Month: September 2011

The Needs of the Many and the Needs of the One

I grew up watching Star Trek. It was a family tradition. 5 pm on Thursdays the TV was tuned in and we sat down together. I suspect that I did not always watch with complete attentiveness. Some of the science concepts did not intrigue me the way that they did my older siblings, but I loved the characters and the stories. However when each of the Star Trek films came out, we all went to the theater. Thus I grieved greatly at the death of Spock at the end of Wrath of Khan. Some of his closing words stuck with me as important and true.

Spock: Don’t grieve admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many…outweigh…
Kirk: The needs of the few
Spock: (nods) or the one.
View clip here. Conversation takes place at 1:54

It was an echo of a conversation which took place earlier in the film and helped wrap the story into a meaningful whole. Yet Spock was still dead and we grieved. Then we heard that the next film was to be called The Search for Spock and we waited anxiously. Could they really bring back Spock? They did, of course.

The Search for Spock was not a great movie, but it was exactly the movie I wanted. It let the enterprise crew be heroic. They paid the price of losing the Enterprise, and yet triumphed to return with Spock alive, if confused and recovering. At the end Spock spoke with Kirk in a scene which directly referenced his death scene.

Spock: You came back for me.
Kirk: You would have done the same for me.
Spock: Why would you do this?
Kirk: Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.
View this here.

I loved it. I loved Spock’s look of confusion as he tried to balance this illogical equation of caring.

I’m thinking about this pair of movie scenes because of a conversation I had yesterday about community and selfishness. I was talking with a woman who claimed that embracing selfishness was a way to discard guilt and find happiness. Her point was that we should allow ourselves to want the things that we want. I countered that unchecked selfishness is the source of endless damage and pain. She assured me that it was okay for me to be selfish because I would never do such things, it was not in my nature. I stayed silent because I could see that she was trying to help me to let go of some of my stress and emotional tangle. She is right that I need to allow myself more small selfish things. There is nothing wrong with me getting time to myself, having a hobby, or watching entertainment even though these things do not benefit other people. It is even okay for me to have things I want when they cause inconvenience to others. However, she is also wrong. If I allow habits of selfishness to build in my life I could travel to a place where I am willing to do damage in order to get the things that I want.

Communities thrive on cooperation and self sacrifice. These are not attributes which are lauded in American society. America is all about the individual. This is good. If we do not value the needs of the one then we all risk oppression. However there are times when we must individually sacrifice for the needs of the many. When I think of the movie conversations listed above and applied them to myself, I found something very interesting. In the Wrath of Khan quote, I pictured myself as the one who must sacrifice for the needs of the many. In the Search for Spock quote, I pictured myself as part of the many. It was an ingenious little shell game trick some piece of my mind was playing on me to make sure I never won. It allowed me to reconcile these seeming opposite quotations both as true. Yet it was stealing the power from the contradiction. That contradiction needs to stay strong because both things need to be true, not at the same time, but alternately.

Last May I went on a trip that I wanted which inconvenienced everyone else. I could claim that Howard made me do it, but this is not true. Howard pointed the way and I finally allowed myself to be the one for which many people sacrificed. It was hard and easy at the same time. I’m so grateful it happened. Applying what I learned to daily life has been much harder. Sacrificing for others is as easy as breathing. I give myself away without even thinking about it. Learning to let my loved ones have that same experience is proving to be harder.

Headed for the Future

After Cub Scout Pack Meeting, Patch and I retrieved his bike from among the dozens clustered near the rack. Patch climbed on the bike and rode ahead of me while I walked. His knees almost hit his handle bars. Time for a new bike. This, along with the switch to the top bunk and the eradication of Blues Clues from his room decor, have made abundantly clear that my boy is not so little anymore. With Link grown taller than his parents, I am quite able to picture the future those skinny legs are pedaling toward.

