Month: April 2012

Cobble Stones, Storymakers Conference, and a Book Signing in Washington D.C.

One of my March projects was pulling together a sampler book of blog entries. I’ve now got my advance copies and can be reasonably confident that what I’ve got is ready to sell.

If you want to pre-order your copy of Cobble Stones, just click through to our store. I’m taking pre-orders. The books will ship by May 30. I’ll also have the book available in electronic formats, hopefully in a week or two, but that is one of the tasks which fell by the wayside during my office remodel and surprise trip to see Grandma in the hospital.

My advance copies are slated to be on sale at LDS Storymakers this Friday and Saturday. You’ll find them in the conference store sitting right next to Hold on to Your Horses and a pile of Schlock Mercenary books. Even if you’re not registered for the conference, please feel free to drop by for the mass signing from 5-6:30 pm on Friday May 4, in the Provo Marriott hotel (101 West 100 North, Provo) I expect the signing to be chaotic, but it will be packed with interesting authors whose books are worth reading. Howard and I will both be there.

In two weeks Cobble Stones and I will go on the road. We’ll be attending the Nebula Weekend in Washington D.C. and participating in a mass signing there as well. Friday, May 18, 2012 from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City (located at 2799 Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1), Arlington, Virginia). This signing will be full of authors such as Connie Willis and Joe Haldeman, well worth your time to stop by. I expect to spend most of my time people watching the fans standing in line for other people. Though I’ll have my sister Nancy Fulda for company. I will have copies of Cobble Stones and Hold on to Your Horses available for sale.

Make your plans and come say hello.

A Prayer for the Coming Week

May this week contain a full measure of mental calmness to go with the long to do list. May the lilacs keep blooming and scenting the air with loveliness. May my presentations be inspired enough to be useful to those who hear them. May my children have a week with no new emotional crises. May my house be cleaner and more orderly at the end of the week than the beginning. May I help someone else instead of always being tangled in my own head. May I pay attention to the blue sky, to the air I breathe, and the goodness of my life.

I Keep My Brain in My Office

I am very tired today and I have learned an important thing about myself; I store parts of my brain function in the organizational structure of my house. Once I got the correct desk installed in my office and set up my computer on it, much of my inability to prioritize vanished. This effect increased as I moved my books and projects into their new places in my office. I depend upon visual reminders to help me keep track of what I need to do during the day. I post school notes on the kitchen bulletin board and on my fridge. My old computer hutch was papered with post-it notes. A business card sitting at the foot of my monitor would remind me of an email to send. With all of that stuff packed away in boxes I carried a level of stress and internal confusion. My written to do list has all of those reminders as well, but apparently my back brain requires spacial orientation to the tasks. It is fascinating. I may get more analytical about why this works for me at some other time. For now I am very tired.

In the last two weeks I’ve been to IKEA four times (Howard once), Home Depot six times, Lowe’s twice, and I think there was a Walmart run in there as well. Each time I was making expensive purchasing decisions or returning the results of last trip’s bad decisions. I helped three kids keep track of their work so they could get it done. I kept in touch with my parents (Grandma is better, moved back into the physical rehabilitation facility). The prom dress was altered, not perfectly, but well enough. Kiki was sent off smiling to prom. Gleek is into the middle of her time swap. All of this week’s critical tasks are done all of it despite multiple nights of insomnia followed by mornings where I had to get up early. Next week has a new list of critical tasks, I am not going to think about them tonight. Instead I’m going to show you pictures of my remodeled office, because it is pretty. …

Volunteer Auxiliary Brains

My friend called me this morning. “Do you need help? Can I help you with stuff?” Such was my state of mind that I was able to identify that I could probably use help, but I needed to ask Howard what help I could most use. Howard told me to haul my friend with me to IKEA to return the wrong furniture and to help me figure out the right furniture. She trailed me through the store and functioned as an auxiliary brain. She gently detached me from my fixation on certain furniture layouts and offered alternatives. In fact she made sure that no alternative was left unexamined, even when I lay my head down on a desk and whined about how I am so tired of making decisions right now. Or perhaps I was whining about just being tired. Three hours of sleep will do that to a person. BUT I finally have the right desk. It is all assembled and ready for me to move my computer onto it. I don’t have the emotional fortitude to tackle it this evening, but tomorrow, surely.

