Month: March 2012

How I Spent My Conference Saturday: A Report of an Ordinary Day

General Conference Saturday is the day when I turn on the radio and work at some project while I listen to the elders of my church teach about true principles and how to be better people. This time I decided that my project would be a major re-organization effort in Gleek’s room. She hoards things. In the space of two hours I hauled four trash bags of stuff from her room. Most of it was actual garbage, cardboard boxes, crumpled papers, paper bags, candy wrappers. Some of it was the remnants of games long forgotten. Some of it was things that got broken because they were buried. None of it is stuff that she will ever miss or think of again. Sometimes things enter our lives and then stick around long after the purpose for them has gone.

The two hours of conference ended before the job was done, but in the space between sessions I went on errands. I was in need of new shirts. I bought a whole pile of new shirts three years ago. They served me well, but about the only good thing left to say about them is that they are still serviceable. I wanted some shirts that I would not be embarrassed to wear in public. Fortunately the Merona brand at Target is reliably inexpensive and looks good on me. I discovered that this year’s spring palette is perfectly designed to be all my favorite colors and to compliment my skin tones. I don’t think I’ve seen bright persimmons and oranges like these since I was a teenager. I bought an array of shirts. I’m going to watch for sales and buy more to stash away for when these become merely serviceable. This will be important because either next year or the year after all of these lovely colors are going to go out of fashion again. Perhaps this inclination of mine might indicate where Gleek gets some of her tendency to hoard.

My next stop was Sam’s Club. In an effort to be a healthier person, I’ve taken to eating salad for lunch. Sam’s has big cartons of Spring Mix lettuce for just $4. It provides me lunch for almost two weeks. I am amazed at how much lettuce is crammed into these containers. I drove the long way to Sam’s Club because the construction-crowded freeway is a place to be avoided on conference weekend when the roads are filled with out of town visitors. As I drove this more leisurely route, my eye caught on the pair riding a scooter ahead of me. A middle aged man was driving, but his passenger was an elderly man. I watched them as they chatted while stopped at a traffic light. They were quite obviously enjoying the same beautiful spring weather which had me driving with my windows down. I imagined a whole little story for this man and his grandfather. Seeing them made me happy.

The second session of conference let me finish Gleek’s room. Four hours of work and four garbage bags of things which are leaving my house never to clutter again. This makes me quite glad. Though one of the conference talks did make me cry. It was unexpected to be feeling contented and happy then be crying. I felt like Amy in the fifth season of Doctor Who, when something reminds her of the boyfriend who was wiped from her memory. She would be happy and then suddenly crying without knowing why. Oh well. It passed quickly and I finished the job I was doing.

To complete the day, I pulled out my hammock swings and hung them in the back yard. Then I sat in one and drifted for awhile. That was followed by a phone conversation with Howard, always worthwhile. Up next: dinner. Then later this evening I’ll sit down and watch some Avatar with the kids. All in all, a very good day.

Gleek’s Hat

Gleek’s class has been studying the Civil War this past month. Her teacher divided the class into Union and Confederate according to which notable figure about whom they had to write a report. Part of her purpose was to really bring home how hard a civil war is because it divides something that once was whole. This method is tricky to pull off without actually damaging the social structure of the class, but Gleek’s teacher manages to do it year after year. To help designate the students, she gives each of them a hat Confederate gray or Union blue. Gleek loved her hat. She talked about her hat at home many times. Today the war ended and Gleek got to bring home her precious hat. I also give a ride home to Gleek’s classmate. These two girls with their hats climbed into the car and Patch began to wilt a little. He did not have a hat and it was sad. I watched him hunch further in his seat and then Gleek spoke up.
“I have a hat for you. A boy in my class didn’t want his, so I asked if I could have it.”
Patch sat up in delight and the hat was retrieved from Gleek’s backpack. A simple thoughtful act from Gleek made Patch’s day, and mine.

Some Days Parenting is Hard

Some days, weeks even, parenting just makes me tired. I’m not talking physically exhausted or sleepy, though that happens too. I’m talking about facing my children’s needs and feeling like they gape out in front of me like the grand canyon. I have to take this small person next to me and get us over there. Somehow. Without a map, or a guide, or even a burro to help carry all the baggage. I can’t even tell how far it is to the other side. It could be that we’ll step out and discover our feet landing on a miraculous bridge like the one in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I pray for a bridge. But I’m pretty sure most of this trip will be done the hard way. Lots of walking, dust, confusion, rattlesnakes, and muddling through. And the truth is, I’m not beginning these trips. We’re already in the middle with miles behind us and miles yet to go.

