Month: June 2012

Summer of Fires

The other day my friend made an animated jpg purporting to illustrate where there are wild fires in Utah. It showed the entire state in flames, which is kind of how it feels. In the past week over a dozen large fires have burned forests and homes while requiring thousands of households to evacuate just in case. It seems that every single day brings report of a new fire. Nearby states are suffering the same or much worse. Colorado is suffering a fire of epic proportions. Yet at my house all is normal. I work on my projects, do my work, and the only direct effect of the fires is that sometimes the sunlight is red from smoke and yesterday we got a light coating of ash. Yesterday a friend told me that a couple of years ago the law was changed preventing people from gathering deadwood in national forests. He posited that this lead to a build up of underbrush. I suspect that much of this is caused by last year being so wet and mild while this year has been dry. Obviously something is different this year. We get one or two big fires every year, not more than ten in a single week.

Thus far I don’t know anyone whose home has burned, though I know several people who have been evacuated or were at risk of evacuation. I find myself thinking through the contents of our house and making a list of what I’d take if I could only remove one van load of combined things and people. There are lots of things in my house I’d miss if they were destroyed, but only a very few items that I would bother to pack. Most of the space would probably go to kid treasures. They love their things far more than I love mine. Mostly I would pack things that would let us continue to function as a business and a family while we were in exile.

Independence Day is next week. I’m not sure if I’m all that excited about lighting fireworks. I’ve kind of had enough of the smell of smoke.

How To Raise a Strong Girl

Last week I saw several social media campaigns urging people to go see Brave on opening weekend. “Let’s show Hollywood that girl-led movies can make money!” they said, as if increasing the number of girl-led films would make the world a more fair place for women. I did see Brave during opening weekend, because Howard writes reviews and needs to see films early. I wanted to love it, but I didn’t because it managed to gut-punch me in my emotional baggage about motherhood roles.

Today I decided to spend my afternoon seeing Brave again. My kids had not yet seen it, and I wanted to re-view the film leaving my emotional baggage at home. I bought tickets and then set to work, before we could leave I had to make progress on my shelving project. I donned my work gloves and plugged in my borrowed electric sander. There is a sort of magic in watching a power tool turn a sharp wooden corner into a smooth round one. I glided the sander over the edges of the boards and dust blew away. I was careful to keep the sanding surface away from all my limbs and thought gratefully of my Grandpa who used to take me into his big garage and let me work on projects with him. With Grandpa, I soldered, repaired bikes, used a lathe, sawed wood, and hauled rocks. Grandpa let any grandchild was interested participate in the work; there was no distinction based on gender. Because of Grandpa, I am not afraid to pick up a power tool and make things even if I have never done so before. This shelving project is my first time using an electric sander.

Afternoon came and we all trekked to go see Brave. The kids loved it. They laughed out loud at exactly the slapstick moments which didn’t work well for Howard and me. I loved it too. I loved it as much as I wanted to love it the first time I saw it, but didn’t. The mother character, Eleanor, has to be rigid in order to provoke Merida into taking action. A more balanced representation of motherhood would have ruined the film. The scene where Eleanor quells the room full of brawling men is critical to a hero moment later in the film when Merida turns and faces down the woman who turned all those strong men into jelly. Yes it plays to a stereotype, but it allows that one moment which I think is the epitome of Brave, mother and daughter staring angrily into each other’s eyes because they have mutually exclusive plans for the future. I’m exceedingly pleased that the central conflict of Brave has nothing to do with romance or finding true love. If there is another girl-led animated film without a major romance component, I can’t think of it. In the car on the way home, I was thoughtful with tears pricking at my eyes, while the kids regaled each other with the antics of the comedy characters.

I’m glad I took my kids to see it, they now have a new princess story in their minds which is in many ways the antithesis of a class ic Disney-type film. But, if I were to weigh what I did today for gender equality, the most important thing I did was sand boards. My grandpa is not around to haul my kids (both boys and girls) into his garage to use power tools, but they can see that mom fixes stuff. For every movie where the girl character exists to scream, there is a time when I am fetched to slay spiders. For every movie with true love in it, they see a hundred days where mom and dad snap at each other grouchily and the laugh together later in the evening. For every movie where the dad helpless to manage the household, they have the days when Howard cleans the kitchen and makes dinner. Seeing a movie present a different perspective can be truly powerful, as when a young Whoopi Goldberg saw Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek and realized that black women could be on television without being maids. These powerful, pivotal moments in entertainment matter. Perhaps Brave is one of those moments and can change the world for some girls. But if I want to raise strong girls of my own, I just need to live as if the equality I hope for them already exists. I need to gift them with pocket knives, bows, arrows, hair ribbons, and nail polish as their interests warrant. My actions should say that of course they can be what they choose to be so long as they are willing to work hard to get there.