The Thoughts I Think at 3:30 A.M. When I am not Asleep

It is 3:30 a.m. and I lie in bed worrying that I bought the wrong table at IKEA. It is an irrational worry. I know this, but in the drifting space between waking and sleeping logic is disconnected. I got a table to be my new work desk, but when I got it here I realized it was not the right shape. This is obviously the first minor collapse in my decision making skills which will make everything fall apart. Last night I had similar emotions about the light fixture I chose, which Howard assures me is fine. In this case the desk will have to be returned. It is a minor setback in a project that is mostly going well. Except that it delays the time when I’m settled back in my office instead of cramped up at an awkward desk in Howard’s office. Half awake it seems like I’ll never be able to get any focused work done again.

I wanted to start this next paragraph by saying “the real problem, of course is…” Only I can’t. The trouble is multitudinous. The construction work on my office is done, the moving in is yet to be accomplished. If I could get that done, it would greatly help to settle my mind. Only I’ve got orders waiting for me to ship. I should do those first. And the accounting. I haven’t sat down with the finances since before I took my office apart. Since that date I have spent thousands of dollars on remodeling costs, a trip to California to see my sick Grandma, and some new furniture for the new space. In theory I’ve budgeted and mental math says I’m still inside budget, but I don’t quite trust my mental math or decision making skills right now. So, I ought to do accounting and settle my mind. But Kiki got a last minute invitation to Prom. It is on Saturday. I have to make several minor alterations on her dress. It is a fairly small task except that my sewing things are in the big stack of things which used to be in my office. I’ll have to dig them out. The dress has to be done. I should do that first. Except tomorrow I have a meeting scheduled with Link’s teacher. It turns out that he has not been doing his homework or school work of late. There is a pile of things for him to catch up on. I need to conference with the teacher to figure out how best to help him accomplish this. We also need an ongoing plan because he shut down after feeling overwhelmed. Link has earned a spot center stage in the “focused parenting” category. It is nothing that can’t be handled. I can do it easily when I’m on top of my game. Which I’m not, as evidenced by my horrible poor decision making regarding the selection of an office table. Tomorrow also has to feature the construction of a milk carton catapult so that Patch can give a presentation on catapults to his class. I need to buy Marshmallows for that. Only the van is almost out of gas, so I need to buy gas before I drive anywhere. While I’m buying gas I need to get gas for the lawnmower. The lawn is nearly to the point where it can be measured in feet. So I should make the kids do their lawn mowing. I should also call my Mom, because the last update on Grandma was two days ago and she was weaker then. I should be doing more to support Mom and Dad. I should at least be keeping up with how things are going there. Except that I keep burying that thought, or getting distracted, because it hurts. So many things hurt and I’ve got no time to break down and cry until at least Saturday. Tomorrow Gleek begins a time swap activity in which she spends a week living as her Grandma did in 5th grade. This means altering our family patterns to accommodate the fact that she’ll not be using any electronic entertainment, we get bonus points if she makes it all week without using a microwave or driving faster that 50 miles per hour. I love the idea of this assignment. I want to do it right, make it a positive experience. But we’ve got to get it done early because next weekend I have a conference and the kids will be babysitting each other while Howard and I are presenting. This will work best if they can watch movies while we’re gone. So time swap has to start late tomorrow night. I still need to work on two presentations for the conference. I have notes. It shouldn’t be too hard, but it isn’t done yet. Perhaps I should get that done first thing tomorrow so that I don’t have to worry about it anymore. After the conference we’ve got company coming. At least I’ll have a sofa bed for them to sleep on. It’ll be delivered tomorrow evening and will be placed into my newly remodeled office. Hopefully it will be delivered before writer’s group, but likely in the middle of it. I need to do the reading for writer’s group. I should do that first thing tomorrow so that it is done. I really hope that the sofa is delivered and is exactly right. After the table debacle I’m afraid that I chose wrong for that too. Then there are the advance copies of Sharp End of the Stick that arrived today. I should be focused on setting up for pre-orders. I should be testing our fulfillment system and learning how it works with the new software I installed last week. But doing that work is really hard when I’m intruding in Howard’s space. He really needs me out of his office. He hasn’t been able to get his work done this week either, not the way he needs to. So I really should focus on getting my office arranged and set up. If only I had my office put back together, maybe I could prioritize everything else. Except, it really is the wrong table. I need to take it apart and return it to the store. I’ve spent so much money lately and I can’t stand the thought of spending more on a table I’ll regret for years. I just need to go get a different table…

Thus my thoughts circle themselves, sometimes drifting to sleep, sometimes snapping awake. There are too many things in my head. Time to eat food since I’m not sure if I really ate dinner. Then perhaps typing over a thousand words about all the dumb stuff in my head will help it clear so that I can sleep. If I fall asleep right now, I could sleep for two hours before I need to get up and start doing all my things.