At this point I should probably have something lovely to say about faith and inspiration. I’ve relied on them greatly in the past. I’ll do so again. They are the only way I have to find those miraculous bridges. But right this minute, I don’t feel a flow of calmness or comfort. I don’t have a clear vision for what the path should be. I can’t even be sure that the gaping canyon I’m staring at is actually a canyon or if it is an optical illusion shaped out of my own fears rather than the actual needs of my child. I could be taking things far too seriously. Or I could be failing to take them seriously enough. I don’t know. Yet. But I will. I will gather information, we’ll start moving, and we’ll revise travel plans on the fly. Because that is the only way I know how to do things. And somewhere as we’re walking a bridge or a map will show up for us to help us through.

And maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow in a different day and it will all feel much easier.

Contemplating My Hats

We were in the middle of a pre-convention stress-fest. Howard had a pile of priorities and worries, I had a different set of priorities and worries. Both of us needed to be two people in order to get everything done and discovered that neither of us could solve problems by handing them to the other. In a moment of stress I found myself muttering “I hate this” under my breath. In that moment I truly meant the words, but I worried that the feeling existed. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort building up this life and now I was saying that I hated it. The trouble was the unreferenced “this.” Days later when the stress levels were back to normal I realized that in my life I do a lot of jobs. Often I picture these various jobs as hats that I wear. In a moment of clarity I realized that it is okay for me to not like some of the hats. Not liking a necessary job is normal. I don’t expect myself to love the job of laundress, I do it because it needs to be done. However identifying which jobs I like and which I don’t helps me to be better at planning. So here is an incomplete list of hats that I wear and how I feel about them:

Accountant: This job is fairly routine and soothing, except when the money is running low. It used to be scary. For a long time I lived in fear that I was doing everything wrong.

Convention Liaison: This one has lots of little details to track and lots of advance planning. I keep track of Howard’s appearance and travel schedule. I make arrangements for all to go smoothly. I kind of like this one. It feeds my inner need to keep track of things.

Graphic Designer: I like getting to exercise the artistic portions of my brain. Playing with text, color, line, and flow all please me. However I’m very aware of the gaps in my graphic design education (self-taught) and am often afraid that those gaps will cause me to fail in an embarrassing or expensive way.

Shopkeeper: Running a table while at a convention is in the “do not like” column. It is not miserable, just draining.

Inventory manager: Don’t mind this one. It just is. Although I wish I could do a better job of keeping the storage room organized.

Shipping manager: This one wears on me. Not all the time. Mostly it is routine. I guess right now it is wearing on me because I’ve got a bunch of new things to learn really soon.

Business Manager: Again this is a job that gives me the opportunity to track dozens of things. This is the hat I wear when I’m assigning jobs and work flow to the graphic designer, convention liaison, shopkeeper, accountant, etc.

Art director: I don’t like this job. The art director has to hand out assignments and deadlines to the artist. The artist in this case is Howard, which means I’m piling on stress. Howard, naturally, then complains about his stress to his wife. Then I feel guilty even while knowing the stress is necessary to getting the job done.

Wife: I like this job. I plan on keeping it for a long time.

When I was talking to a friend and rattled off something close to the list above, she asked me if there were parenting hats that I don’t like. At the time I answered that I didn’t think that there were. That most of the parent hats I wear fill me up as much as they take from me. That conversation was several weeks ago and I’ve been paying attention since. Here are the parenting hats I do not like:

Homework warden: The homework belongs to the kids. It is their work. They should be allowed to succeed or fail at it according to their efforts. Except that teaching them how to succeed at homework is my job. It is a job that can only be done if I’m standing at their elbow to help, either figuratively or literally. Also I can’t stop my brain from tracking their homework. My brain has an auto track function which tells me that my teenager mentioned a huge report two weeks ago and that I’ve not seen him work on it since. Then my stress levels rise because I can sense the impending storm when said teenager will have a complete meltdown because now the work is due and he planned poorly. Then it is my job, not so much to rescue the child or make sure the work gets done, but to help the child navigate consequences in such a way that perhaps a different path can be picked next time. Often it gets to the point where I cringe at any homework at all.