Life is not fair. It never will be. No movie can make it so. But strong girls can see the unfairness and do what they want to do anyway.

Shelving Project

In theory I can plan a home improvement project, do the math, make a list, and take a single trip to the store for supplies. So far my two-day-old shelving project has required one trip for boards and brackets, a second trip for screws and sandpaper, then a third trip to return sandpaper and buy sandpaper sheets large enough to fit the hand sander. A fourth trip will be necessary for additional boards and brackets, but at least now I can start work. Well, I can when it cools down outside. I don’t really want to deal with wood dust inside the house. Thus my morning project turns into an all day project. I console myself with the thought that once I am done my books will no longer have to live in boxes.

The second day of the project fares better than the first. I get up early to sand the edges of the boards and apply the first layer of stain. I only do two boards. They are proof of concept before I begin sanding a dozen more boards. They look nice sitting out on my deck rail drying. Hopefully they will continue to look nice when transported to my office. I’m really glad to finally have something visible for all the running around I did yesterday. Some days all my work vanishes so that I end the day wondering where the time went. Most of my summer work falls into this category. “Creating structure and schedule” is a crucial task around here, but success is invisible while failure is obvious. At least with the shelves there is something tangible.

Summer Lilac

This is a Summer Lilac. It is also known as Buddleia Davidii or Butterfly Bush, but I like the name Summer Lilac. It lets me imagine that I can hold on to spring time so long as the bush is in bloom, and this bush blooms all summer. We had one long ago, but it got torn out as part of our massive landscaping project back in 1999. I bought this one last Wednesday when I ventured into a garden center. I was there for basil plants, because Gleek had brought home a tiny basil sprout from a neighbor and lovingly planted it in our weed-filled garden bed. I knew the traumatized little sprout would not survive, so I went in quest of a larger basil plant for Gleek to tend. I came home with six plants and a wish list of a hundred or more. I need more time, more money, and more garden space. This summer lilac was one of the plants. It sits in a bucket on my back deck because I’ve not had a cool evening hour in which to plant yet. Tomorrow I’ll get it into the ground. It is a promise to myself that I’ll do more in my garden than just tame weeds. I want to be nurturing loveliness as well. The summer lilac will help me, because it will bring butterflies into my garden.

Summer Chaos and Brave

I’m the first one awake most mornings. I’m the last one to bed at night. Since it is summer, those bedtimes are later than usual. I rarely get my younger two off to sleep before 10 pm. Later if it happens to be one of the nights when our cul de sac fills up with kids playing night games, which happens every other night. Some days I get a nap in the afternoon. Most days I don’t. Usually the days have long stretches of time when I can focus on work or projects. Yet randomly a quarrel will break out, and I am the one who has to drop everything I’m doing to go create peace again. None of this is so exhausting as it used to be. As they mature, my kids are more able to help themselves and solve their own problems. It is just that everyone is here all the time and we all depend upon me to create the structure of our lives. I do it because it is important, because I crave the order as much as anyone else. This balance we’ve arrived at does seem to be the best solution currently available given the constraints of summer schedule and business requirements.

All of the above is what I took with me when I went to see the movie Brave. I wanted to love the movie, instead I only liked it because it prodded me right in my emotional baggage. You see, I want to be Merida, wild and free. I want to jump on the back of my horse and gallop through the forest shooting arrows and climbing waterfalls. I even want that glorious, untameable red hair. Instead I am Eleanor, the mother, the one who quells the fun and imposes order. I was very frustrated that Eleanor kept imposing princess behavior on Merida which seemed completely unvalued by anyone else in the society. It is one thing for a mother to insist her child learn something because it will definitely benefit the child later. This just seemed pointless. The movie was telling me that it is the job of adult women to impose civilization. “You must be Eleanor.” The movie seemed to say to me. “Be the embodiment of constraint.”

In after thought, I remember that there were portions of the movie where Eleanor also seemed trapped by her own expectations. At the end of the film Eleanor also gets to ride a horse. Lessons are learned all around, I suppose.

