Month: May 2012

Sharp End of the Stick Arrives

It is nice that I am sufficiently familiar with the printing and book delivery process that I don’t panic anymore. I remember spending an entire week eagerly anticipating the arrival of a truck full of books and fretting that somehow all the books would be broken or wrong. It was terrifying to be holding pre-order money and not have the merchandise in hand to send. It is still tense. I always feel something unclench inside me when I crack open the first box on the first pallet of books to see that all is as expected. Each shipment has had its own little adventures. Our first book, Under New Management, arrived a week late so we’d arranged a shipping party and had nothing to ship. Howard ended up renting a truck and driving to Salt Lake to fetch the books. I think it was Tub of Happiness that was delivered in several feet of snow. Teraport Wars was the book where the lift gate on the truck threatened to tip the pallets over as it creakily lowered them to the ground. Emperor Pius Dei gave us a brief fright because all the boxes were stamped with Emperor Plus Dei and we were suddenly terrified that all the books had been misprinted, even though we’d already seen advance copies. These stabs of terror are not rational and reason has trouble banishing them.

Today’s adventure was receiving an email from our printing company to congratulate us on receiving our books yesterday, which we hadn’t. I did not panic, because it is very common for there to be confusion and miscommunication about book delivery. Shipping over seas on a freighter is inexact. The time spent clearing customs varies. So until the books arrive in Salt Lake City, no one is able to give us an exact delivery day. Reason told me that our books had arrived in Salt Lake yesterday and that was what the email meant. But I couldn’t sit still, because What If… I called our printer to tell them that we did not have our books yet. She said she would call the shipping company right away. Then I proceeded to pace while trying to pretend I was not pacing. What if the books had been accidentally delivered to someone else? What if there were no books?

Fortunately about fifteen minutes into my pacing I wandered past the front window and saw a truck in our cul de sac. He had four pallets of books for me.

It turns out that he’d attempted to deliver yesterday, but someone with a forklift had stacked the pallets on top of each other and they were too heavy to move that way. So he’d hauled the pallets back to Salt Lake to have them unstacked. An automatic system notified our printer of the first delivery and confusion was explained. This is our 13th time receiving shipments of books. There is always something unexpected.

Now I can begin to nail down the shipping schedule in earnest.

Summer Strings

Sometimes sleep is not easy, something internal is too restless or misaligned and I lay awake in the darkness instead of resetting my mind and body for the next day. The day following an insomniac night is either fantastically productive as my mind snaps into a sort of overdrive, or the whole day is like jogging in water. I still get places, but it all seems to take a lot longer and be more work. On a jogging in water day, I spend a significant amount of energy figuring out how to realign whatever internal rhythms allow for falling asleep quickly. Generally it takes a few days for the sleeplessness to resolve.

I wanted to accomplish a hundred things today, but I was jogging through water. This was the last full day of school before our life shifts into a summer rhythm. I know what it will look like. I have plans for making it work, but I wanted more groundwork in place. I wanted the house cleaner, things more organized. I wanted more business tasks complete. The next few weeks are very tightly focused, like focusing my camera on the strings of my hammock.

Beyond those strings, these few weeks, there are large green spaces that I both long for and dread. They will offer more freedom to relax and will leave space for all my carefully planned life structures to shlump unto untidy heaps. I like sitting in my hammock, it is a small and cozy space, supportive and comforting. I like that I’m beginning this summer with the energizing focus of book shipping.

One of my children came home with a packet of summer homework. It isn’t much. I’ve shoved it in a place where we can think about it again in August. The onset of school next fall is out beyond the open green spaces. It is something else entirely and I’m not yet rested enough to contemplate it. For now I’ll sit in my hammock, wrap my fingers in the strings, and contemplate the green spaces.

Tired day.

I am too tired to be reliably using the internet tonight, as evidenced by mis-sending an email and the number of typos I’m having to correct. It is probably also evident in the number of tweets I think of writing which are not actually all that clever, but which feel clever because I am tired. Also redundant, or repetitive, one of the two.

Why am I tired? My brain would not go to sleep last night. So at two a.m. I wandered to the kitchen where I discovered that there was a dead mouse smell emanating from my silverware drawer. Not the smell I want on my spoons. So I cleaned all the things, but did not find the source. Then I got up and traversed a day full of dance festival, invoice sorting, package processing, carpools, and retrieving Howard from the airport. It has been a good day, though the very tired part of my day is just waiting for me to let my guard down so it can flood me with discouragement. I’m too tired to keep my guard up much longer, time to sleep. Tomorrow I can get rid of the smell and do all my other things.

