Month: December 2011
I am not the typical facebook user. From the day of my registration I considered facebook to be a public space. This means that I accept friend requests from anyone who does not trigger my spammer detector. That policy has gathered me some real friends whom I would not otherwise have met. Unfortunately the continual changes Facebook keeps making result in the site being less and less useful to me. I enjoy reading the things that people are intentionally posting about their lives and their thoughts. Instead my stream is full of things my friends read, updates any time someone friends another person, updates on games played, and comments that one of my friends made to someone I have never met. These sorts of updates would actually help me feel connected if I were only trying to keep in touch with 20-50 people I’ve met in real life. That’s not how I want to use facebook. Unfortunately every time I figure out how to filter my facebook stream, facebook changes again.
I still use facebook. I skim through my news stream once per day or so, but I miss a lot. Often I miss things that I would really like to know about while being bombarded with things about which I don’t care. Many times I see happy news, or sad news, and I would like to respond briefly with congratulations or sympathies. I do want to use facebook for me to connect with people. Unfortunately facebook wants to use my response to connect my friends with advertisments. Some of the people with whom I am facebook friends are very private people. They are extremely selective about who they let see information online. If I respond to a private person’s birth announcement, then that response is broadcast to all the writers, fans, and business contacts that I’ve also friended. Broadcasting a private announcement in this way would be extremely discourteous of me, even if I do it by accident. I know there is a setting to prevent this. I’ve toggled that setting. However facebook will change again and they may untoggle or change the way that settings are interpreted. The only way I can protect the privacy of my friends is not to answer them on facebook. This makes me sad. Because I’d dearly love to have these little conversational interactions which are the online equivalent of bumping into someone at the grocery store.
For the big things, with close friends, I use other means (like email) to respond to their announcements. For the little things, I just have to smile or sympathize silently. I do make good use of the facebook Thumbs Up button. It is a tiny way for me to cheer without also broadcasting that I’ve done so. Facebook still is useful to me, but I am always aware that to facebook I am a commodity, not a customer.
Naturally, the minute I admit to myself that I’m not quite ready to face next year’s schedule, part of my brain does exactly that. So here is a listing of my currently scheduled public events. There are some additional events which may pop up, but they’re tentative, so I’ll not list them yet.
LTUE Life the Universe and Everything Symposium at UVU (Orem, UT) February 9-11
This one is only about five weeks away. The LTUE crew had to switch venues at the last minute, so they’re still scrambling to get everything arranged. However I have never been disappointed by LTUE as an event, and this year is going to be great. As soon as I know details on registration or panel scheduling, I’ll pass them along.
LDStorymakers Conference (Provo, UT) May 4-5
I’ll be teaching a class on Finances for Creative people and co-teaching a class on cover design. Howard will be teaching World building and Talent vs. Practice.
Deep South Con (Huntsville, AL) June 15-17
This is a relatively small and low-key convention, but I’m really looking forward to the chance to go and just hang out with Howard. He’s a guest of honor and will be on programming. I’ll probably just be hanging out and visiting. We can probably arrange for away from the convention lunches and meetups if there are folks interested. I also want to see some of the southern landscape. I’ve passed through Atlanta before, but all I saw was the airport.
Additional events to which I will NOT be going:
LunaCon March 16-18 –Howard is a Guest of Honor there. New York area folks don’t want to miss him.
GenCon Indy August 16-19 –Howard will be running a booth there again.
And in the tentative category I have:
Chicon (WorldCon, Chicago) August 30-Sept 3 –This one I have mixed feelings about missing. I love attending WorldCons, but the timing on this one is bad. My kids will have just started school. I just have to get closer before deciding.
I’ve already got my wall calendar for next year. It is sitting rolled up in a corner of the living room. I had to order it off of the internet. Year-at-a-glance wall calendars have become a specialty item rather than being readily available at my local office supply store. I admit, this fact made me pause. Perhaps my decade-old system is out of date. I stopped using a paper planner last year and now rely instead on electronic tools. But I am not yet ready to abandon all my familiar methodologies merely for a sense of progress. It is useful sometimes to stand in front of the calendar and picture the sweep of events across weeks and months, all of it written out in colored ink.