We rounded the corner into our cul de sac to see Gleek cruising along on her ripstik. This two-wheeled, swiveling skateboard is the latest cool thing among the kids of our neighborhood. Gleek bought hers with her own money and has ascended to a level of grace on it which astounds all of us. She turned and smiled at us, giving her head an extra flick to send her newly-short hair brushing against her face. She swooped down a driveway and in a circle around me before swiveling off again. She too is growing fast and changing daily.

I expected it of my teenagers. Teens are future bound from the minute they hit puberty. I was a little startled today by these younger ones who will join their older siblings so very soon. We’re nearing the end game of this parenting project. I know that in real terms, parenting never ends. I also know that grandparenting lies somewhere in my future. I’m not ready for that yet, but some day it will be a marvelous thing. Years ago, when I was mired in the midst of toddler and preschooler care, I was admonished to enjoy it because some day I would miss it. I replied that I would enjoy missing it, which is an accurate assessment of how I now feel about those early years. Days like today I will miss. I will look back to this time when I had two still turning to me and two beginning to launch toward adulthood. Like Patch on his bike and Gleek on her ripstik, we can not stop; stopping the forward motion makes us fall. Instead I will not be in a hurry. I will try to pay attention. Then at least I will have many clear memories instead of these moments disappearing in a blur of busy-ness.

Of Wood Stain and Bedsheets

The morning began with errands and a list. Successful acquisition of the items on the list would make my plans for the afternoon possible. I was going to begin re-staining wooden structures in my garden and I was going to solve the problem of bedsheets. The beds were something of a surprise problem, because of course I have bedsheets for my kids’ beds. Except last Saturday in a flurry of “make it all clean” I discovered that when I stripped all the beds I only had enough clean sheets for two of them. We have suffered sheet attrition between stretched out elastics, worn fabric, and the fact that everyone refuses to sleep on Sesame Street sheets. It was a problem which a shopping trip could solve and then we could begin insisting upon more regular washing of bedding. A good thing in a house which contains two teenagers and two active kids.

The danger of shopping is all the things I see which catch at my brain and say that I have uses for them. Stores do this on purpose. They place things I might want right next to things which are on my list. This was useful in the hardware store as it prevented me from forgetting paint trays. It was less helpful in the bedding section which is full of soft loveliness, none of which fits into my current budget. The sheets were a stretch as it was.

I brought my spoils home and set to work. Setting up beds was clean and soft. Staining was neither. I started with the staining. I watched the paint brush stroke liquid across bare dry wood. Any puddles vanished quickly, soaked in by the thirsty wood. We hadn’t stained the deck or the play set in a decade. The old stain had worn off long ago. It was satisfying to see the new color go on over the bare wood and the remnants of old stain. Stroke by stroke the wood was made to look younger. We could have used a sprayer I suppose, but this method insured that we got enough stain into the thirsty wood. It was slower, but more controlled in result. We did not finish. It is a project that will occupy a pleasant hour or two each day for the rest of the week. The week will be sunny and there is no need to push faster than that.

The kids liked their new sheets. Now no one would have to suffer those scratchy Spiderman fabrics anymore. I helped Patch spread out his comforter across the green sheets he’d picked. His comforter still sports a giant image of Blue from Blue’s Clues. It was Patch’s favorite show when he was four and Link’s favorite show before that. Patch is eight now. That was half his life ago. About six months ago Patch mentioned in passing that maybe he ought to have a new comforter. Three months ago both boys collaborated in removing all of the Blue’s Clues wall stickers from around the wall of their room. That’s not who they are any more. I tucked the Blue’s Clues blanket around the foot of the bed and knew that I have more shopping to do. I must buy a comforter appropriate to the boy Patch is rather than to who he was years ago.

Old things made new, old things which are still good ready to be passed on, and new things to replace those which are worn out. It was a solidly good day. I need to have more like it, although perhaps with less shopping involved.