Each day I see all the things that are necessary. I see why they are necessary. I see how things must be done in order to achieve long term growth and goals. But the practical application of all of that leaves me being the one to impose order and structure on chaos and requiring others to help me. Part of me loves doing these things. I like order and calmness. I like my hair smooth while I create something of beauty with a needle and thread. Yet I also want to run through the woods with leaves caught in my wild hair. I think I need to see Brave again and view it while considering Merida and Eleanor as two possible aspects rather than feeling I must be one or the other.

Anthropomorphizing my laptop may have been a good business decision

I’ve always liked the idea of personifying places and things. I think it is cool when people have names for their cars and their houses. For the most part my things acquire fairly dull names like “the van” because I don’t take time to make a cool name stick first. But this time I had it in my head that I’d like to have a Calcifer in my life. Calcifer is the flame creature which powers and runs Howl’s Moving Castle. I wanted something like that in my life, a source of magic and energy, a familiar. So the name Calcifer was already in my head when I realized that the need for a new laptop was dire. My old laptop computer (called “my laptop” even thought I’d attempted to label it Scribit at one point) had reached unusable levels of battery life and memory. Calcifer seemed a perfect name for a portable computer, so I wandered the store looking for which of the computers met my needs and seemed the most like a Calcifer. I settled on a Toshiba brand with a pleasant wood grain look to the casing.

Calcifer came home, and here is where giving him a name makes a difference. If I left him sitting untouched for too long, I started to feel guilty. It was not the guilt of “I spent money I should use this thing” it was the niggling feeling that my friend Calcifer was lonely, that he was waiting for me to use him to write stories, or blog entries, or something. In the month that I’ve had Calcifer I’ve spent a lot more time dwelling in a writer mind space. Today I drafted fiction for the first time in I don’t know how long. It is a weird little psychological feedback loop. The existence of Calcifer in my life encourages me to write. Then I like Calcifer better because he nudges me to do writing. The more I like Calcifer the more motivated I am to make sure he isn’t lonely. I’m quite aware that this laptop I’ve named Calcifer is in fact inanimate. It doesn’t think or care, but names have power over me. I like the results of bestowing this one. Now I just need to get Calcifer a pretty sticker to cover up the Toshiba.

Settling in for the Summer

A good routine flows naturally. I currently have all the pieces of a good summer routine, but I’ve yet to actually apply it for more than a few days in a row. In theory today was the first in a long run of days which will be run by the summer routine. It went pretty well, but not perfectly. The kids were easily distracted from their summer chores. I was easily distracted by internet things. I also struggled a bit with prioritization. Many tasks were set aside during shipping and now I need to catch up on them all. I had to figure out which tasks had become urgent, which could stay on the back burner, which things were making life feel out of kilter, and which things were tasks I’d assigned to myself unnecessarily. So far so good.

I think that the next couple of days I’m going to run primarily by instinct rather than list. When things are crazy busy my lists save me. However there are also times when the lists become a narrow focus and prevent me from seeing what really matters. I’ll still be busy all day long. I’ll still get lots of things done, but it feels different in my head.

And We’re All Safe at Home Now

I walked into the house and the children flocked to me to give me hugs. Their faces were variously browned and sunburned. I could tell they’d been having lots of fun outdoors with their cousins. I could also see a slight inner tension unwind a little because I was there. The outward manifestation of that inner tension was that they all felt free to be more cranky. It was a high level psychological juggling act to get all four of them to pack up the car and be seated without a major battle erupting. We actually did have a “Don’t Make Me Stop This Car” level conflict about halfway home, during which I did pull off the highway long enough to resolve the issue that yes Gleek’s bag of stuffed animals did have to be moved so that Link could fully recline his seat. However that one flare up dispelled the cranky because the drive afterward was full of cheerful retellings of the trip where as the ride before was pent up quiet.

We all arrived home cheerful and my people have scattered to rediscover all the things they’ve been missing for a week. Life is good. Now I just need to relax for the rest of the evening so that I can put on my business hat again first thing tomorrow.

My Deep South Con 50 Experiences

The lobby chairs were pulled into an irregular circle and we slouched in them comfortably. It was Sunday night and all the events of DeepSouth Con were complete. Many of the guests and most of the attendees had already departed for home. Those of us who remained clustered together talking. In many ways it was like the closing scene of the pillow fighting episode of Community where two characters keep hitting each other with pillows for hours because they know the minute the pillow fight is over, then so is their friendship. We sat there and talked late into the night because once the talking stopped, DSC 50 would be done.