So I have my calendar. Some time in the next five days I will pull it out and transfer information from the year past onto the year to come. Birthdays, anniversaries, schedules, and events must all be inked onto the new year.
But not yet.
I’m not ready yet.
For the next few days I only have those last 2011 odds and ends to finish up. Right now I can view and entire year’s worth of completed tasks recorded in multi-colored ink. I suppose I should feel accomplished about that. Mostly I feel tired and not quite ready to put together the list of things-to-come for next year. I’ll be ready soon, I think, but not today.
The Holidays are a time for projects which aren’t exactly necessary, but which make the days feel special. Many people express this by baking. My social networks are filled with people talking about cookies, pies, and other assorted delights. We’ve done our share of making special food for the holidays. Some of the special food was acquired through purchase rather than effort. This is fine too. However this holiday season I found myself with a slightly different holiday project. I’ve been playing with candles and melted wax.
See that pillar candle to the left, the one with the pretty drips? I made it. Once I made it, I spent an hour watching the wax drip through the holes and down the outside. I like candles as projects because they are like sand castles. No one expects them to last forever. Instead the materials are organized, destroyed, and reorganized as many times as one feels inspired to create. Left over wax from one candle can be the seed of the next candle. It is all about playing. How did I make the candle? Click on through for instructions and pictures …
1am on Christmas Day is too late to fix any of the Christmas planning errors I may have made during the preceding weeks. All those might-have-been trimmings and trappings circle in my brain instead of the visions of sugar plums which Clement Clark Moore assures me are what should be dancing about in there. Of course I have trouble visualizing sugar plums anyway, having never seen one. (Except that, of course, now I have, since I googled it the moment I finished typing that sentence. So now I know. I still don’t expect to be dreaming of them any time soon.)
The truth is that the best possible preparation I can make to ensure a happy Christmas day is to love and teach my children all year long. This means that whatever joys or disappointments arrive with the festivities, we’ve already got the tools and the sturdy relationships to manage. If the lack of a particular item on Christmas morning is truly traumatizing, then something far more fundamental is wrong. I know this. I believe this. I know my kids are fantastic people and that they are as much focused on the things they are giving as on the things they hope to receive. Everything is set up to be a lovely day. This does not stop me from slipping out of bed and sneaking a little bit of cash into each stocking. It is a small gesture which will bring joy tomorrow. It is worth doing even if the impulse behind it is my guilty conscience. As I said to Howard “How can it possibly be enough if I didn’t spend a month fretting over it?”
But it can. And it is. This is the secret of Christmas. It exists no matter how much time I spend creating it or trying to ignore it. This year our usual round of Christmas festivities was paused for an hour-long excursion to church. I love it when Christmas falls on Sunday for this very reason. However it does present a challenge for the youngest of my family. He did his mighty best to sit still and listen to songs about Jesus while his mind and heart were back home poking packages under the Christmas tree.
In the end my fretting was unnecessary. Each of us received pretty much exactly what the poem states:
Something you want
Something you need
Something to wear
Something to read
It is the recipe for a lovely Christmas day.
This is the postcard I send in packages when I’m having to re-send them. Sometimes I’m re-sending because the package somehow went on an extra-long trip to nowhere. Other times I’m re-sending because I’ve made a mistake while packing. I can’t hand deliver all packages. I don’t have a teraport. I’m human and will inevitably make stupid errors like forgetting to include an item or including the wrong item. I can’t be perfect, but I can apologize and try to make it better. It feels like I’ve been sending out too many of these postcards lately. I know that this is the natural result of me having sent out more packages. The error percentage has not increased. But I still have some notes for next year:
1. Get next year’s calendar released and shipped before Thanksgiving. This will reduce stress in December and increase the odds that calendars will not get lost in the holiday package traffic-jam that postal services become in December.
2. Budget my time so that I have space to be shipping packages daily from Dec 1st-20th. The remainder of the day will be completely consumed by family/parenting things. All other projects will fall by the wayside. Plan for this.
3. Breathe deep and try not to make any major business decisions in December, because the temptation to run away (screaming) from anything that looks like more work will be strong. You’ll feel differently in another month or so.
4. Remember that on the whole, Schlock fans are really nice people. They are not as frustrated with you as you fear that they are. The evidence for this is in all the responses you get to your apologetic emails.