Sunday Dinner in Process

Food currently in process:
Rolls -currently rising with the oven pre-heating. I began the dough before church, kneaded and rolled in the space between church and a church committee meeting.
Fudge -cooling. This is the promised reward for Gleek and Patch who have spent the last month braving primary without any toys or distractions. I made it after my committee meeting just in time to start everything else.
Rice -simmering. This will be the basis for the Sunday dinner which Patch has decided to cook.
Hamburger -thawing. Soon it will become beef stroganoff.
Vegetables -canned. Awaiting a can opener and a microwave.

Apparently in this new rhythm of life my Sundays are all about church and cooking. I’m not sure whether this is a problem yet. The minute resentment appears, shifts will need to be made. Today I’m not minding it because I’m focused on the positive benefits of all of us sitting down at the table to eat lots of delicious food. I’m staring at the puffy roll dough right now and they’re going to be amazing.

The other things I do on Sunday are often preparatory for the rest of the week. I make lists, plan meals, remind everyone of their Family Home Evening assignments, and sometimes have time to sit down and work on the family photo books. It is definitely a day focused on family and on being prepared. I am not doing my usual round of things, which I suppose qualifies as a day of rest. On the other hand, I hardly take time to sit down. For now I need to hold the patterns as they are. I really like the results of all the things I do on Sundays and this is the only way I’ve found which structures those things into existence. Any changes would have to be made carefully or important things will fall back out of the schedule.

For now I’ll just stick the rolls in the oven, then call Patch to come help cook while Link sets the table.

Making River Song’s Journal

The new iteration of Doctor Who is by turns silly, clunky, brilliant, heart-breaking, and delightful. I watch every episode. I like the essential hopefulness and joyfulness of it. There are piece of the stories which stay with me even after I walk away from the screen, like the story between the Doctor and River Song. They both travel in time and have met each other many times, but always in a random order. This makes reminiscing difficult because they don’t want to accidentally give away the future of the other person. To solve the problem the Doctor gives River Song a journal. It looks like this:

I love the idea of this journal. It’s tattered condition implies hundreds of adventures that River and the Doctor have together. Through it they are able to find where they are in relation to each other and then proceed to have yet another adventure. Possibly my interest in the journal is due to the fact that I love journals. I always have. I wondered if it were possible for me to buy a journal with a cover made to look like River Song’s. I googled and discovered that the BBC has released a printable PDF which one can use to cover a journal, but that there is no officially sanctioned journal for purchase. There are several etsy shops which sell handmade ones, but the prices were daunting when I’m trying to cut back on frivolous spending. I sighed and gave up. Or so I thought.

The next day I kept bumping into supplies. My on my craft desk was some dark blue tissue paper and Modge Podge (a decoupage glue) which I’d been using to re-decorate some little metal boxes. Sorting through a pile under my desk I found an unused journal which I bought some time in the past six months. I knew I had card stock, scissors, and an exacto knife. I had everything I needed. So without exactly deciding to, I began making a River Song journal.

I began with this black journal. Having it be black was important so that the dark could show through the tissue paper and make the shadows which can be seen in the recessed portions of the journal cover. I colored over the red line with a sharpie marker.

Next I printed out a copy of the PDF and sized it so that it would fit the cover of the book I had. Then I cut out the pieces as a pattern. I arranged the patterns on the book to make sure the proportions were correct before I proceeded.

I traced the pattern onto white card stock. Once I had it all traced, I glued a second piece of card stock to the back to give it the thickness I wanted.

I used a knife and scissors to cut out the pattern pieces. I deliberately made everything not quite square to resemble the PDF better. Once the pieces were cut out, I arranged them on the book. Then I glued them down using Modge Podge.

I waited for that to dry thoroughly before proceeding. Fortunately this particular glue dries quickly. Next I cut a piece of the blue tissue paper so that it was larger than the book. I applied glue to the cover in sections and carefully pressed the tissue paper down so that it got into the recessed places as well as the top of the card stock. On the binding side, the tissue lined up with the edge of the cover cardboard. Glue does not bend well and I wanted my book to be able to open. I had to be gentle and careful so that I did not tear the tissue paper. I used two layers of tissue, letting the glue dry completely between layers.