Enabling Creative Dreams

When my fourteen year old son comes to me and tells me he has a plan to change the whole world for the better, I listen. When he clarifies that this plan is for him to video himself talking about his thoughts and life, I give him the video camera and get out of his way. His plan may completely lack in distribution planning, he doesn’t intend to edit anything. It may be uninteresting and unmarketable to the world at large, but even if the only thing in the world that is changed by this effort is my son, then the effort is worthy. Son, have a video camera. Take over my office for an hour at a time. Record away. Because I remember twelve years ago when your father, the full-time cartoonist, took up doodling as a hobby.

Dreams are worthwhile because they change the world, starting with the internal world of the dreamer.

Testing the Summer Schedule

I declared today a test run on my planned summer schedule even though it is Memorial day and thus a holiday. I set my alarm to go off at 6:30 and dragged myself out of bed at 7 after only three snoozes. I have discovered that summer days are really long when I do not sleep through a third of them. I’ve made good progress on my to do list for the day.

The first item of business was to tackle the over-abundance of clothing. All of my kids have enough clothes to fill their laundry baskets and still have things slopping out of the dresser drawers. So I declared that every single item of clothing would be examined for size, whether the person likes it, and if it fits. I now have four dressers neatly full of clothes and four garbage bags full of things to give to a thrift store. Link’s dresser is the one exception. He assured me that everything in it fit just fine. I’m pretty certain that he just crammed everything in without folding, but since he does his own laundry and the drawers are neatly closed, I’m just going to take his word. Kiki did her own sorting too. Mostly I had to help the younger pair and then apply the same standards to myself. One of the most important things I can have in my house is extra space. The space lets me see what I need and how to arrange it.

Next I forced myself to sit down and make a meal plan for the week. I don’t like meal planning, having one is great, making one uses up creative energy that I would rather spend on other things. Meal planning is particularly hard on the change-over from spring to summer; Suddenly lots of my fall-back meal options become forbidden because using the oven mid-summer makes the house hot and drives up the bill for AC. I have to dredge my memories to remember what we used to make last summer. Somehow switching from summer to winter feels like it opens up cooking options even though it just changes them. Adding to the difficulty, I’m trying to change my default meals. Chips and chili is easy, but it is not particularly healthy nor cheap. Step one on our push toward frugality and healthy eating is to eliminate ready-made things like chicken nuggets and chimichangas. The meal plan is made. The shopping is done. Hopefully I can just follow the instructions for the rest of the week.

As part of my newly-remodeled office, I set up a desk space for Kiki. It is a little studio space for her to store her supplies and to work on projects. I spent some time helping her see how to use things we already had to make the space usable. It is still not finished, but no studio space is ever “finished.” At least now she can see her supplies and use them to inspire her to make art. Once the space was set up, Kiki trekked down to the local art store for some new brushes. She discovered that the store is closed on Mondays, but that they have a Help Wanted sign in their window. Now she has big plans to dash down there first thing tomorrow and apply for a job.

With all of that completed, I looked at the clock. It was only 2 pm. I wandered outdoors to pull some weeds, plant some flowers. When I came back in it was 3:30. In just a little while I’ll need to follow my dinner instructions. Then I have to get kids to bed on time, because it is not quite summer yet. We still have three days of school. They’re mostly goof off days, dance festivals, and field days, but the kids need to be there.

Pre-Orders, Shipping, and Travel

Pre-orders for Sharp End of the Stick close in just five days. That is also when we’re expecting a truck to show up with four pallets of books. The arrival of those books will usher in the next stage of book shipping work. Howard and Travis will spend a day signing covers while the kids and I stamp the sketch editions. Howard will begin sketching and I will begin shipping. This time we’re changing our shipping process. Instead of having a single big shipping day, we’re going to have many smaller shipping days. It will spread out the work and thus lower the pressure, rather like spreading out weight over a larger surface prevents breakage. It is possible that we’ll hate this new shipping method, but we’re committed to trying it this time. I’ve got two teenagers to help me in addition to my regular shipping second in command. I think that the end result will be all the books shipped by June 12th. Which is pretty important because on June 14th Howard and I depart for DeepSouthCon in Huntsville Alabama. If you’re in that area, hope you stop by.

For this Memorial day weekend, I plan to catch up on sleep and watch entirely too much Sherlock.

Monument Walk Washington D.C.

“Where are you headed next?” the docent asked as we walked back to the rotunda in the National Museum of Art.
“I wanted to walk down to the Lincoln Memorial.” I answered.
Her eyes grew wide. “That’s a long walk. I know it doesn’t look that far, because of all the open space, but it’s about two miles.”
I smiled at her. Two miles was not too far.

