go care for a friend’s pet rats. Taking care of the rats meant playing with them for about 30 minutes so that the rats would not be lonely with their family gone. Gleek was a bit spooked by the thought of being in an empty house by herself, so I went with her. The neighbor’s house was gloriously empty and quiet. I sat down upstairs while Gleek tended rats downstairs, and I realized that I wanted to just stay and stay. I am an introvert and my summer has been very solitude deprived. I haven’t even been able to use errand time as alone time because Kiki is learning to drive and needs practice.

When Gleek was done with the rats, we came home. I didn’t stay long. I announced that I was going erranding all by myself. Two hours later I came home with a car load of groceries and a happy mood. Retail therapy can get expensive, but in this case my only impulse items were found in the produce section. We’re going to see if I can successfully cook spaghetti squash. Then we will see if my kids can be induced to eat the squash. I may also have bought an artisan bread which we didn’t technically need. But it will go great with the crock pot stew I’ve got planned for tomorrow. I’ve actually got a meal plan a day in advance; the first time that has happened all summer long.

I’m afraid Kiki’s driving practice may languish for awhile.

Pre-Order Neurosis

The first Pre-order day is always full of free-floating stress looking for things to barnacle. All those months of preparation and planning, all the financial calculations and predictions will be resolved within the next few days. This is when the customers show up to buy, or they don’t. If they do, then we get to proceed toward shiny future A, which includes paying our bills and shipping out a thousand books in less than 30 days. If they don’t, then we have to flee toward contingency plan B. Then there is the unlikely possibility that customer turn out will exceed expectations and we’ll get to trot briskly toward some castle in the sky. (Where we’ll discover that floating castles are a lot more work and expense than one would expect.)

Orders have been open for an hour, and we don’t know yet which financial future we’ll be implementing. Howard and I end up standing in the kitchen away from obsessively checking our computers. Except that we talk, and naturally the conversation turns toward big picture plans. We talk about what to do if this pre-order causes us to sell out of The Blackness Between, forcing an immediate reprint. We think ahead to the next book release. Would it be better to work on the next book in line, which needs recoloring, or should we jump ahead to Massively Parallel which is ready to go? We can’t answer any of these questions today. The right answers depend upon the results of pre-orders and it will be Wednesday or Thursday before we have an accurate prediction on those. So we should table all the questions and wait. We try, but if we’re separate we gravitate to our computers to check on sales. If we’re together our conversations drift toward future plans. Catch 22 and we’re stuck orbiting the question of pre-orders.

In theory the best idea would be for us to get away from the house and ignore the pre-order entirely. Unfortunately I represent the entire customer support department. This requires me to be on hand to help customers who are having trouble with the system or who just need a question answered. We will send Howard away as soon as Dragon’s Keep opens. He’ll go focus on drawing comics. I’ll be here, keeping tabs on things. Theoretically I can get some other things done, small things which don’t require extended focus. In practice that hasn’t happened yet. Instead I’m hovering, watching orders trickle in, and babbling on my blog.

Return of the Business Sandra

Late last night Howard and I found ourselves tangled in a conversation which lasted almost an hour. We were both tired, emotions were a bit raw. He was frustrated that I had been drifting. I was sad that my calm happiness had resulted in stress for others. Howard was actively worried about the upcoming pre-order. My brain kept circling in sadness and mucking around in emotions.

Then in the space of three sentences, I found myself shifting from analyzing emotional motivations to listing off merchandise things and why I thought that we would be fine despite the specific sources of Howard’s concerns. The business manager in my brain came out of whatever dark closet in which she’s been buried and she took control of the conversation. Within five minutes Howard was feeling calmer, I had a list of things to do today, and the world seemed upside right again.

I have to remember that while it is important for me to acknowledge and experience the touchy-feely parts of my psyche, there is something to be said for that strong part of me who just gets stuff done. I’m going to have a busy few days and I need my business brain to handle them. However in the quiet moments when the work is all done, I also need to figure out what impelled me to bury that part of myself for two weeks. Vacations are allowed and important, but this wasn’t a declared vacation, it was more an unannounced abdication.

My brain gets weirder the more I pay attention to the stuff it does.

Wake Up Call

This morning Howard broached the subject of the family schedule, pointing out that we’re all sleeping in until 9am. If I don’t get up in the morning, no one else does either. His point was that while this is lovely and relaxing, it is not a great way to be focused or get stuff done.