Short order cook: In theory I cook food, the kids eat the food and all is well. Sometimes it actually works that way. Usually though I cook food, various subsets of kids complain about the food, we have arguments about eating, and stress is spread all around. So then the next time I cook I try to base my cooking decisions on past experiences. I make sure to have a low meat option for one child and a non-potato option for another. I use all sorts of creativity to try to provide food that will result in no complaints. Sometimes I even stand around waiting for them to decide what they want and then fix four different meals for four different kids. Other times I place a standard in the ground and fight the battle of “I’ve cooked for you, therefore you should be grateful and just eat what is in front of you.” I have a guilty suspicion that if I could be more consistent about food and meals that this would be less stressful for everyone. But I don’t like spending creativity on food. I want to save it for other things.

Pack mule / garbage can: If the kids don’t know where a garbage can is and I’m near by, they give it to me. Thus my purse becomes a repository of wrappers and other sticky things. If we’re out of the house and they don’t want to carry something anymore, they give it to me. This happens a lot less now than it used to. However each time I have to decide whether to quietly accept what ever is being thrust at me or whether to make an issue of it.

And so that this is not a post more filled with complaining than good things, a couple of hats that I love:

Snuggler: When they need comfort, they come to me. Even the teenagers.

Listener: I love listening to people sort their thoughts and tell me about silly things. Sometimes I am tired and listening is hard because it takes energy. Other times listening invigorates me, filling me with hope and happiness. It is a good hat, much treasured.

Errands, Bravery, and Cleaning Up

Yesterday was constructed entirely out of errands. When I rattled off the list to Howard, his response was “I’m glad that’s your day and not mine.” So I dropped papers off, I returned unwanted purchases, I had the vacuum cleaner repaired, I went grocery shopping. Through my town and hours I wended until the twisty trail landed me in the evening at Gleek’s 5th grade program. It was to be followed by writers’ group and then bedtime. This program has been part of Gleek’s life for months. She’d practiced her lines, sung the songs, sometimes so much that the rest of us asked if she could please be quiet for awhile. She was as prepared as she could be. Well, except for the part where the chairs were filled with audience. They couldn’t rehearse that part. Bravery is a decision, not an emotion. It is the decision to act despite fear. Gleek was afraid, but she did not miss a single cue. She sang and spoke right on time. Then I took her home and let her run until she was tired and play Minecraft until she was calm.

Today was a clean up day. I emptied my overflowing email box. I sent off files to people. Then I sat and stared at nothing in particular while letting my thoughts sort themselves into new places. Pauses are necessary. In the pause I had another possible idea based on my cover concept. The photo shoot is scheduled for next Wednesday. Between now and then a small piece of my brain will be quietly considering and problem solving. The email processing dictated the shape of next week. I have my to do list ready to go. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll feel inspired to clean the house with my newly repaired vacuum cleaner. It would be nice to move Howard’s suitcase off of the front room couch where it has been sitting since he came home on Monday.

Daffodils are blooming in my neighborhood. This relates to nothing else in this post. It just makes me happy.

Things Not Said

“Hundreds of parents walking past this spot and not one of them asking her what’s wrong. Which means, they already know and it’s something they don’t talk about.”
–Doctor Who, The Beast Below

I’ve been re-reading most of my blog entries from 2011 as I place them into the layout for my 2011 One Cobble book. My memories do not match up to the words I wrote. Oh, sometimes they do. But much of the time my memory of an event, or a month, is defined by a story I do not tell on my blog. The things I don’t tell could fill a matching volume to the 400 page tome of last year’s blog entries. This leaves me pondering the difference between secret and private. In general I believe secrets to be toxic. They poison everyone who is inside them and create a barrier to everyone who is not. I’m not talking about surprises; that short span of time where you don’t tell something because there is a planned revelation in the future. Those can be marvelous. But never-tell-anyone secrets are poisonous. Yet we obviously should not spill every detail of our lives to every person we meet. Most of our life details are irrelevant to any given situation or person. Thus secrets dwell in the realm of relevance and silence.

I recently spent some time with friends. It was a wonderful evening full of conversation and laughter. However I did notice my silences. There were times when the topic of conversation was something with which I have copious experience and many stories to tell, for example: childbirth and infant care. Yet I silently listened instead of speaking. In this case my silence was driven by my internal landscape rather than a need to hide or conceal. I just didn’t feel like delving into that particular memory cabinet at that particular hour. Trying to figure out why I wanted to leave that cabinet closed is a matter for introspection. Yet someone who knows me and was paying attention to my silences could probably infer quite a lot from the shapes of the things I did not say. In conversations I pay attention to things not said. Things not said can speak volumes about the undercurrents of a person’s mind. I love it when fictional characters are written in such a way that they have these huge emotional undercurrents that change the shape of every word and action. Then they’re like real people.