The docent was right about distances being deceiving on the Mall in Washington D.C. Much of this is because the architecture is so over sized. The first designers made everything huge and impressive, sized for the cultural giants they hoped that Americans would aspire to become. The buildings can be seen and admired from afar, then as one draws closer awe grows. They go up and up and up.

The walk was long, past museums and sculpture gardens. The sidewalks were full of tour groups and school groups, each rushing about to make sure they saw everything on their lists. For most Americans trips to D.C. are rare, every moment there is precious. I too came with a list of things I hoped to see, but more important to me was to be there, to experience the place. I decided from moment to moment whether to walk, sit, or photograph. It was a unique freedom not to have to consult the wishes of others about these things, my visit was my own.

I saw the World War II memorial long before I reached it. Like everything else, it is made large. So large that it is hard to fit into a single photograph.

I was impressed by the towers and fountains. I saw the from afar that each tower was labelled with the name of a state and that the matched structures on each end declared Atlantic and Pacific. The logic and planning was evident in the design. Then my feet stepped from sidewalk concrete and onto the flagstones.

Awe and reverence rolled over me in a wave, as if the stones themselves were steeped in them. My eyes began to water and I looked about with my mouth open. I was standing on sanctified ground. A hundred photos of the place will never capture that feeling, because the feeling does not exist in the shapes of the stones or the water. It does not even exist in the words etched into the walls at intervals.

Nor is it in the fountains as they shoot skyward.

All of these things contribute, are part of it, but there is something else there. I think that the builders gave it something and every one who visits adds their own piece. The collected awe and gratitude of a hundred thousand visitors are accumulated in that cirque and focused on the memory of those who sacrificed. One can not stand there without wanting to be a better person to live up to those sacrifices.

To be truthful, it was a bit over powering. I walked up the ramp to exit, curious to see if the feeling would leave as abruptly as it came. Stepping off the flagstones was rather like stepping through the down blast of air in an open-front grocery store. Despite the lack of barrier, the feel of things was different. I turned back for one more look, knowing I needed to come again someday.

The reflecting pools were all under construction, and had been for years according to a local. Someday they will reflect again, but years of wear needed to be fixed first. I followed a winding detour which led me to the Vietnam memorial. I was very curious to see if the Vietnam memorial would affect me as strongly as the World War II memorial. It was one I saw twenty years ago when I visited D.C. as a teenager. At that time it affected me profoundly, teaching me name by name the costs of war.

The Vietnam memorial is a quiet place and the feel of it was quiet. It invites reflection by showing us ourselves in the surface of the wall covered in the names of the dead. I ran my fingers along the names, feeling their roughness against the glass-smooth marble. The Vietnam memorial is a cautionary monument, telling me to be careful what battles I pick.

One thing saddened me. When I came as a teenager the most impressive moments were looking at the flowers and notes left for loved ones whose names were etched there.

This recent trip had an even more abundant litter of notes.

But none of the notes were personal. They were all from “The Students of Lincoln Middle School” or “Mrs. Jeffrey’s Fifth Grade.” That seemed sad to me. Our national memory is fading and the meaning of the monument is changing into something new. On the other hand, there is power in asking a child to pick a name on the wall, picture that name as a loved one, and then leave a note.

Once I knew I was coming to D.C. again, I was filled with a need to sit on the steps of the Lincoln memorial. It seemed powerful to my teenaged self, but she was distracted. By the time we reached Lincoln, I’d met a boy on the trip and things were edging into complicated territory. I wanted nothing more to sit there and absorb the feel of the place, but awareness of the boy was like pebbles thrown into a calm pond, changing the shapes of the reflections. Twenty years later, I wondered what my adult self would feel there.

You first spy Lincoln in his massive building as a lighter shadow in the darkness behind the pillars.

The steps are over-sized, forcing one to stretch to ascend to the heights where Lincoln sits enthroned. “Enthroned” is definitely the right word.

The creators of this monument wanted visitors to feel small and humble. This effect was somewhat mitigated by the crowds of visitors. It was hard to take a picture that didn’t have other people in it.

Yet I didn’t mind the other people. We stood together, pondering equality and freedom, all of us equal visitors no matter what our origins, skin color, or ethnicity. I don’t know what Lincoln the man would think of his giant statue and throng of visitors, but Lincoln stopped being a man long ago and is instead an icon. I think the icon would be pleased to see many who came to visit him.