Conventions are hard to sum up in a single blog post, because a convention is not a single narrative, it is a multiplicity of interwoven stories. Many of them rely on in-the-moment humor which is hilarious, but can’t be retold because the context is no longer present. This convention’s running joke for Howard and I was Rosie’s Cantina, which was recommended as a restaurant choice on our first night. Our liaisons, Robert and Laura Nigg, attempted to find it, but multiple cell phones came up with multiple locations and driving directions, so we went somewhere else. However Rosie’s Cantina did not go away, We saw signs and advertisements just about every time we left the hotel. Huntsville was taunting us with the existence of this Mexican restaurant. Two different concierge’s recommended it, so on the third day we resumed the quest and succeeded.

In the end the food was solid Ameri-Mex fare, nothing particularly special, but we felt satisfaction in finding the place and eating there. Rosie’s Cantina was an oft referenced source of humor for us and the others who shared our quest. Conventions are made of stories like these, small experiences which become shared contextual humor between the people who experienced them. Since the convention-going population is fairly small, we’ll run across these same people again in a few years. Then we will regale others with The Quest for Rosie’s Cantina in such a way that reconnects us and brings others into the laughter. Many times over the weekend I played audience while others shared their mutual remembrances. This is how communities are made and reaffirmed.

One of my treasured parts of the convention was meeting Lois McMaster Bujold. I’ve read every book she’s written multiple times. Lois’ words and thoughts express some of my experiences so well that it is simpler for me to reference her words rather than finding my own. I very much wanted a chance to talk to the person who created those words. I was pleased that more than one opportunity arose.

Here is Lois talking with Dr. Demento while Toni Weiskopf of Baen stands and speaks to David Drake. Yes, that is a total name-dropping sentence. Yes I had the opportunity to converse with all of those people. This is part of the attraction of conventions, particularly smaller ones. Everyone there is in awe of someone else. These admirable people are all people who are quite happy to sit down and talk about writing, music, food, exercise, pets, and a host of other topics. While I was feeling honored and pleased to be included in conversations with Toni and Lois, they were both feeling fangirl squee about getting to speak with Dr. Demento. I found Lois to be a wonderfully pleasant person. Our conversations tended to be short, as there were many people around, but each time it felt as if I’d picked up a long-running conversation with a long-time friend. It almost certainly did not feel that way to her, which did lend an imbalance to the conversations. I did get to ask her about the narrative structure of the Sharing Knife series which is so very different than her other books. The structural differences threw me off during my first reading of them because I’d expected the familiar structures of her other books. I’m pleased to know that these differences were a conscious and deliberate exploration, rather than a result of being lost in the story. I was certain that had to be the case, but she confirmed it. I also noticed that Lois attended panels all the time. Many of the pros I know are busy at conventions and rarely attend a panel unless they are participating in it. I know that is the case for me. I have a hard time sitting in the audience listening when I feel like I could add to the discussion. I’m reconsidering that. If Lois, with all her experience in writing and fandom, finds things to learn in panels, perhaps I should try to be more teachable as well.

I did attend some panels at DSC. I even got to moderate for a panel where Howard was one of the panelists. It is always a little odd for me to moderate Howard, rather like long-time dance partners switching which partner leads. I felt the panel went well and several people corroborated that opinion.
Howard was, of course, on many panels. Conventions schedule their GoHs pretty thoroughly. One of his panels was about designing aliens, his co-panelists were Tedd Roberts, Travis Taylor, and Stephanie Osborn. I’m told that video of this panel will hit the internet after a quick editing pass. I’m also told that it was fantastic and that everyone will want to see it.

Howard and Travis Taylor of Rocket City Rednecks hit it off really well. After listening to Travis’ stories, we’re convinced that we need to get our hands on all the episodes because it is like Mythbusters with more materials science and physics. Plus, Travis made us laugh all weekend long. Some of that funny must end up in the show too.

Howard and John Ringo did a joint panel, which has also been recorded for future internet viewing, though I’m told that one will take longer to clean up and prep. They hauled almost the entire audience from that panel into the dealer’s room where The Missing Volume was selling both John and Howard’s books. This made Glennis quite happy, and us happy too. Howard and John even stole the autographing table from the hallway. No one minded because it was empty at the time and we un-stole it forty minutes later when John and Howard had to head off for a panel.