My initial reaction was along the lines of: The schedule is not broken. I’m getting stuff done. I’ve been happy and relaxed. You’re telling me that my relaxation breaks everything else and I am doomed to self-sacrificing misery forever.
Then I cried. It was very like a toddler crying because someone took away a toy.

Once I attained a less over-reactive mind state I realized that perhaps I might still have some issues regarding life balance and making space for the things I want. The last couple of weeks have been pretty much me doing stuff I want to do, all day long. It was lovely, but I am not an island. I am part of a household and as such my wants do not always get to come first. They can’t always come last, which is what I’ve done to myself for months on end and why my inner child had a tantrum this morning, but there needs to be a balance so that our family routines are working for everyone.

I am most productive creatively before noon. I’ve been sleeping away half of my productive morning hours. Everyone in the family depends upon me to get moving and set the tone for the day. That pattern may need to change so that I can sometimes sleep in without disrupting everyone, but we need to start from a working pattern in order to structure change. This means that I’m going to have to start fighting the flow and trying to redirect it instead of just floating along. Sigh. Drifting was so lovely.

Summer Blogging

Blogging in the summer is hard. I’m not sure why exactly. I used to think it was because I was always busy in the summer. But so far this summer I’ve not been run-around-in-a-panic, million-things-to-do busy. True, I’ve been editing-multiple-hours-per-day busy, but that is different. Somehow the more laid back, kids-at-home-all-day vibe of summer is just less conducive to the percolation of blog entries. Apparently it is very conducive of hyphenated sentences as nouns or adjectives. Yup. I’m making up rules as I write again. Whee.

I’m not feeling particularly stress about the fact that I’m likely to miss blogging some days over the next couple of months. That happens. Also I’m so very pleased with my writing productivity on other projects. When I switch to drafting fiction rather than editing non-fiction I’ll probably have more bloggish thoughts rattling around in the edges of my brain.

Audit Day at Tayler Corporation

The text on my phone said UTAH DEPT WORK, so I answered it. That was how I discovered that our business had been randomly selected to be audited by the Utah Department of Workforce Services. They wanted to check our finances to ensure that we were paying necessary unemployment insurance on all our employees. The woman on the other end of the line was very pleasant. She introduced herself as Jan and explained the process we’d go through. She even cracked a conversationally-appropriate joke. We set up an appointment for the following week.

I used to live in terror of audits. I feared that the IRS would swoop down on us, tell me that I was doing all of the accounting wrong, and then demand lots of money which we couldn’t afford to pay. My fears were born of my inexperience at accounting. I’d learned it all on-the-job. I’d made huge organizational tangles and then had to untangle them. Those fears only faded after years of annual tax visits with a certified accountant who assured me that my bookkeeping was just fine. It was a measure of my acquired confidence that the word “audit” did not send me into a panic attack.

Jan sent an email with a full list of the things she needed to see for the year 2010: payroll records, w-2s, w-3s, 940 & 941 forms, 1099 forms, income tax returns, a check register, and a general ledger. I scanned the list and knew exactly what each item was, where it was filed, or how I could make my accounting software spit it out for me. Collecting everything would have taken less than an hour, except that the general ledger was 378 pages long and took a while to print.

On the appointed day, Jan arrived at my house. She entered with a pleasant air of competence. I had no doubt that she was fully capable of getting hard-nosed if she needed to be, but she was starting at friendly and hoping to stay there. We sat at my kitchen table. Jan pulled out her computer and began setting up. She apologized because she was wearing a bracelet with a bell on it.

“It looked so cute and pretty when I bought it. I had no idea that the sound was going to drive me crazy.” Jan held up the tiny bell so I could see it. “I’m going to have to get wire cutters and clip it off.”

“We have wire cutters!” announced Gleek, who’d been attracted by the jingling noise. Gleek darted to the garage and fetched the clippers. So I clipped the bell off the bracelet, and Jan gave the bell to Gleek who ran off happily. Jan and I smiled at each other and the real work began.

There was a little awkwardness at first. I knew I needed to be available to answer questions for Jan, but mostly she just needed to look at the papers I provided. I didn’t want to hover, but I couldn’t leave the room. After about 10 minutes I found a good solution and used the time to hand sew some of Link’s scout badges onto his bandoleer. Jan and I chatted a little as she worked. She was interested in Howard’s job as a cartoonist.

“I admire creative people.” Jan said. “I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.”

