Month: December 2012

Final Sunset of 2012

Farewell to 2012, you were too complicated to adequately summarize. Though I can’t complain, because while traveling through 2012 was often unpleasant, I like where I am now in comparison to where I was a year ago. The same is true for Howard and the kids. Hard is not necessarily bad. And there is no denying that 2012 had many good things too.

I have no plans for major resolutions or course corrections. I have enough goals in progress that I don’t need to add any more. Instead I’ll just leave with this last sunset of 2012 while snow falls quietly at my house.

Ice and Snow at the Tayler House

Nine inches of snow means that the next week is going to be all about icicles.

For today, the snow is all about sledding. Gleek and Link have been out sliding down the hill for the past hour.

That Sort of Day

Some times I get up early in the morning after having trouble sleeping. Then I do all the laundry, assemble a dozen packages, drive them to the post office, go to the gym, go to the bank, do the accounting, drive my daughter to two different craft stores in search of the perfect mosaic beads, and go to the bank again. After all that I sit down to write, but the words I can think of sound tiresome. So instead I sit down to re-watch episodes of Community.

Today was a day like that.

Facing the Fear

This morning I sat in Howard’s office while he worked on painting a miniature. His hands are busy, his ears are available, and he’s likely to stay put rather than wandering off to go work on a project. I enjoy talking to Howard while he’s painting. I’m not sure whether he can say the same, because the times when I’m likely to sit down and just talk to him are usually when I need to sort my brain about something. Otherwise I’m off and running around tending to projects. We’re a pretty good pair.

I wanted to talk about one of my intended projects for January. I’m planning to run a Kickstarter for Strength of Wild Horses and the thought frightens me. I’m not at all certain that I have enough skill or social media reach to get a picture book project funded. I think what I hoped for was that Howard would take the role of cheerleader, that he’d pour encouragement on me and I could use the borrowed energy to proceed. Instead Howard stayed firmly in the role of business partner, discussing options and likely outcomes. He’s not sure we can pull it off either. He also spent time as Good Husband, expressing his intention to support me through all of it. Even the parts when I go neurotic or weepy because things are hard. I had to walk myself onward into the day because there was no tide of borrowed enthusiasm on which I could surf. I really wanted that tide, because the day just seemed hard and all my projects of questionable utility.

I was supposed to focus on shipping, accounting, and house cleaning. Instead I sat and thought for a bit. I came to some conclusions. I can either be a person who depends upon others to help her believe in her work, or I can proceed as if I believe because I probably will at some point in the future. Also, fear of failure is a bad reason to give up something I want to do. Howard is willing to follow me through this Kickstarter venture and catch me if I fall. That is a huge expression of love and trust. I need to see it.

Thoughts sorted, I went to my computer to begin accounting. Except once I got there, I opened up my 2012 One Cobble book instead. This is the layout project where I print all of the 2012 blog entries into a book for my own reference. While doing so, I was also collecting stories for our 2012 family photo book and for the 2012 edition of my blog sampler book. I happened to be working on the months of April and May, which were just about the craziest months out of this year. I took a trip to see my sick Grandmother while simultaneously remodeling my office, I taught at a conference, hosted my mother as a visitor, went to the Nebulas, helped my son through a diagnostic process for learning disabilities, managed the end of the school year, managed pre-orders for the latest Schlock book, and sent Howard off for a trip. It was the craziest mish-mash of business and personal that I could possibly arrange. Yet, as I placed the entries onto their pages, I began to see how books I’ve created in the past made a difference and how me continuing to make books will play a part in our future business. I remembered why this project matters and why Kickstarter is the best shot it has to succeed. I found, not a tide of enthusiasm to carry me, but some firm ground to stand on while I continue forward.

So, come January I will make a video of myself talking enthusiastically about Strength of Wild Horses. I will feel awkward and will dislike the result, but I will post it anyway. Then I will be sure it will all fail even while secretly hoping it will succeed. It will do one or the other and I will manage the aftermath, which will either be scary or sad. I’ll do all of this because I think it is one of the right next steps for me to take. There are other steps for me to take: finishing a novel, continuing this blog, supporting Howard in both his prose and his comic, teaching and guiding the kids, fulfilling my spiritual responsibilities, submitting for publication. All of these steps together are taking me places. Hopefully there will be wonderful places after the hard and scary ones that I can see. I’m scared, but that won’t stop me from moving forward.