“It’s often said that negative space is far more important than the stuff that’s in it. For the most part this is true. Space calls attention to content.”
–from Design Elements a Graphic Design Manual by Timothy Samara

The same is true of silence. What a person does not say defines her just as much as what she does.

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.”

Of course, there are times when we should stay silent. Silence can be a kindness. My children do not need to hear the litany of my frustrations every time they make a mistake. Often my anger has less to do with the person it is focused on and more to do with a myriad of other circumstances. Keeping silence lets me sort my thoughts and figure out which ones are lingering and which are momentary. Most anger and frustration is irrelevant in a very short span of time. Other times I stay silent because the thing I need to say is important. I know I need to say it exactly right, but then the silence grows and time marches onward. Sometimes imperfect words are better than the absence of words.

“There’s this space between us, that keeps filling up with all the things we aren’t saying to each other.”
–from Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Things that are important and relevant, but are not said, become secrets. Once something is secret, revealing it becomes a fearful step. When you include someone into a secret they must come to terms with what you share. I once watched a friend as he spent a weekend informing people that he had a terminal illness. He had been suffering from it for some time, but was ready to make it public information. I watched people react to his news. I watched him find the courage to tell the story again and again even though he knew that his story would make his friends grieve. Some stories require a reaction. Sometimes withholding those stories is a kindness even though it creates a barrier of secrecy.

Silence seems so much easier sometimes, and maybe just a little bit kinder to people around me who seem shaken when I reveal even a tiny bit of my story.
–from The Longing to be All of Me by Theressa Schroeder

But is it kindness or is it discomfort? We all desire to protect those we love, sometimes we do that by withholding hard information. Thus we can rob each other of the chance to cry together and grow.

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
–from The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel

Most of the time silences do not indicate soul wrenching secrets. Most of the time it is fatigue, or a story which is not mine to share. Much of what I did not say on my blog had to do with concerns about my children, friends, relatives, or neighbors. Their stories are not mine to tell and while important to us, they aren’t particularly relevant to anyone else: private, but not secret. The silence from last fall which does loom large were my efforts to understand anxiety and panic attacks. Somehow a mix of chemistry and thought patterns had me falling into pits of fear and anxiety. I spent a lot of time filling in the pits, figuring out how they got there, and then creating new pathways in my thoughts. It is a work that has only begun. I don’t speak of it much because I don’t want to worry those who love me, because I’m afraid that it demonstrates weakness, because I sometimes think I’m making a big deal out of nothing, because I don’t want my anxiety to cause grief or fear for those I love, because the scariest thing I’ve learned is that I can not clearly assess the health of my own thought patterns while living inside them. But I can begin to draw a map by looking back and seeing the things I did not say. Then when I find a big dark space where I tend not to travel, I know where to shine a light.

Yesterday I spoke of working on this entry and called it a collage of words. To make it a lovely bordered collage, I should have a perfect quotation to go here and a final thought to pull everything together. Instead what I have is pieces, some of which slop over the edges of the canvas. Tomorrow I may wish I’d arranged them differently. For now, the collage is done.

In Which I Scatter My Thoughts into Text: Writing, Collages, Cover Concepts, and a Day of Errands

I just sent off my draft to readers and I’m now completely convinced that it is full of stupid, that the whole blog sampler book idea is stupid, that my blog itself is also stupid. Fortunately I’ve been a writer long enough (and I’ve hung around other writers long enough) to know that this is a normal stage of the creative process. I just have to trust that my decision to go ahead on this project was made wisely and rationally. I also have to trust that somewhere in the future I’ll believe in it again. And I will. Just not today.

I’m half way through drafting a big long post about silence and the words which can fill it. Hopefully when it is done it will be interesting or at least coherent. Right now it feels like a collage of words. Collage is a valid artistic choice. A well planned collage can be stunning. A poorly executed collage is a mess.

I have a new concept for my book cover. It is the right concept, now I’ve just got to make it be pretty.

Yesterday was filled with project fugue. Today was made out of interruptions. Patch had strep and thus needed a trip to the doctor. Then there were the two trips to two schools to drop off things to my two daughters, for which service I extracted extra chores. A trip to the pharmacy was also a featured part of the day. Howard spent the day unpacking his post-convention thoughts and his suitcase. I participated in both of those activities. Packages were mailed to customers. All of that on top of a poor night’s sleep. I need to go to bed early tonight.