I clipped the corners of the tissue paper and then propped the book open so that I could wrap the tissue around to the inside of the book. I glued it down, making sure to slather a layer of glue across the top of the tissue so that it was protected. I also put a layer of glue all across the top of the cover, both front and back.

All that was left was the spine. I cut some pieces of card stock to fit and repeated the process of laying down tissue paper. Again I was careful not to glue anything to the binding crease so that the book would open easily.

And here is the journal completed:

It is not perfect. Intentionally so in some places. I do wish I’d figured out how to give it a more leather-like texture. The Modge Podge is smooth and shiny. You can also see the strokes of the brush I used to lay down the glue. I’m pleased with the result even though it definitely has a home made look. Perhaps as I carry it around, and use it, the shine will wear off a bit. I’m far from the only one who has committed this particular act of geekery. A little googling will find similar journals in leather, paint, knitting, fridge magnets, key chains, and all sorts of other forms.

The question I began asking myself almost as soon as I began construction was what I planned to do with the thing once it was made. I already have a journal. Several. It seemed foolish to spend so much work to make another one. Then I realized that what I loved about the idea of River Song’s journal is that it was full of amazing things all out of order. I wanted a book like that. One where my usual self-imposed writing rules don’t apply. I wanted to see what deliberately changing the structures of my creativity would cause to fall out of my brain. Once I knew that, I also knew what my rules for filling the journal needed to be.

1. Don’t write it in order. When I have something to write, pick a page at random and begin.
2. Date every entry.
3. Write only things that matter to me. Nothing boring. That said, sometimes small and insignificant can also be fascinating.
4. Leave the first two pages blank. Write them last.
5. Draw as many pictures as I wish. They don’t have to be good.
6. I can update, change, or alter anything that I have already put in the book. I just need to note the date of the change.
7. Writing sideways or upside down is fine.
8. Find things to clip and tape into the pages.
9. Neatness is not required.
10. I can make stuff up, write stories, or pretend to be someone else.
11. I can invite others to contribute to the pages.
12. I am the maker of all these rules. I can break them if I wish.

And so my River Journal adventure begins. I wonder where I will travel.

Analyzing Anxiety

I’ve been paying attention to the shapes of my thoughts lately. I’ve figured out that I am living with levels of stress and anxiety which are too high for my body to sustain on a long term basis. Combine that with recently watching a documentary showing scientific evidence of how stress can reduce both health and happiness, and I’ve felt highly motivated to figure out where all of the stress is coming from. It is not merely the result of being busy. It is possible to be busy all day long while also being relaxed and happy. I’ve done that before and it is where I am aiming to dwell again.

I noticed that many of my thoughts had the shape of perfectionism. I put great pressure on myself to stay on schedule, to get things right. Yet I don’t think I’m inherently perfectionist. I am quite willing to allow myself mistakes and errors. This morning I realized what it was. I am not allowed to let down people who are counting on me, or people whom I perceive as counting on me. The more important the person is to me, the less I am allowed to fail them. No one else is imposing these requirements on me. I do it to myself and sometimes to a ridiculous degree. I will berate myself for failing to complete something that the other person had no idea I was doing for them. If I do fail at something I generally pick up and move on fairly quickly, but it adds stress to the next round of “I must not fail.”

I’m not entirely sure how to disconnect this as a source of stress, because I want to retain being reliable and dependable as core elements of my self-definition. I’m in the process of re-defining the boundaries of my jobs so that I take less responsibility on myself. I know I tend to snatch responsibility when it would be better to let others handle it. Most of this gets expressed in my home life. This makes things murky in the areas where personal and business overlap, such as my relationship with my husband-and-business-partner. We’re working on it and finding better balances.

The best avenue of attack has been to sit myself down and ask exactly what I’m afraid of. I’ll pull out the anxieties and sort them then think step-by-step through all the possible consequences. Usually I discover that the worst case scenarios are well within my management capabilities. That works for anxiety which has basis in thought. Other times the anxiety starts as an agitation in my body to which my brain tries to attach explanations. Re-balancing my thyroid medication may resolve most of this. I’m also actively seeking out relaxation / recreational activities. I’m exercising, gardening, and spending time on projects that don’t have much purpose other than my desire to do them. Bit by bit I am teasing out the knots of stress and tension. So far so good.

