Month: April 2013

Kiki Facing Graduation

“It’s like someone has dumped out a big jar of marbles and right now they’re all falling in a clump, but starting to separate out. Then on graduation day all those marbles are going to hit the ground and scatter in hundreds of directions.”
–Kiki’s observations on her last month of high school

Kiki is right, we’ve hit the last free fall before her life trajectory is in her control. She’s really feeling it both in her readiness to be doing something else and in her relationships with her friends. Some of those friendships have become a bit more complicated, people who’ve been close for a long time are beginning to pull apart because they know they’ll soon be headed in different directions. Everything in her world is shifting, simultaneously picking up speed and slowing down. Most days she and I end up sitting down and talking about how things are shaking out. A friend of mine warned me about the last months of high school. She and her oldest daughter quarreled lots during the final run to graduation. I’m glad that Kiki’s emotional shifts have not manifested in a similar manner. Though I won’t be too surprised if they do at some point. It is easier to leave people you love if you create a rift first. One more month and then she’s off into her next adventure.

Interpreting Dreams

I am not an advocate of dream theory. Most dreams are random and fairly meaningless, but some are significant. The interpretation of these significant dreams can lead to enlightening insights, but I think that the only person qualified to interpret a dream is the one who dreamed it. This is because the dream itself may be nonsense, but our minds can pull meaning and inspiration from the shape of the nonsense.

In March I had two significant dreams. One featured an amazing house full of amazing stuff and I was going to get to live there, except everything in the house needed cleaning or repair. It was a reflection of my emotional state at that time when it felt like everything could be amazing, if only I did a lot of work first. The second dream I’m not going to share, except to say that it showed me exactly what I feared for Gleek when we were in the midst of wrestling with anxiety. Neither dream was pleasant, but contemplating them helped me understand myself and that new understanding changed the shape of things going forward in good ways.

Sometimes the entire dream is not important, just an element of it. I can tell which pieces matter, because they stay with me even after I wake up, they feel important even if I do not know why. Most of the time what matters most is the emotion of a dream rather than the events or objects in it. In my dreams I feel the things I’ve suppressed when awake.

I’m thinking about all of this because Howard had an interesting dream last night with elements that have been re-occurring over the past 20+ years. I kind of want to assign meanings for his dream, to declare that this dream object represents that life challenge, but I don’t get to. Meaning or dismissal are his to assign. I try to do the same for my kids, teaching them that while dreams can be indicators, it is what we do when awake that changes our lives for better or worse. Dreams show up, what we do with them after that is what matters.

Learning Anxiety Management

We sat in the therapist’s office with nothing to discuss. Three weeks and there had been no meltdowns we could talk through, no major stress episodes, no panic. It was as if the troubles ceased the moment we attempted to observe them. Whatever the reasons for the vanished anxiety, there did not seem to be much point in paying out of pocket week after week so we could sit on a leather couch with nothing to discuss. All parties agreed that perhaps therapy might be more useful again in the fall with the stresses of beginning junior high. So we walked out and cancelled the remaining appointments.

Ten minutes after arriving home Gleek shrieked and panicked because a wasp got into the house. Twenty minutes after that she saw another one outside and plunged again into fear, but channeled it better. During homework time she pulled out a familiar array of stress tactics such as whining, flopping, singing out loud, making random noises to annoy her brother, dropping pencils, and resisting the help she asked for one second previous. My job was to stay calm, expect her to get a grip on herself, and wait for her to settle down and do the work, which she eventually did.

I am left with questions about coincidence and causation. Ultimately I think that Gleek would have been alarmed by a wasp in the house whether or not we’d decided to discontinue therapy. It also makes sense that her first big panicky event would dredge up all the old tactics out of storage. Or it could be that some part of her considered the therapy sessions as a sort of safety net and discontinuing them raises her ambient level of anxiety. In which case, discontinuing is exactly what we need to do so that Gleek can practice managing her stresses and fears.

Even with the resurgence of old coping strategies, Gleek still had a better handle on herself that she would have a month ago. She faced the second wasp without shrieking. She completed her math assignment before curling into a ball under a blanket. Then when I requested that she emerge so we could plan for the remainder of her homework, she used a visualization technique to bring herself back into a planning state of mind. We’ve come quite a long way since March. Now we just need to hang tight for the next four weeks of school.

