Month: June 2011

New Projects and Old Fatigue

Last night three ideas, which I have had kicking around in my head for years, stood up and told that they belong together. Obviously. Sure enough they fit together quite beautifully. So now I have the setting, characters, and themes for a book. I can’t start writing it yet, because the book has the barest wisps of what may eventually be a plot. This means that part of me wants to drop everything else and study plotting so that I can write this shiny new book. I can’t drop everything else. This shiny new idea has to get in line. It has to wait for available creative time after I finish this last revision on Stepping Stones. It also needs to wait until after the inevitable influx of creative tasks which accompany opening pre-orders. I’ll be called upon to design post cards, prints, and business cards. These things will require me to blow the dust off of my graphic design books. After all that, I will be able to tackle plotting.

Even at the same time that part of my brain is burbling with excitement about projects, another part is very tired and would really like to go watch some TV now.

“Must we learn new things?” It asks. “I’m tired of learning new things.”

“Yay, new things!” shouts the other part.

The co-existence of these two mind states defies logic, and yet here I am.

Musing upon Someday

Yesterday I was in the middle of the second hour of my writing time (with one more hour before I would let myself call it quits for the day), when I laughed out loud at what I was reading. My current writing project is a final tweak-things-into-place revision of Stepping Stones before I submit the thing to a contest and send out the next round of queries. What I read was an essay I wrote in the fall of 2007 in which I lamented how so many of my friends were able to spend hours per day on writing. They could make writing take a central position in their lives and at that time I could not. I found peace with my frustration by talking about how things have times and seasons in our lives, and that someday I would have time to devote hours per day to writing tasks. I have been dwelling in “someday” unawares.

I sat back and thought about it. I am actually dwelling in many “somedays” this week. I’m not chasing toddlers. My kids have been getting up and doing their chores without much argument. We’ve got a pre-order opening soon. These are all good things that in days past I looked forward to with anticipation. I still have somedays ahead of me, of course. It is good for me to be dreaming of something better, so long as the dreams propel me forward without making me bitter about today. I’m also aware that this week is a bubble of time in which most of my things are going well. Two weeks from now I doubt I’ll have time to write for 2-3 hours in a day. By August I certainly won’t have that time. Then I’ll once again dream that someday I’ll have more time to write. Somewhere beyond that, I’ll once again discover myself dwelling in someday. Times and seasons really do make a difference in my life.

More Summery Thoughts

Kiki and Howard are the ones working hard this week. Kiki is finishing up her Driver’s Ed class which includes two hours of range time and three hours of class time every day. On top of that she is taking an independent study science class and she is working on art projects. Howard is trying to work high-speed to build the buffer up in advance of the coming conventions. He wants to get 2-3 weeks of comics done for each week between now and August 1st. I’m working too. The majority of my hours are filled with necessary things. I run the business, manage the house, write, and care for the kids. Very little of my time is wasted, yet I feel like I’m moseying along. This week I’m completely lacking the must-go-fast vibe. I sometimes feel guilty about that when Howard comes home in a cloud of didn’t-work-hard-enough-today despair. Yet I think my relaxation is necessary in the short term. I need a few weeks of mosey so that when must-go-fast returns I will have the strength to do it. I expect it to return full-force one week from Monday when we open pre-orders.

Some of the moseying-along feeling in our house may be due to the fact that we exchanged Gleek for one of my nephews. She is having a rural-Idaho adventure at my brother’s house, while Nephew is here in suburbia with us. Nephew’s presence is new and interesting to my boys. He falls between them in age and the three of them play together for hours without conflict. My house has been quiet all week long, except for those times when the boys play a video game or watch a movie. Even when they are not quiet, it is not the sort of noisy which requires any intervention. It is lovely and I miss my Gleek. I miss her a lot. She called me today because she was sad and not feeling well. We only talked for a couple of minutes. It was enough for me to tell that mostly she’s having a great time. There are chickens! and Bunnies! and Cats! and dirt for digging! It made me realize how much my girl would love to live in a place with bigger boundaries and more independence. I’ll have to provide more of those for her when she gets back.

We need to figure out a way for Howard to have a lull. He needs a month when he can just work calmly and happily without feeling rushed. I’ve been scrambling to try to arrange it for almost two years now, it hasn’t quite happened yet. I have my eye on fall. He gets to go to a writer’s retreat then, and I really hope that it will be rejuvenating for him. I hope that my writing can begin to earn income, so that he doesn’t have to push so hard all the time.