After paying my respects to Mr. Lincoln I sat on the front steps with my back tucked into the curve of a pillar. Much of the walk had been hot, I was tired, but I closed my eyes in the cool breeze and felt peace. This was why I’d come two thousand miles on an airplane and two miles on foot. I came to feel peace, to tuck a small portion of it into my heart so that I could carry it home with me. I sat there for a long time at the end of my pilgrimage.

I watched the other visitors, including the child who managed to sneak a forbidden slide down the slanted marble next to the stairs. Mostly I thought of nothing in particular. Eventually I had to climb down and leave. I had a long walk back to the metro station. I passed the Korean War Memorial, but was too tired to enter. My path led right by the World War II Memorial. I went inside again to see if the feeling would roll over me again. Instead it sneaked in and filled me. I sat for a time near the Pacific fountain.

When I left to trek back to the metro station, I did so knowing that someday I would love to return. Washington D.C. is a place worth knowing.

Pretty Things in Washington D.C.

One of the things I hoped for in attending the Nebula weekend was to see beauty. There was lots of it, which is to be expected in a city as consciously created as Washington D.C. There was also much consciously created beauty on the night of the Nebula awards. The dressy clothing was a feast to the eye and part of me wishes I’d spent my evening playing photographer. Another part is quite glad I spent my time talking instead.

Nancy and I both dressed up for the evening.

I’ve discovered that I love dresses where the motion of them is part of the beauty. This means that static shots such as this one do not show the dress to best advantage. That top flowed as I moved. It also had the advantage of being incredibly comfortable, always a plus on a high-tension night.

Nancy also posed with other lovely people, such as Mary Robinette Kowal and Sheila Williams.

After that photo, my camera was put away for the evening. However my day touring in D.C. was filled with photography. When I say that D.C. is a consciously created city, I am not kidding. There is attention in every detail. I need to write up a separate post about the monuments, but I was out walking and I would see things like this entrance walkway to the Federal Triangle metro station.
I could just picture carriages being pulled along those cobblestones. I love that the lanterns were freshly painted with black and gold.

Another of the places I went was the botanical gardens, again there needs to be a whole post about why that stop was important to me, in the meantime here are a couple of small pretty things I saw while there.

The bumblebee was quite obliging. He went about his business and let me get my camera mere inches from his head.

I also went the the National Museum of Art, which is completely full of pretty things. I’m afraid I frustrated our docent, though. She rattled of information about paintings to explain their significance and why they were impressive. I kept pausing to take pictures of floors, frames, and random architectural details. In part it was a rebel streak which was irritated by being instructed what to find impressive, in other part, the details were fascinating.
This table was not a work of art on display. It was just a table that had been placed into the room to provide furniture.

Many of the frames fascinated me. They were works of art in themselves, particularly the ones which were obviously custom made for the piece in question.

I wonder what went through the mind of the artisan who made this frame. Was it a sacred commission or just a job?

Even in the most famous paintings, my eyes were drawn to little details.

Everywhere I looked all weekend long there were small beautiful details, earrings, lamps, smiles, curls, flowers, the scent of honeysuckle in the air. Then I came home to my pretty things here and that was good too.

A Long Day

“Are you okay mom?” Gleek asked, and I realized that I had just made a large sigh while surveying the contents of our pantry. The lack of enticing food had been some sort of sigh trigger.
“I’m all right.” I answered, “Just tired. It has been a long day.”
“Aren’t all days the same length?” asked Patch. “They all have the same hours.”
I turned to look at him, his blue eyes wide. “Yes, but some days seem long. Today felt really long to me.”
Gleek and Patch continued to munch on their cereal, which was my simple-as-possible bedtime snack effort for the evening. It was all I could muster after having to scold Gleek for ignoring me and turning the scolding into a lecture on how she should respond when I say “stop” in a commanding voice. Perhaps the scolding and lecture will make tomorrow’s conflicts a fraction easier, no guarantees. Before snack and the scolding had been the mediation over whether Gleek could play her music in the kitchen even though Kiki had been there first. That had been preceded by a cub scout pack meeting full of running and shouting children. Then ever-so-long-ago at the beginning of the day had been the ninety minute long meeting with Link, two of Link’s teachers, an administrator, and the school psychologist in which we hammered out his Individual Education Plan (IEP) for next year. Nothing said in the meeting was news. I’d already seen all the results, knew what we were going to say. But it all needed to be said out loud so that everyone could hear all the words. Most of all so that Link could hear. Half the information was new to him. He needed to assimilate it. It also needed to be written down on paper so that next fall when we’re all attempting to settle into a new year we can just read our instructions to ourselves.