Project Fugue

Rather unexpectedly my two days of drifting after sending SEOS off to the printer transformed into several days of driven project fugue. I discovered all of my creative energies and spare moments spent upon pulling together my 2011 One Cobble at a Time book. While I was doing it, I identified a pile of blog entries to be considered for my sampler book. Then I had a realization about what the cover needs to look like, so I spent energy on that. This tearing hurry is because I realized that if I want to have copies of my sampler book in my hands in time for LDS Storymakers, I need to send it off for POD printing by April 6th. I’ve only got three weeks for editing, layout, and cover assembly. It can be done, but only if I do not waste any time. Which is why I spent all of today on this. And now the 2011 One Cobble book is done. Tomorrow I will do a quick edit on the probable sampler blog entries and send them off for opinions from my two volunteer critiquers. Then I will emerge from project fugue and pay attention to everything else. Like my house, which definitely could use some attention.

My Projects and Lists for Saturday

Last night I went to bed with a list of things I was excited to get done today. So I bounced out of bed at 9 am to get started. I began with a trip to Home Depot to buy some cobbles. I came home with cobble-ish pavers. I’ll probably have to go to a stone company to get pretty cobbles. But with five cobbles I could do some practice photography. My sampler book is going to need a cover. So far this is what I’ve got:

Things I like about it:

  • The trowel implies a person. It also implies work. Both of these things are part of my book.
  • The cobbles in the background give depth and possibly imply a path or a journey. I would like my cover to imply a journey.
  • The sprouting tulips imply growth. Much of the content of the book is about growth. However there are no blooms yet, just the beginnings of growth. Blooms are finished, these plants are just getting started.
  • I kind of like the bare ground and winter grass as well.

Things I don’t like:

  • I’m not sure how to blend this into a cover image. I don’t really want to just bleed it off the edges of the cover.
  • There isn’t a clear space for a title. The grassy spaces will tend to obscure the title.
  • This picture screams “gardening” and while I do mention gardening, my blog sampler is not about gardening.
  • The pavers are not really cobbles. They aren’t natural stones and they aren’t all that attractive.
  • My blog talks a lot about parenting and nothing in this image implies parenting. (Or business, which I also talk about. But I really don’t want my cover to imply business.)

So, I’m not sure if I’ve got anything usable. Perhaps I’ll make a trip to a stone company and spend twenty dollars getting some pretty rocks. However if I want to use the sprouting tulips I need to hurry. They could start blooming as soon as next week. I may try doing some “studio” shots of trowel and cobbles against a drop cloth to see what that yields. In the end I suspect that the cover will be something I pull together, am not completely happy with, but will deem “good enough” because I simply don’t have the skills and expertise (nor the time) to make it better. This is one of the things I don’t like about self publishing, knowing it could have been better if I had more training.

So I turned to the words of my sampler book. I’m gleaning through last year’s blog entries and pulling the ones I think are entertaining / representative / useful. I’ve reached June and I’ve got 30 pages or 13,000 words. I’m hoping to make my sampler book slim. I figure it needs to be around 20,000 words. I’ll grab more than that and then choose and rearrange. Two good friends have volunteered to help me critique and edit. I’ve got a lead on a really good copy editor as well. Time is short, but I’m fairly confident I can get this thing done. If I hurry. So I pulled entries until my eyes crossed.

Then I escaped my house and returned to the Beauty in Belief exhibit. I didn’t go through it again. I just snagged a pair of ear rings from the gift shop that I’ve been thinking about ever since last Tuesday. They’re filigree leaves with Arabic script on them saying “The best people are those who help other people.” They are lovely and make my heart glad. While I was there I took a moment to close my eyes and listen to the chanting music again. It warmed my heart.

Now it is 5:30 pm. I discover that I’m not excited about the house cleaning aspects of last night’s list. I’d love to have the house be clean, but the motivation to do the work has gone missing. Instead I’ll probably delve my way through June looking for blog entries to pull. Hopefully tomorrow will bless me with energy and motivation to put my house in order.

Spring Day

My heart always lightens when I can step outside my front door and see flowers in bloom.

The crocus always comes first. I love crocus because it is the promise of spring to come. Hyacinths are next.

They fill the air with fragrance. Soon I will have daffodils. Then tulips. Then lilacs. I love spring. I love that the kids can finally get outdoors. To celebrate the outdoors weather, here is a picture of a young girl and a young cat stalking each other.

They are having a great time in the gentle spring wind.