Summer Afternoons

Summer afternoons exist outside of measurement by clocks. They commence sometime around lunch and continue to exist until dinner. The surest way for me to miss a scheduled appointment is to place it in the middle of a summer afternoon. I would feel bad about this, except somehow it is hard to dredge up a proper load of guilt and anxiety when the kids are out back running through the sprinklers while eating popsicles.

Unfortunately summer evenings are less timeless. Clocks tick and chime to remind me that it is now 9 pm and many of the things I intended to accomplish remain incomplete. In the evening, when the warm summer sun has vanished, I calculate and plan. I revise lists. I promise myself to work harder because the tasks really do need to get done. But since it is already 9 pm, it really is too late to get started. Bedtime is near and I should unwind for sleep. The lists are made and I’ll get right on them in the morning.

Summer morning defies alarm clocks. We are free from the relentless march of school schedules and I find myself sleeping until I am done. Being rested is good, but when I finally get moving on the day I have a mere two or three hours before I find myself once again in the midst of a summer afternoon. So I slide through days or a week, attempting to be focused and not quite managing it. At the moment this is fine. I’m in a business lull which was extended because we delayed the opening of pre-orders by two weeks. I have to trust that the necessary energy and drive will be available when I need it again. For now, I need to hand out another round of popsicles and spend some time outdoors.

Facing My Manuscript Yet Again

Once again I discover why the “Don’t argue with a critique” rule is so important. I got two critiques back on my book in the past week. One of them prompted a strong “you just don’t get what I am trying to do!” response in me. I also felt a bit discouraged about the project as a whole. I did not vent those feelings at the critiquer, thus making her reluctant to critique me again and possibly fomenting familial strife. Instead I let the thoughts simmer. Once all the emotional reactions simmered away, I could see that she was right. She pin-pointed the same problem spots that were also pin-pointed by the second critique (which I opened up just this morning.) Now I just have to figure out what solutions to apply. It will be interesting when my third requested critique arrives if she picks out the same issues.

So now I’m back to fiddling with my manuscript, making it all tighter, feeling like it may be worthwhile after all. I certainly hope so, because I’ve got queries out and it is being entered into a local contest by the beginning of next week.

The Third Day of Camping

On the third day of camping the adults all lounge in chairs talking while the teenage cousins play a card game and the younger cousins construct a branch fort nearby. The air is warm and cloud cover prevents anyone from feeling over heated. All the scheduled events of the family reunion are over and departure is not imminent. Relaxation is the name of the day. The third day of camping is why I enjoyed going to these extended family reunions.

Of course I can not start with the third day. If I could then it would all be the third day. Instead I must manage the first day when I arrive at an unfamiliar place full of unexpected risks. The kids make me anxious, not by doing anything wrong, but merely because they are inspired to do new things and go new places. I lose sight of them and have no idea where they’re likely to have gone. Did they heed the siren song of the creek despite the warnings to stay away from it? Did they “go for a hike” and lose themselves in the woods? Did they wander into the neighboring campground among people who are complete strangers rather than the familiar-to-me extended relatives who are still strangers to them? My mommy radar ratchets up to full-gain and I don’t sit still much. The first day also has the setting-up-of-camp, the sorting-of-responsibilities, and the joyful-greetings-of-relatives-long-unseen. The first day isn’t all bad, but it certainly isn’t restful even when it tries to be.

The second day of camp is scheduled. There are planned activities and events. This is when all those cousins of four different generations gather and try to create a common feeling based on biological relation and shared laughter. Challenges are issued and met. Games are played. The management of these things requires emotional energy and enormous quantities of tact while trying to cajole the sometimes-reluctant participants. I fall in the sometimes-reluctant category. I can see the value of building family identity, at the same time I prefer a more observational position. I glide through the reunion, touching lightly on the activities, appreciating the enjoyment around me, and keeping track of my younger two children whose activities in camp have just begun to develop predictable patterns. I can now trust that their definition of “stay in camp” is in near accord with mine.

Like the first and second days at camp, the first and second nights follow. I never sleep well on the first night, thus adding a haze of fatigue to the second day. The second night is always better, a fact which I chant to myself in the wee hours of the first night when I snap awake yet again. The bugs and dirt seem to peak about the middle of the second day, then I become accustomed and stop minding. This is good because collecting cups full of inchworms manifests as Gleek’s favorite camp activity. Inchworms are collected and set free constantly. It becomes a pattern and I know that when she’s gone from sight, she is likely at the inchworm hunting ground behind the restrooms. Link and Patch spend more time in camp, tethered there by the fact that Grandpa brought his iPad and DS3. Batteries only last so long before they must be charged, then the boys ping around the camp not sure what to do with themselves so far away from their usual pursuits. By the second day they begin to discover activities. Patch borrows a pocket knife and whittles at sticks. Link helps to build a fort, has a water fight, plays cards with cousins. The first day I hear constant complaints of boredom, by the third day no one is bored anymore.