I asked Link later, how he felt about me blogging about his diagnoses. (Yes, plural).
“That would be good.” he said. “It could help people.”
I agree. I began planning out a big, beautiful post which would clarify everything and put it all into an emotional context. I stopped writing notes halfway through, because I’d run out of emotional energy. It is just possible that 14 years of worry is a bit much to try to pull into a single blog post. Maybe I’ll write that post later, or a different one.

The short version is this: Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The ADHD we’ve been treating for years. The APD…I’ve also known for years. I just forgot that I knew it because treating the ADHD made such a huge difference. I guessed APD back when Link was in Kindergarten because it was the only thing I could find which explained the patterns of development I was seeing. I keep thinking that perhaps I should feel guilty that it took us this long to diagnose the APD. I ought to feel guilty, but I don’t, and I feel vague guilt about not feeling guilty. The truth is that we’ve all been doing the best that we can. Link just needed this comprehension now so we tested and found it. Link’s ears work fine, but his brain scrambles words, so that Link has to work hard to comprehend what is said. Combine that with the working memory and processing speed challenges which are common with ADHD, and you begin to understand that Link has to be brilliant in other areas or else we would have found this long ago. He’s like a deaf person no one knows is deaf because he reads lips so well. Link has distinct areas of brilliance. I’ve got test data showing that too.

So none of it is new, but all of it is now official in the school paperwork. Making it official is exhausting, as if writing it down makes it more real. This I think is why many parents shy away from diagnosing their kids. I think it is why I did. As long as it is only a suspicion it could be wrong, everything could be fine. Knowing the auditory processing diagnosis shifted things in my head. It shook up my thoughts and they settled in ways that will be much more beneficial to Link. Now when I slow down and simplify my sentences for Link I know that it is because he physically needs that, not because he can’t comprehend complex concepts. I knew that before too, but this knowledge has also become more real and that is a good thing.

Or so I tell myself. I’m finding it oddly difficult to click “publish” on this post, as if that too is a line to cross, making things more real.

It has been a long day, and it is time for bed now.

Nebula Weekend and Going Home

I am at the airport. My Nebula weekend is over and I’m waiting for my flight home. Once I get there I’ll have to unpack my suitcases full of clothes and my brain full of thoughts. At this very moment my brain is trying to do post-convention imposter syndrome where I rethink half of my conversations and decide that people were just being nice to me because they are nice people rather than because I was actually interesting. Fortunately I am too tired for these thoughts to gain much traction. They just start to get rolling and then slip away as I stare out of the airport windows and various memories parade across my consciousness. Keeping a train of thought for a coherent blog post faces similar challenges, so I give you scenes instead.

The keynote speech at the Nebula banquet was given by Mike Fincke who is an astronaut. He’s spent a year in space. He showed us some video which amounted to the astronaut version of home video. However my favorite moment was when Mike stood at the podium and said “We at NASA actually believe every single thing you write. Then we try to make it happen in the real world.” Mike’s tone of voice and demeanor clearly showed that he was in awe of those who write the fiction which inspired him to become an astronaut. At the end of his speech all the writers in the room gave him a standing ovation. To us he was a rock star. To him, the writers were. It showed me the power of ideas and that writing matters.

Neil Gaiman showed up for the event. Once again I did not meet him. He was always surrounded. Perhaps I should keep count of the number of events that we mutually attend where I do not meet him. The truth is that I don’t actually have anything I need to say to him. I just suspect he is a fascinating person to converse with. Rather than futilely attempting to have that conversation, I spoke with people around me and found dozens of fascinating new people and conversations instead. This is one thing that new writers often get wrong. The person on the stage is not the most fascinating person in the room. In fact you’re more likely to find good conversation and career help by talking to whomever you end up standing near. I did not expect to forward any business purposes during this trip. I’m coming home with leads on half a dozen things simply as a result of talking to people. Some of these leads are career related, but I’ve got at least three parenting ideas to apply, new knowledge about care of the elderly which may be helpful for my grandma, and some recommendations about foods. My life is going to be improved and changed in lots of small ways because of conversations at the Nebula weekend.

At one point during the Nebula evening I stood back from talking with people and surveyed the room. Like at the Whitney Award ceremony this represented a chance for me to assess how award ceremonies as events impact me emotionally even if nothing is at stake for me. The impact is significant. There are lots of emotions flowing around the room and I pick up edges of them whether I want to or not. Once we exited the hall, this effect was much reduced. By this morning people had either accomplished what they’d come for, or they’d given up on it. The vibe was much more mellow and relaxed. I spent a leisurely morning wandering around and talking with people.

Next I go home and as good as Nebula weekend has been, that will be even better.