The Things on our Walls and What they Tell

Our decorating scheme for this house has been pretty haphazard in the fifteen years since we moved in. The walls are white because we’ve never spent the time or money to change them. We hung up some portraits and a picture of the temple because that is what one does with the walls of a house, also because I believe that sometimes we need visual reminders of the important things in our lives. There is a large picture in the kitchen of a gargoyle leaping to catch bubbles. I still love that picture. Howard and I bought it together one day after we received an unexpectedly large tax return. However the wall hanging we picked up in Africa thirteen years ago was a purchase made because we were in Africa and felt the need to bring something home with us. Then once it was here we needed to display it. Many of the other ornaments in our home have lingered for similar reasons. Our whole decorating scheme centered around things we acquired or inherited randomly that were sort of cool. Yet this past year I’ve placed more focus on noticing how small shifts in our surroundings can add to the general happiness in our lives. The African wall hanging long ago stopped causing us to feel happy. It was time for something new.

Our walls don’t just speak to us about places we’ve been and what matters, they also speak to those who visit. Mostly what our walls have been saying lately is that we are busy people who don’t take time to clean or to create a cohesive feel to our spaces. Howard had an idea to fix that, at least for the family room. He used some reward points to get Nintendo game posters. They showed large images of games that we’ve loved. Looking at the posters made us happy. We talked of having them framed to hang on the walls. Yet we didn’t. Mostly the delay was due to concerns about the cost of framing, but I confess I also worried a bit about what our walls would say to others.

Our family room is set up for video games and movies. The big TV is mounted on the wall and the cabinet below it is stacked with multiple game systems and shelves of the games that we have accumulated. Sometimes I feel very aware of all of these things when a visitor walks into the room, particularly if that visitor is one who has expressed the opinion that video games are a waste of time. That room makes it very obvious where much of our discretionary money is spent. Do we sometimes spend too much time and money on video games? Yes. But I know that the games bring happiness to our lives. We have as many happy memories and shared experiences over video games as other families do over soccer matches or trips to theme parks.

I have been trying lately to add small happiness to life, to recognize which things add to that happiness and which subtract. For Christmas this year I measured the posters and bought frames at Target. They were relatively cheap, simple to assemble, and did a good job of displaying the posters. This afternoon I took down the other displays and hung the posters. The room no declares clearly that the games do not just belong to the kids, but also to the adults. Not only that, but that we consider the games to be art worthy of display. With this one simple act we truly own the room, the games, and ourselves. Even more important, I when I watch Howard or the kids enter the room, their eyes flicker to the pictures of Zelda or a Skyrim map and their mouths quirk in a smile. A tiny piece of happiness has been added to our lives. We are glad to walk in that room now. It is good.

We’re not done. I expect that we’ll trade out the posters periodically as these ones begin to feel stale and new ones arrive. I also know that a particular pairing is not quite working right. It would also add to the room if we were to put a fresh coat of paint on the walls. These things will come, and they will add to our happiness.

After a Good Christmas

Morning dawned on the day after Christmas and I dove back into work with a sigh of relief. It is not that I dislike the holiday, but I am in the middle of many projects which were interrupted by festivities. Perhaps this is why I was not able to fully develop a holiday glow in which everything felt lovely. I’d start it, but then Kiki would need to unburden herself of concerns about upcoming art projects, or Link’s youth leader would corner me to talk about scout stuff, or I’d get an email reminding me that both Gleek and Patch have some testing coming up in January. The source varied, and I was reminded that there was much to do, only I wasn’t supposed to be doing any of it. I was supposed to be in the moment, treasuring the time right in front of me. I did in snatches: Gleek hugging her new spiral draw set tight. Kiki pulling (and pulling and pulling) to free her new giant scarf from the stocking. Melting wax on a candle. The shifting patterns from the Christmas pyramid as they played across the kitchen ceiling. Sitting by the Christmas tree. Singing a carol. These moments brought peace and joy in the season.

At this point I can almost hear the worried friends and relations, concerned that the did not do enough to make my Christmas marvelous. They need not fear, or feel bad. I had a good Christmas. It was everything it should be. The requirement to make sure that Christmas is magical puts too much pressure on everyone. It is the source of the stress. Good is enough. A magical timeless glow either arrives or it doesn’t. I caught it sometimes and others I didn’t. This is fine. For now, I’m ready to turn my thoughts toward making good use out of what is left of 2012. The minute I hit January I need to be ready for 2013.

Choosing to Reach for Happiness

I don’t remember the stated topic for the church lesson, but a tangent landed us in a discussion about the power of conscious choice in changing our lives for the better. I love hearing discussions like this. I like it when people are empowered in their lives. However the phrase “choose happiness” kept getting tossed around as part of the discussion. All the rest of the discussion was wonderful, but that phrase bothered me. As a person who wrestles with anxiety and who lives around people who get depressed, I know that emotions are not under logical control. They show up unbidden and making them leave can be extremely difficult. Telling a depressed person “Just choose to be happy” is about the worst thing you can say, because they can’t. Sometimes they can’t even believe that happiness exists even though they logically understand that it does. There is a huge difference between knowing and feeling.