This convention was one of the few where Howard was able to announce a Watch Howard Draw event. Fans gathered around while Howard scribbled out comics. Howard was quite glad to get some work done (He always feels behind) and he loved having the relaxed environment to converse while doing it.

One fan even had a Schlock themed birthday party

Yes that is a cake. There was also a little sculpture for the birthday guy. Howard signed it.

I knew that DeepSouth Con had a hard science fiction, history of southern fandom, and funny music focus. These are not areas of expertise for me, so I expected to mostly drift through the weekend in observational mode. I did play observer quite a bit, and I paid more attention to photography, but then I was pulled in. I had several long and deep conversations which left me thinking new thoughts to think. There was a small group of attendees who gathered around me after a panel and we held our own mini panel/discussion about organizing life to support creativity. It was extremely gratifying to be sought out that way, and I’m very glad that some of the things I said seemed useful to them. There is nothing better than turning one of my experiences into something useful for someone else.

A particular shout out is owed to Gray Rhinehart here. I’d never met him before this event and knew him only slightly online. But we talked for hours. This is also one of the hidden treasures of conventions, when I meet someone new and their current concerns intersect with mine. Conventions give me friendships which last long after the convention is over. Conventions give me chances to renew friendships begun at a previous convention. I’m learning to be patient and play the long game in building a writing career. I don’t have to push to have the critical conversation with a particular agent / editor/ author, because there will be another chance. This chance is not the only one.

Huge thanks are due to Toni Weiskopf. This show was her baby. She pulled together a dream team of Southern convention runners. I think this may have been one of the smoothest-run convention I’ve ever experienced. I did not hear any of the usual politicking or kvetching which I’ve come to believe is inevitable when highly stressed people care very much about something but have different opinions about how it should be done. We are so glad that she included us. This was exactly the weekend we needed it to be.
To close out this very long convention post, I leave you with a photo of Dr. Demento dancing on stage with a pair of belly dancers.

Convention arrival and Huntsvile Alabama

I stood on the shore of the pond, watching the geese sail across.

The wind caught stray hairs on the back of my neck and also seemed to lift the damp blanket of Alabama air. It was not too hot or humid. In the shade the air felt lovely, in the sun I began to understand why I associate light colored, flowy clothing with southern fashion. At least I was wearing sandals. Standing on the shore of Big Spring Park in Huntsville Alabama was the first truly restful moment I’ve had in weeks. I wandered in a little patch of time that had no requirements attached. All the shipping was done on Monday. Tuesday was the day when my brain responded to the lack of shipping project by deciding that I really needed to re-arrange my shipping / storage room. Wednesday was made of sleeping off insomnia and driving kids to my brother’s house. Thursday was full of airplanes, airports, meeting new people, and eating out at a couple of restaurants with delicious food. Friday needed me to help set up Howard’s panels in the art show, but then there were a couple of hours before the convention really gets under way. So I walked to the park.

I sat for awhile on a bench, looking for cardinals. I didn’t see any, but I was greatly amused that the geese kept sidling closer to me and watching just in case I might pull a sandwich out of my bag and feed them some. They did not venture too close, but by the time I’d been sitting for ten minutes. I was surrounded by a ring of geese pretending to take naps.

They were quite polite about it, so I did not mind their company. Instead I breathed in the smell of pond, watched the koi who occasionally leaped out of the water, and tried to get a feel for the place that is Huntsville. It feels like a good place. I love seeing the evidence of rockets and space engineering. A store in the airport sells astronaut jumpsuits in sizes from toddler to adult. Huntsville is the home of space camp and rocket design. It is a science-y place while also being very southern. I’m picking up a bit of drawl just by being here. It comes to me naturally, my father’s parents both had southern accents. I grew up hearing them.

I’m not sure what else this convention weekend will bring to me. I’m quite happy with whatever comes, since I’ve already gotten to hang out with Howard. I was greeted warmly by Toni Weiskopf of Baen, who is responsible for us getting this invitation. Then last night as we departed for a late dinner, our group was joined by Lois Bujold. Both Howard and I managed to dial back the squee. Instead we got to just talk. More talking with Lois would be lovely, because she has a head full of amazing thoughts.

But for now, I’ve been pinged by Howard to deliver something. The convention begins