Tiny Pretty Things

Because someone, possibly me, needs some tiny pretty things today. I give you a flower.

This tiny berry plant looks almost like strawberries. They were growing like weeds, taking over my parent’s back lawn.

This moth was quite happy to let me photograph while he napped.

This is not tiny, just pretty. My parent’s back patio. California is lovely and tropical.

The Smell of Lilac

My house smells of lilacs. I need to remember this because it is a lovely thing. The bushes are blooming outside our window and a fan brings the smell into the house. I need this small loveliness because I haven’t yet unpacked the emotional baggage from my trip, and there is no time to unpack it because this week is full of things all of which are four days behind schedule. And new things keep showing up. We’ll muddle through. For now, lilacs.

In My Absense

The fear is that when I step out of my regular life, stop doing all the things I do daily, that everything will fall apart. Sometimes it does happen that way. I go out for an evening and get endless calls on my cell phone to mediate conflicts between siblings. After the fourth call I begin to wonder why I bothered to leave. Lately this has not happened. Lately, I go out for an evening and no one calls me. I’m not sure if this is because the kids are getting older or if the careful shifts I’ve made in the last year have helped the kids learn self sufficiency. All I know is that I’ve been gone for two days and my family back home is drawing together instead of falling apart.

Howard helped Kiki draft a bill for her Gov and Cit class. Link hauled out his Pokemon cards and has been teaching Gleek and Patch how to play. Kiki got herself up at 6 am this morning, cleaned the kitchen, then drove herself over to the school to matte pictures with her art teacher. Howard finished all his work despite being time-restricted by carpool duties and space restricted because my computer is currently residing on his drawing table. They all have a plan for today which involves an outing together. All of them are learning and growing as the cooperate to fill the gap I left. All of us will be really glad to have me return again on Sunday

It shows me, once again, that sometimes the most important thing I can do for my kids is to get out of the way and let them overcome by themselves. I’m certain there have been conflicts and crankiness. I know that the longer I’m gone, the more chances there will be for everything to fall apart. Things fall apart often enough when I’m there. I’m glad that I get to hear the happy stories and that all the conflicts are already resolved. Being in California continues to be hard. Hospitals always are and I spent nine hours with Grandma yesterday. Coming home to my parents house is not the same as going home to mine. But after talking with Howard and the kids this morning I begin to see that spending time with Grandma is not the only good thing which will come from this trip.

Grandma in the Hospital

If you’ve ever seen the movie Driving Miss Daisy, that’s a good place to start for picturing my grandma. She’s a feisty, cranky, southern lady who is accustomed to giving orders and having them obeyed. Only now she’s ninety-two years old and in a hospital where decisions are made for her all day long. She doesn’t have the physical strength to resist anything. We’re all glad to see her crankiness resurface. It means she is feeling better. For five minutes at a time she’ll tell us that hospitals make people sick and we should just take her home, there is nothing wrong with her. My mother repeats what she’s said multiple times per day, that we’ll take her home as soon as the doctor allows. Then Grandma’s gaze sharpens for a moment and she says. “He’s just a little doctor. Beat him up and take me home.” Then the sharpness fades, her head drops back to the pillow and she is asleep again, exhausted by her own wilfulness.

Mother and I sit in silence while Grandma sleeps. We don’t want to talk and wake her up. If she does hear us talking, she’ll want to know what we’re saying. Then we have to speak loudly and in short sentences so she can hear. Even then, most things are too complicated for Grandma to retain. I tried to show her a flooring sample from my office and she seemed to think I was telling her that it was a toy building block, that I was going to be making and selling toys now. The conversation about my book went better. I gave her a copy of Cobble Stones, fresh from the printer. She petted it with her hands, so pleased to hold a book that I wrote. Grandma was my first paying market for writing; a penny per word for any story I wrote. Grandma opened the pages and looked over the words, running her fingers along them. “I’ll read it later.” she said, “When my eyes are working better.”

Grandma argues with my Mom. My mother is the caretaker, the one who is constantly trying to get Grandma to take pills, do physical therapy, telling her she has to stay in the hospital. Grandma doesn’t argue with me. I am a grandchild and thus cherished. My coaxing to get Grandma to eat results in her eating, one wobbly spoonful at a time. The worst argument she gives me is an eye roll. We’re pleased that I get her to eat three quarters of a pudding cup and six bites of mashed potatoes. Later, Grandma tells the nurse about how I badgered her into eating, but she’s doing it happily; bragging about her granddaughter who can make a cranky old lady eat. Grandma calls herself a cranky old lady sometimes. Other times she is convinced that her hair is still brown, that she is completely well, and that there is just a conspiracy to keep her in the hospital so that the hospital employees can have jobs. Toward the end of the evening Grandma starts noticing my yawns. “You need to take that girl home and put her to bed.” She tells my mom, as if I’m still four-years-old and needing tending. “Then come back and get me out.” Grandma adds.