I sat in the meeting trying to figure out how to retain the message that we have the power to choose without implying that we can do the impossible. Then I realized that “choose happiness” left out a few words: Choose to reach for happiness. We may not be able to grasp it for a hundred different reasons, but we can choose to reach for it. That reach may look like taking a brisk walk on a Sunday morning so that anxieties will not chase you through your dreams at night. It may be seeing a doctor to discuss mental health issues. It may be skipping a treat and paying down a bill so someday that crushing load of debt will be gone. It may be splurging on a small treat because this particular $3 purchase bestows hours of enjoyment. The answers are unique to each person, but each of us can reach for happiness, taking logical actions toward it, even if it seems that grasping it is impossible. That conscious choice–to reach for happiness–sets your feet on the beginning of a path to attaining it.

After the Shopping

One thing that getting older has taught me is that I often become something I never expected to be. I began parenthood as a stay at home mother who devoted 90% of her creative energy to things which benefited the kids. I thought that was the best kind of mother to be. These days I’m a working mother who often lets her kids fend for themselves and I can see significant advantages to this way of doing things. I used to be a person who started making Christmas purchases in October and had them completed by Thanksgiving. It was all carefully planned and balanced. This year we are making most of our Christmas purchases within 4 days of that holiday. I always thought that sort of last minute scramble represented poor planning and resulted in over spending because of last minute stress. Yes going out shopping today put us into crowded stores, but I don’t think the expense was more. It may even have been less because during the planning years we kept picking up “one more thing.” Nor do I think that the conscious focus of picking gifts was lessened. Choosing a gift is the same emotional action whether it occurs two months or two days before the holiday. I didn’t understand that before, I was too busy carefully planning. Also by shortening the time between gift selection and gift presentation, the kids retain an emotional connection to the gift they are giving. This will not be a year when a giver has forgotten what is inside the wrapping paper.

This is not to say that carefully planning is wrong either. It would not surprise me to discover that my future holds carefully-planned-in-advance Christmases. This is the advantage to discovering that there is no one true way to approach Christmas, I’m free to choose whichever form of celebration best fits that particular holiday season.

The forays into the wilds of Christmas bustle were successful. It turns out that the necessary shopping was split across five people instead of just falling to me. Howard went out, Kiki went out, and I took both boys out. The only family member who did not go to a store today was Gleek. She happily conspired with me from the items I already had here at home.

It was interesting to go shopping with my two boys. They have a very direct approach to gift selection. It is kind of refreshing. They flounder, not at all sure what they should get until suddenly they know that the thing right in front of them is exactly right. Even if it is a thing I’m not certain about, even if I express that reservation, they are not dissuaded. They stick with their choices. I like seeing them decisive. And truth be told, I didn’t argue much. I’m trying to let go, let the kids do their own struggling, considering, and selecting. Kiki had a harder time. She reached a blitzed, unable to decide state. It was a full-bore option overload from which Howard had to rescue her. he did and they came home triumphant, if tired.

Yesterday, during the long shopping outing with Howard, I looked over at him and felt happy. We were out in the holiday crowds–something we try to avoid–and we were shopping last minute–also to be avoided–yet I felt happy. I was so happy to be part of a Christmas preparation team instead of trying to save everyone else from stress by doing most of it myself. At 2 am this morning I could not believe that the holiday would be good. Now I can. I’ll take that.

Christmas Looms

At 2 am this morning I was convinced that I’d ruined Christmas, as if Christmas was my job to get right for my entire family instead of a mutual creation. But 2 am is not a rational hour and the illogical thoughts capered through my brain refusing to calm down or cooperate. I knew that if I could only sleep, things would look better in the morning. I would then be able to sort the tasks which needed to be done and actually do them. Step one was to fall asleep and that was proving tricky.

I did it to myself really. I spent from 10 am to 2 pm out with Howard, visiting the doctor, a restaurant and three different stores. We returned home with our selections for Christmas morning surprises, carefully chosen. As I tweeted during lunch: The fate of Christmas morning rested upon those purchasing decisions. It doesn’t of course. Christmas isn’t in the gifts, packages, boxes, or tags. The Grinch reminds me of this every year and I always manage to forget it at some point during the next year. We arrived home tired. I napped a bit, but then my youngest needed help cleaning his room because he was inclined to just clear the middle by shoving things to the edges. We cleaned, I caught a brief nap, friends stopped by, I realized I had not yet run to the grocery store despite the fact that it had been high on the priority list for two days. The grocery run brought me home just in time to cook a fish stick dinner for the kids and then dash out into the night for a social evening with friends. Hours of talking (and laughing) later I drove home–too tired to even make conversation on the drive. It was a day with no time for stopping or relaxing, no time for my brain to sort the day or settle it. So I found myself in the darkest hour of night with capering thoughts that I knew were irrational, but could not stop.