So that is how business is going. Since shipping slowed down last Tuesday, I’m beginning to emerge from the “must get it done right now” haze. I’m starting to organize my house and my brain for January. Hopefully this will result in lovely blogging thoughts sometime soon. For now, I need to go sweep the kitchen floor.
I heard this first one as part of a church talk yesterday.
“Stay with your own life; don’t get distracted by trying to be somebody else. Learn to enjoy and be open to the beauty of any moment, even though there may be enormous pain, ugliness and injustice. Secondly, learn how to be in a relationship to fear and terror, because fear and terror drop us down to a less harmonious and less integrated form of behavior. Thirdly, cultivate a garden of daily delights that allows you to be you without demanding recognition or praise or any of those things. Also, find what you’re consecrated to, because we’re all consecrated to something. Finally, risk opening your heart and loving and allowing the beauty of love into your life as much of the time as possible.”
-From Interview with Annie, a cancer patient near death.
I find the sections on addressing fear and cultivating a garden of daily delights particularly relevant to my life lately. Her words reaffirm things I’ve been thinking.
And quotation #2 is probably much more familiar:
Every who down in who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was signing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling; “How could it be so?
“It came without ribbons! It came without Tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
-From How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
I was reminded of this by the lovely Catherine Schaffer, who added the thought that those of us who are still scrambling to arrange all those ribbons, tags, packages, and boxes can…perhaps…relax a little, as Christmas will arrive just fine without them.
“Are you ready for Christmas?” the clerk asked as he passed my assorted groceries over the scanner. It was a perfunctory question, asked merely to fill the quiet of these few minutes while we stood facing each other over a transaction. He had no time to be interested in my answer; the line behind me stretched long. It was okay. I had not time to give a full answer. My To-Do list pulled me forward into the rest of the day.
“No.” I said with a brief smile as I swiped my card. Papers exchanged, I pushed my full cart from the store.
I used to be the person who bought all her Christmas presents before Thanksgiving. The tree was up and gifts under it during the first week of December. I planned it all carefully, balancing to make sure each child would be delighted. I made sure that Christmas came to a perfectly orchestrated climax on the appointed day. The day itself was a work of art with times of excitement punctuated by good meals and pauses. I loved doing it and the process made me happy. Mostly. I stopped being that uber-organized Christmas planner because of a spectacular Christmas Day emotional crash. I’d created the perfect day and in the process completely obliterated my own experience of it. I arrived at five pm so exhausted that I could not believe it had been a good day for anyone. The Christmas process which had functioned so well when I was the mother of toddlers with lots of hands-busy-brain-free time fell apart when applied by a working mother with a mix of teenage and grade school kids. I had to change my approach to the holiday.
To approach, as a verb, means to draw near to something. An approach, as a noun, is the entryway into something else; like the front walk to a house. I had been hitting the holiday season with a huge list of things to get done before Christmas. When they were done, I could enjoy the holiday. When I switched it around in my head, I realized that all of my preparations needed to be treated as a noun, not a verb. Any architect or real estate agent can tell you that the approach to a building has a huge effect upon the people who enter it. It sets expectations for everything which will come after. All of December is an approach to Christmas. The tree decorating, shopping, gift wrapping, and concert attending are not just the overture, they are a part of the performance. When I pause to savor the doing of these things, I discover which ones I enjoy doing for their own sake, and which should probably be evicted from my holiday traditions. When Christmas day arrives, it becomes part of a larger event rather than the sole receptacle of all our expectations.
So, no, I am not ready for Christmas. I’m in the middle of it, still with a huge list of things To-Do. I am harried and hurried. I’m often overwhelmed by the things which I need to accomplish in order to not disappoint people around me. I ship packages to worried customers who need the contents for Christmas gifts. I attend school concerts and make treats for class parties. I realize that in all my shipping, I still need to acquire and send gifts to my own friends and relatives. It is a crazy, awkward approach to the holiday. And yet sometimes I watch my fingers as they carefully tape down wrapping paper. Then I know that this small act is part of the gift. I (finally) open the box containing our nativity set and look closely at the porcelain baby Jesus’ face. I light the advent candle and pause a moment to watch smoke curl off the match after I shake it out. These are all pieces of the holiday. I get half a dozen tiny moments like that in a day and I know that Christmas is all it should be.