Querying Through the Fog

I’ve been sending out Queries on Stepping Stones for several months now. I haven’t sent all that many. Sorting through online information about literary agents to find one who might be interested is both time consuming and emotionally exhausting. Once I do find one, I then have to adjust and personalize my query letter for that agent. It is hard to convince myself that this expended effort will net me anything beyond rejection letters. A couple of the rejections were personalized and said nice things, which is about the best I expect really. I know that Stepping Stones is full of flaws. I also know that it is something of a niche book; a memoir about the ordinary rather than the extraordinary. Not only that, but it is written in a personal essay format rather than the novel format which is more common for memoirs. So, I know that the project will be hard to sell, will likely have a small print run, and be a marginal earner; hard to believe that a New York agent would get excited by that prospect. Only a persistent and pounding feeling that it was important made me write it at all. Now I send it out because that is my next job. I am responsible for sending out queries. If it is supposed to sell, it will. If it doesn’t sell within a year, I’ll re-evaluate. Perhaps it is only important to me. Either way, I found a weird sense of satisfaction in sending my first paper queries yesterday. All the rest had been via email. There was something more real about putting pages into an envelope and hand writing New York addresses on them.

I’ve been thinking about imposter syndrome lately. It is the persistent belief that one has not actually earned the recognition one has received. I think everyone experiences this to some level, the fear that everyone around us will figure out that we’re only faking and then they’ll de-mask us and ridicule. I’ve been feeling a lot of quiet and pernicious imposter syndrome lately, not so much with professional endeavors, but in friendships and relationships. “They’re just being nice because they’re nice people, not because they actually like you.” whispers the voice in my head. These voices are quiet and pervasive, like fog. I discover myself slowing down, altering my choices because of the fog. If I shine logic and rational thought onto it, the fog melts away. I just wish I could find my way back into sunlight instead of wandering around with a lantern. I think it is coming. Things are getting better as I find my rhythm in the new schedule, as we make adjustments to give me time for my creative things, and as I slowly get my thyroid medications balanced again.

Seeing the imposter syndrome inside my head naturally leads me to think back on my assessments of the quality and likely future of Stepping Stones. I was pretty narrow in my expectations during that first paragraph. Am I doing that as a disappointment management technique? Is it me being unable to accept that I have an accomplishment? Or is it an honest assessment of the book and the market? I really can’t tell and trying to figure it out only sends me in useless mental circles. Instead I need to shut out the noise and just do my job. I send out queries. I write something new. I apply faith and choose to believe that my friends and family love me. Then I keep going, headed for the light.

Much More of this and I’ll Need to Find a Trash Can to Live In

Things which went wrong today:

Kiki was sick and stayed home from school.

FedEx came when no one was home.

A piece of Howard’s car came loose.

The dishwasher lost yet another screw.

Son’s book order was rejected because I put cash in the envelope instead of a check.

The color proofs for Blackness Between showed a color fix which needed to be made.

Construction on the road blocked the turn to my kids’ school.

Things which are now fixed:

Took Kiki to the doctor, we now have antibiotics for her bronchitis.

FedEx stopped by again because I called and asked them to.

Howard’s car is now in the shop.

My drill put the screws back in the dishwasher.

My daughter’s book order has the same books as my son’s. I’ve resubmitted with a check this time.

I sent the color fix to the printer and Blackness Between is back on track.

Defying the construction, I drove down the road and made a U-turn to retrieve my children.

Now if only I could ditch the unreasonable amount of crankiness that this small list of things-gone-wrong-but-now-fixed engendered. I guess some days are just grouchy.