I’m not sure when sleep managed to arrive, one of my tactics was to refuse to check the clock. Eventually I woke up this morning able to finally do things to feel that Christmas will be fine. Most of what I need to do is take kids shopping. Four kids. Four shopping trips. All on the Saturday before Christmas. I’m going to be tired by the end of today. Hopefully I’ll be able to cultivate a holiday shopping zen rather than having the entire experience be miserable. Or perhaps I should let it be miserable in the hope that next year the kids will think about Christmas options earlier in the month.

For now, I need to change out of pajamas and let the shopping begin.That, and hope that having had my Christmas is ruined panic last night, I can maybe skip that part of Christmas eve.

Writing Things I Do Not Post to the Internet

Last April I went to visit my Grandma in the hospital. She was suffering from a broken hip and was having trouble keeping track of reality while she was there. She is much improved now, back at home and back to normal. Yet during that time we all worried for her very much. I did what I usually do, which is to blog about the things that were going on. My dad read the post, told me it was good, but then requested that I be careful about what I post because there are times when grandma reads my posts. This seemed to be a fair and reasonable request to me. I always try to be mindful of possible audience when I say things in public, particularly on the internet.

Yet, my brain was full of thoughts, memories, and emotions. They swirled in my head and I knew that the only way to calm the noise was to pin these thoughts into written words. Writing clarifies me to myself. It is how I sort and make sense of the things that happen to me. I talked to Howard and his wise advice was for me to write it all anyway, just don’t post it. So that is what I did. I wrapped words around all the things I was thinking and I delved deep to figure out what I was feeling. Because I knew I was the only audience, I was freed from being careful. I wrote what I needed to write without fear that it would hurt anyone else.

I have many beloved people in my life who choose not to be public on the internet. They are cautious about online interactions and generally avoid social media. I love them and respect their choices. However I have thoughts and experiences about things which include them. There are stories I would like to write out, except that I fear it would upset someone. I see this often with my children. They have friendship troubles, emotional trials, and health concerns with affect me. I have to think these things through, sort them out for myself so that I know how and when to help. I write it all down and don’t post it.

Lately I’ve been reading the blog of C. Jane Kendrick. She recently posted about telling her life story and why she thinks it is important for her–and all of us–to do so. She had one reader ask her the question “I want to write my story but there have been some terrible experiences that would scare someone to read, should I still write it?” Jane’s answer sounded wise to me:

Don’t we all have those experiences? Terrible, scary experiences? Hurt, pain, anger? Threatening ex-husbands?! If we gloss over those parts how will our children navigate those experiences when they have them? Are the deep wounds as important to flesh out as the times of joy? I say yes. But cautiously, and only when those stories asked to be plucked.
–from The Thing About Mary by C. Jane Kendrick

Yes some of life’s stories are hard, but not talking about them just means that everyone who faces these same hard things feels alone. We need to be willing to share our hard stories because my hard story can be someone else’s road map to survival. I know that I’ve used other people’s experiences as maps for my life. This is why I’ve posted about radiation therapy, my sister’s cancer, my anxieties, diagnosis and selecting medication for my children. Hard things will come to me in the future and I’ll write about those things too. When I write about a hard thing and it becomes useful to someone else, then that hard thing is redeemed for me. It has a point and a purpose.

Yet my belief in telling the hard stories often comes into conflict with my desire to respect the privacy and feelings of others. I have in my heart–and I apply it to all my writing–a version of the Hippocratic oath, First Do No Harm. This becomes difficult when my head is full of hard stories that I need to write, but worry will cause a problem for others. Sometimes I need to post them anyway, because the value is important. Mostly I write them but don’t post.

Sometimes I forget about the option to write and not post. I get so tangled up in thinking about things and respecting others that my brain gets clogged with stories I am not telling. My brain becomes like a slow drain which needs to be cleared. Last night I wrote three different essays of 800 words each. They fell out of my brain one after the other, filled with stories that I needed to write knowing that I would not post them. When I was done I read back over them and realized that 90% of what I’d written was perfectly fine to be public. The remaining 10% could be re-written so that the story was told without doing harm. This is often the case, but I first have to write the story without fear.

Memoir and blog posts are best when they do not pull their punches, when the writer does not shy away from telling the hard stories. However I enjoy them most when the writer is not vindictive or angry, but rather expressing calmness and forgiveness. I try to do that. I try to make sure I tell my stories in ways that do not injure, even though I know that this sometimes weakens the stories. But sometimes I need to write without softening anything. Even though I know no one else will ever read it. Even when I sometimes erase it as soon as I am done. The act of writing the hard stories changes me. I emerge with a clearer sense of where I am and where I need to go. This is why I sometimes write things that I do not post.