Howard and Kiki join us on the third day. They come then because they are finally free of the obligations which kept them at home. Howard heads home soon after delivering Kiki, but Kiki falls right in with the third day of camp. Because the rest of us have achieved that over-tired relaxation she is able to skip lightly across boredom and join us in mellow. It is good. We luxuriate in a long slow afternoon and then climb in the car to go home. This trip will not teach us about the fourth day and beyond. Perhaps another time. For now I will imagine them as extensions of the third day, although I suspect that by the fifth day there would be a new phase wherein everyone is oh-so-ready-to-be-done-with-camping-now.

The afternoon of the third day of camping is lovely. I shall have to visit it again sometime.

The Girl on the Elevator

Most elevator rides vanish from memory because they are non-events, this one lingered. The opening events of the convention had concluded so Mary and I were headed to our shared room on the 9th floor. With us in the small space were half a dozen other people bound for some floor beyond ours. At six the doors opened and a teenaged girl stumbled into the elevator with a gasp that could have been the intake of breath after uproarious laughter or might have been the end of a sob. We all stepped back to make room for her, as one does on an elevator. She turned and leaned into a corner, her face was red with tears and she continued to give shuddering gasps.

Usually the sight of someone crying fills me with sympathy, I reach out to help unless the situation is already under control. Yet something in this young woman’s face declared “Look how distraught I am. Pay attention to me.” The girl gasped again and snot blew out of her nose, trailing down her face. She turned to the elevator in general and said “Are any of you going to Great America?” This reference to the amusement park a few blocks away made me wonder if she’d been frightened by a ride, but surely fright would have worn off before she finished the trek to our hotel and up to the 6th floor. No one in the elevator answered right away. None of us moved and yet somehow it felt as if all of us had taken a step back from the overwrought emotion on display.

I’d barely had time to process the young woman’s behavior and my reaction to it when the elevator doors opened again. Floor 9. I hesitated for just a moment before the “it’s my floor I must get off” instinct kicked in. Another woman had leaned toward the girl, obviously intending to help. Her motion triggered the “situation is handled” circuit in my brain. Mary and I stepped off the elevator and the doors concealed the unfolding drama from our eyes.

“I’m a little glad not to be dragged into that.” I said. Mary agreed. Yet thoughts of that girl resurfaced throughout the weekend. Because I walked away I would never know if her drama was the over-reaction of a young person or if she was in true distress. Her behaviors were so out-of-context from everything else. Her entrance was so over-the-top that My brain had to circle through suspicion before I could engage sympathy on her behalf. She was well dressed and healthy. She had no physical injuries. In some ways her behavior seemed like an act, part of a scam. All of these factors bounced around in my brain, but our exit arrived before I had enough data to figure out how I should feel about her.

On the final morning of the convention I was ambushed by an unexpected pocket of sadness. I found myself discussing with Mary my homesickness for California. It was an odd homesickness, because I’ve visited my native state many times and never felt it before. Mary listened kindly as I sorted my thoughts out loud and offered tissues when the conversational paths made my eyes leak.
“I’m sorry.” I said as I wiped my eyes and blew my nose.
“Why do people apologize for showing honest emotion?” Mary mused in a quiet voice which made clear to me that she thought no less of me for my tears. Before I could answer her question, Mary found the answer for herself. “Because we don’t want to be the girl on the elevator.”

Displays of emotion are hard to ignore. We’re wired to pay attention to them, to react. The emotions of others either draw us in or repulse us. I wanted to defend myself from the emotions of the girl on the elevator. Whatever she was feeling was strong, like an undertow with the power to pull a swimmer out to sea. I am not surprised that I reacted by stepping out. Social convention says that we only reach out to strangers when we are truly desperate, that level of desperation was out of place in a hotel elevator. If the girl had stepped on the elevator calmly, if she had been trying to hide her tears, I would have felt differently about our encounter. It would have demonstrated a level of rationality which would have increase my belief that she really needed help. How odd it is of me to be more ready to help someone who has a measure of control rather than one who displays open desperation.

I wish I had better or more solid conclusions to draw from this. All I have are observations about how easy it is to decide to step out of someone else’s crisis.