Weekly Course Corrections

I sat at one end of the chapel bench and Howard sat at the other with our children in between. We were singing the opening hymn, all of us with books open in our laps. The requirement that the kids sing along for the opening hymn was a new one for our family, but through it the kids are learning that music can bring a special spirit to us. The song concluded and the heads of three kids bent back over their drawings. Supposedly they were also listening while they drew. I’m sure Kiki listened. Gleek listened sometimes. Patch listened if the speaker was telling an interesting story. Link did not draw. He sat quietly, which did not guarantee that he was listening. Whether or not they were paying attention, we were all there together for the first time in weeks. I look down the row at them, I can see the contentment in their bodies. Church is a good place for all of us and we are glad to be there together.

I closed my eyes and asked the same silent question I ask every week. It is a prayer of sorts, almost wordless as I reach out. It comprises several things from “any messages for me?” to “What should I be focused on this week?” to “What next?” or even occasionally a petulant “what now?” I don’t remember how long it has been that I’ve been making this overt weekly request. I think it began last year when I was pounded with unexpected inspiration several weeks in a row. I finally figured it might be better to just ask instead of waiting to be shouted at. I ask, and answers always come. It is a little frightening this receiving of answers. Sometimes I want to wrap myself in a little cloak of sameness. I don’t always want answers which may ask me to change or do some other difficult thing. But lately I have been glad of the answers, they help me set a path for the week to follow. I can’t see much beyond a week right now. However if I can get the week aimed right on Sunday, I can follow through long enough to get me to the next Sunday when I can adjust, change, or continue.

So I sat with my eyes closed and asked “What new thing shall I undertake this week? What am I to do with my time and energy?” Sometimes the answers are loud and clear, almost like being spoken to. Other times it is like I have to sort them from my own thoughts and it takes most of the meeting. Today the answer was so quiet I almost missed it, rather like a hand waving gesture which indicates “carry on.” I opened my eyes and looked down the row of my people. We’ve set a good course and it is time for us to do some calm sailing.

Tasks Like Beads on a String

I want to knock down a wall in my office. It would combine my office with a small pantry area, thus making my office bigger. It is a lovely plan, and now that I’ve thought of it I can hardly wait. Unfortunately on the office side of the wall are two book cases full of books. These would have to be boxed before the smashing could begin. On the other side of the wall are shelves full of canned food. There is also a freezer. The canned food and freezer need to be relocated to the garage before the smashing can begin.

The garage is something of a wreck. I know exactly where the canned food and the freezer will go, but it requires me to move some shelving, relocate an old drawing table, reorganize the bikes, and generally clean up the garage. One of the things currently filling the garage are left over shipping supplies from the shipping day we had last July. There are also boxes of displays and merchandise which we brought home from the summer conventions. Some of these things are bound for our storage unit. The rest really need to find a home downstairs in my shipping room, which is next to my office on the other side. Before I can begin moving the food and freezer this must all be moved.

My storage room is a complete wreck. It is filled with boxes of merchandise, boxes for shipping merchandise, boxes left over from conventions, and random things which got stacked in there to “be out of the way.” As I need things, I shift the things that are on top of them until nothing is neat and I’m having to wend my way through piles of boxes in order to grab things for shipping. The whole mess needs to be reorganized before I can put anything else in that room, including shipping supplies. Behind the place I stand to do shipping is an under-the-stairs cupboard. It would be an ideal place to stack shipping boxes so that I can grab them easily. Before I can fill it with the shipping boxes from the garage, I have to find a new home for the school supplies and random junk.

My office has a set of cubby cubes. They are poorly organized, half full of games and other random stuff which I shoved in them to be out of the way. These cubbys would be a good place for the school supplies and random junk from the under-the-stairs cupboard. The games in them really belong upstairs in the toy cupboards where the children can find them and play with them.

The upstairs toy cupboards are a jumble. There is no space in them, but there will be once they’ve been organized. Finally I found a task which did not have a “but first I must” in front of it. So that is where I will start. It will probably be a month of Saturdays before I finally manage to get to the task I really wanted to do in the first place. In the mean time I am looking around my house and wondering what idiot organized it so poorly in the first place.