Some of our discussions were more to the point. I explained why we pay Travis Walton, that he is a professional artist with his own business and he contracts work from lots of different people. This satisfied her that he was in fact a contractor rather than someone who should be treated as an employee. Several other names came up and I explained who they were and what we had paid them to do. I was honest in my replies. Not only is honesty the best policy, but this was a chance for me to make sure that my definition of “employee” matched the state definition. Jan was never accusatory in her questions, she just needed to sort information appropriately.

“That’s it.” Jan said as she closed her computer. “I’ll write up your report and send you a copy via email. It’ll all be zeros, because you’re good.”

Howard happened to be in the room to hear this announcement. He asked, “Out of curiosity, on a scale of one to ten, how did we do on providing the information you needed?”

“With one being the hardest and ten being the easiest, I’d say you guys were an eleven.” Jan answered with a smile. Then with a little prodding from us she told a couple of stories about difficult cases. She told outlines only, without names or identifying details. She left us with a card and encouraged us to call her if we have any questions about state tax laws. Then she walked out the door less than 45 minutes after she walked in.

The whole experience was interesting and pleasant. It was nice to be reassured that we are, in fact, running our business correctly. However even if we’d been making mistakes, Jan would have been happy to help us sort them out. This is the auditors job: to make sure things are being done properly and, if they aren’t, assist in getting things corrected. An individual auditor may be grouchy, cross, or on a power trip; but their intended purpose is to help, not to punish. I don’t want to be audited, but I’m not afraid anymore. This audit did cost me a few hours of time, but on the whole the process was interesting and pleasant rather than otherwise.

Deliberate Infliction of Boredom

This week I have decided to force my 13 year old son, Link, to be bored. He is probably the lowest maintenance of my kids. If I stock the freezer with frozen pizza and give him free reign on the video games, he won’t bother me for a week. However this parenting thing is not about figuring out how to get the kids to stop bothering me. It is my job to occasionally force my kids into learning and growing even when what they really want is to be happy and relax. Since summer began, my son has spent 90% of his waking hours attached to various forms of electronic entertainment. I like video games. I think they can be educational. However a healthy person is balanced among many pursuits rather than just one. The trouble is that when Link is detached from electronics, he doesn’t really have anything else to do. He wanders around aimlessly and pesters me to know when he can play a video game again.

A week ago I took Link camping. While we were there, his electronic game habit was assisted by my dad who passed around his iPad and Nintendo DS3. However there were only two devices, lots of cousins, and limited battery life. Link had to go for hours on end with no electronics. At first he sat or wandered aimlessly and I spent some time thinking about what could entertain him. However I was feeling lethargic and I began to be curious. Bored children get creative. They think up stuff to do. This is one of the inherent risks of boredom and why parents spend so much time and money to make sure their kids are entertained. I began to wonder what Link would discover to entertain himself. After wandering aimlessly most of that first day, he began to participate. He helped build a fort. He went on a hike or two. He played cards with cousins. He returned to the electronics as often as possible, but even separate from them he managed to have a good time.

We came back from camping and the old pattern returned full-force. If I want Link to have some non-electronics-related hobbies (and I think he will be a happier person his whole life if he does have some) then I have to limit the electronics time. I have to let him be bored for hours every single day until he starts to get creative about avoiding boredom. It is going to be work both for me and for him, but work is necessary to accomplishment.

To be fair, I’m going to apply the same limitations on the kids and on myself. We could all use a little more boredom and the resultant creativity.

A Father’s Day Story

“Do I have to?” Whispered Patch to me from his seat next to me on the chapel bench.

“Yes.” I said back.

“I don’t want to.” He pleaded.

“Get up there and sing for your Dad.” I answered.

Howard probably didn’t much care whether his son got up to sing with the other kids at church, but I cared. I’d failed in the “planning for Father’s Day” department and figured the least I could do was nudge Patch into singing.

Patch put down his notepad and pencil, then trudged his way up to the front and into the back row of kids. He stood there scowling as hard as he could. Next to me on the bench, Howard started shaking with suppressed laughter. The music started and fifty young voices began a sweet song about how important fathers are. Patch glowered silently. He looked over at Howard and I to make sure we could see his glower. I do not know what expression Howard was wearing, but the moment Patch caught sight of it, the glower shattered as a giggling smile broke through. Patch valiantly attempted to formulate a new scowl, but any time he looked at his dad a smile would escape suppression. Howard, for his part, leaned and peeked around the backs of the folks in front of us so that Patch could always see his face. Also, I’m pretty sure he pulled out his full arsenal of silly faces. It didn’t take long for Patch to give up scowling.

When all the other kids were done singing and shuffled off to their seats, Patch came back to us smiling and hugged Howard for a long time.