“Have you had breakfast?” Grandma asked at six p.m. Her long afternoon nap had confused her into thinking it was morning. I assured her it was dinner time and that I would go eat soon. We had the same conversation many times over the next hour. The late afternoon light from the window seemed like morning sunlight to her. We also told her what day it was and how long I would be staying. Once she counted the days from Thursday until Sunday on her fingers and I promised to come and visit her every day. Hospitals are time vortexes. She’s been in one for 18 days now, this particular confusion is completely understandable. Most of our conversations are five minutes or less before Grandma drifts to sleep again. But twice during my time there Grandma was alert and focused for ten minutes. I told her about my kids, showed her pictures. I gave her the painting that Kiki made for her and the colorful hat that Gleek made. We took pictures of her wearing the hat. Grandma smiled and asked questions about how old they are and how tall. I held her hand and we talked for awhile. Then the nurse arrived to give Grandma a breathing treatment. Hopefully the treatments will help stop the rattling rasp Grandma makes with every breath.

Being here is very hard. It is also good. Three more days to go.

A Trip, A River, and Painting Wood Trim

I’m getting on a plane tomorrow. This was not in my plans for the week, but my plans don’t matter so much when my Grandma goes back to the hospital. My brain is a mess of simultaneous thoughts.

I want to go hug my grandma. I want to be there for my parents and offer emotional support because they’ve been helping Grandma with medical stuff for years and the last two weeks have been particularly draining.

I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to be here at my house with my people. I want my office put back together and life to be nicely routine.

I wish the plane ticket were not so expensive, particularly in a month when our finances are in a lull and I’ve just spent piles of money on an unfinished office remodel.

I feel like I’m over reacting. Perhaps hopping on a plane to go visit is more than this particular medical adventure calls for.

I’m aware that even if there is no hurry, this trip has value. Seeing loved ones is always a good thing, because time is short and Grandma is ninety-two.

I keep looking at the calendar and wondering if I’ll need to shoehorn a funeral into it somewhere. Then I feel guilty that the auto-scheduler in my brain instantly calculates when such an event would be most convenient.

I wander upstairs to look at my sleeping kids who don’t know yet that I’ll be leaving while they’re at school. I feel guilty that all my usual carpool, homework, and bedtime responsibilities will be dumped on Howard. Part of my brain frets that he won’t handle it right, because that part of my brain is convinced that my way is “right” while another part of my brain knows full well that he can manage anything.

I don’t want to go. I expect the trip to be emotionally grueling. I’ll spend most of it in a hospital with Grandma and I don’t like hospitals.

I know that going is really important. I knew it this morning when the thought rolled over me like a wave. I knew it even more when Howard said that he felt the same. No matter how I feel about all of it, going is the right choice.

Over and through all the other thoughts, I’m aware of a deep river of emotion that I can sense only vaguely. I’m pretty sure the river is grief. I’m grieving for a death which has not happened yet, but that I know will come. Along with it I’m grieving the impermanence of life and the fact that normal is a fragile state. Grief is big, unmanageable, unpredictable. I don’t want it. Sometime that river is going to rise up and flood me. I don’t know when. I don’t know what debris I’ll find when the flood has passed. All day long my internal mental topography has shaped itself around that river trying to avoid the flood. I have things to do, decisions to make. Wood trim to paint.

Yes. I spent most of today painting wood trim for my office. It needed to be done so that the trim can be hung on Friday. Of all the things on my list it is probably the easiest thing to delay. But it was a manual task with no emotional baggage whatsoever. I could focus all my mental energy on moving my brush smoothly across the wood. And after fifteen or thirty minutes the piece of trim would be done. Piece after piece I could track my progress, visual evidence of tasks completed. In contrast, packing is more important and urgent, but littered with emotional landmines that could blast holes for the river to flood through. I will leave tomorrow with six pieces of incomplete trim. Kiki will finish them in my absence, or she won’t, and either way the result will be fine.

For now I need to go to bed and try not to think to much, because even my most insistent thoughts can’t make the impending flood disappear, not even by telling me I ought to feel differently. Tomorrow I will get up and I will use my to do list to navigate my way onto a plane. Somehow the doing of things is less difficult than anticipating them.