Emperor Pius Dei Arrives at Our Door

I woke this morning to a head full of stress. We’d been told that the advance copies of Emperor Pius Dei would ship out yesterday, but I’d gotten no shipment notifications. Even if the package shipped out today, I did not think it could arrive before we were due to open pre-orders on Monday morning. While we can open pre-orders before the advance copies arrive, we really don’t like to. I like being able to hold the book in my hands and know that we have something which is of salable quality. Holding the book in my hands quiets all those voices in my head which gleefully list all the ways It Could All Go Wrong. Howard and I discussed the situation and decided that we would open pre-orders anyway, particularly since we’d already announced that we would.

Then the doorbell rang and a lovely Fed Ex lady handed me a box. It was full of these:

We have our advance copies and my panic can now subside.

The arrival of advance copies and impending opening of pre-orders shifts my life into a different gear. I’m pulling out rusty skills and putting them to use creating product pages and stress testing the system. I’ve done this 10 times. I know how it goes, so the jitters I feel are not a surprise. I’d gladly skip them if I could, but the opening of pre-orders is when all my zen about our finances vanishes. Either we’ll sell enough books to continue paying our bills through the end of the year, or we’ll be scrambling to restructure our lives around a massive financial hole. Book printing and mortgage bills need to be paid whether or not the Schlock fans decide to spend money. They have never failed us yet. I know I should trust in them because they are awesome people. And yet I can’t help feeling that each book purchase is a gift to us and I can’t make myself expect gifts.

I did have a nice moment when I lined up all the books to take product photos. We’re offering an “Emperor’s Bundle” which includes all seven Schlock books at a discounted price. I looked at all the books arrayed on the table and knew that those books would not exist without me. I have worked and sacrificed to make them exist. Howard has worked and sacrificed. For a minute as I looked at them on the table, they were their own reward. Then I photographed them so that they could go out into the wilds of the internet and hopefully return with friends bearing gifts of money.

New Things I am Learning

1. How to research and query agents. I’m starting by asking my friends about their agents, once I’ve dried up that source of information I’ll resort to the internet.

2. How to set up our online store for a pre-order. This is one of those things which I expected to learn once, but instead I have to re-learn every time I do it. The software keeps updating and changing in between pre-orders. Also our needs shift and change from book to book. On the list of things to research for the store: how to set it up to deliver electronic only files and if it can track orders based upon how a customer arrived at the site. (It would be useful to be able to figure out if a tweet or a blog post is more effective in driving sales.)

3. Graphic design. I have text books sitting on my desk and gathering dust. I fully intend to study them and get better at this job I’ve been doing for four years now. I want to know how to purposefully create rather than just muddling through.

4. How to manage four kids at home all day and still get my work done. Again, it seems I should know how to do this, but the kids change from one year to the next making hard things easy and introducing new hard things. Also the summers have different demands, different camps, different scheduled items. Last year there were swim lessons, this year I haven’t scheduled any. This year there will be a summer drama camp if I can ever get in touch with the teacher long enough to get the kids registered. Generally I get it figured out just in time for everything to shift around again.

5. Marketing. There are always marketing things to learn. If I learn and apply marketing skills then (in theory) we will have more money. More money means less immediate stress. I like being less stressed, but I still don’t like marketing.

6. Freelance non-fiction writing. I’m just on the front edge of this, beginning by emailing some people I know who do it. I have enough writing skill that I could be earning money this way. But before I can earn money I have to figure out how to find people who are willing to pay for my words. Then I have to figure out what kinds of words I am willing to sell. Ideally I’d be able to sell some of my essays with only minor revision. Getting paid is not the only aspect of this which interests me. I like being able to say things which are useful to others.

7. How to make over a dress. I already know a lot of sewing, but a make-over project is inherently dictated by what already exists. I have to figure out each step as I go. I’m also doing researches on acquiring discounted materials.

8. How to pick up and start writing a new project after completing a large project. This one is harder than I would have thought.

It would be so lovely to be able to focus on learning one new thing and be really excited by it. That is not my life. I’m not sure that luxury comes to very many people in this world. At least most of these things do not have fear attached. I like it when I can learn without being driven by terror of failure.

First day of Summer Break

It is now 4pm and I have accomplished exactly none of my usual Monday Morning business tasks. A small piece of my brain is ready to panic since this is obviously evidence that I will never get any work done all summer long and we are dooomed. Except we aren’t. The first day of a new schedule is always rough. I’ll see how it goes again tomorrow. If the problem persists for more than a couple of days, I’ll make adjustments. We’ll make kids and business co-exist in the house during the same hours one way or another.

For now, I’m tired and done trying to work.