On the Day After My Sister’s Birthday

I was four years into the business of being alive when Nancy showed up. According to our parents’ report I claimed to like her, but actually felt quite a bit of resentment along with thinking she was cute. I was used to being the baby of a family with four kids, then I was not-the-baby in a family with five. I think it helped that Nancy offered a bribe on arriving, at least mom said the little stuffed bunny came from Nancy. As I grew older I began to have some doubts as to whether a new born really came bearing gifts for older siblings, but by then she was firmly entrenched. Thirty-ish years ago yesterday she changed my life by showing up, she didn’t choose to arrive or to give me a stuffed bunny, the gifts she has given me since are all her doing.

I wanted very much to be a good older sister. I wanted to be better at older-sistering than my older sister was, which in hindsight was the ultimate expression of sibling rivalry. I don’t think I really succeeded, because my strongest memories of being an older sister to Nancy in our early years do not shine the best light on me. She spent her years from three to seven with one of her front teeth gray. I’d pushed the shopping cart she was sitting in too vigorously. She smacked her mouth, killing the baby tooth. I also remember pushing her off the slide and on another occasion making her fetch and carry for me while I drew numberless pictures of horses. In the years since Nancy has been kind enough to forgive me of all of these things, also I did give her some of the horse pictures, so I wasn’t all bad.

Nancy is not my only sister, I have three. There are three brothers too, it was a large family, but of my siblings, Nancy is the one who has chosen to have a public identity on the internet. For the others, I respect their preference toward a low profile. That’s part of being family. Nancy and I have chosen similar paths. In my younger years I would have declared that she was copying me. I did declare that, often, yet none of my frustration, or deliberate attempts at redirection, prevented her from following a path uniquely her own. I think we were both in our twenties when we finally acknowledged the unspoken rivalry and laid it to rest. Nancy had sold a story to magazine, something I’d never accomplished. I’d written a story that made Nancy feel like her own were not adequate. We admitted our feelings and decided that perhaps the writer space belonged to neither of us and that we could both live there without stepping on each others toes. There was space for us both, arguing over it seemed silly when we were both in the trenches of early motherhood and needed to spend our energy supporting each other instead. It was a wonderful conversation, because rivals became unreserved allies.

All of this brings us to today, the day after Nancy’s birthday, when she lives in Germany and I live in Utah. We’re too far for me to bring her a treat or give her a hug. What I can give her instead is a blog post saying that I’m glad she’s here. I’m glad there is an internet that lets us keep in touch even half a world away, and to wish her all the best forever. (Even if the wishes are a day late.)

Happy Birthday Nancy!

When the Sun Comes Out

The phone rang and it was my friend. “I just called to see how you’re doing.” The call was a kindness from her, because she has been the person to listen many times in the past weeks when my heart was full and my eyes overflowing. This time I breathed in to answer her and realized I had nothing in particular to tell. Or rather, I did have things to tell, but they were all light in comparison with the struggles which I’ve aired in our last five conversations. I carried the phone onto the porch where the sunshine could warm my bare feet. Then we chatted about my things and hers. It is so nice to chat instead of discuss.

Kiki had a list of errands, a few last minute acquisitions that were necessary before prom tomorrow, so we went in quest of hair pins and boutonniere materials. Earlier this week I read an article stating that the average amount spent on prom is $1100. This year we’re among those bringing that average down, borrowed dress, hair and nails done at home, and using the family car instead of a rented vehicle. Kiki was quite pleased with herself when we walked in to the florist and requested a single flower and some filler so that she could make the boutonniere herself. The florist was glad to sell her the supplies, I think they were a bit tired of assembling corsages, at least based on the stacks in their glass fronted refrigerator. Including the flowers, dance tickets, dinner, and day activity, I think our total expense for prom is less than $100. Kiki has already had fun, hopefully tomorrow will bring even more.

“We need to do my history report!” Gleek told me with wide eyes just as she was departing for school.
“Yes.” I answered. “We’ll do it this weekend. Don’t worry about it.”
Gleek nodded, her shoulders relaxed, and she walked cheerfully out the door. This in sharp contrast to the science fair project where I had to coax for extended periods of time for her to believe it was possible at all. Gleek’s internal landscape has become a navigable place instead of a dark and foreboding forest. Finishing the project this weekend is going to require some hustling, particularly since Patch also has a big project, Kiki has prom, and I’m teaching at Writing for Charity. Yet even that feels possible, which says much about my internal landscape as well.

“Do you have a minute?” Howard asked. He then flipped through the test print of Body Politic, showing me places where he needs me to move strips around. These two go onto the next page so that there is room for a footnote he wants to write. That forces this one onto the page after that, which reduces the white space. Together we flipped through the book, drawing arrows and instructions. Nudging the book ever closer to being publishable. I was so very glad for this morning’s conference, we are past the point where the project feels impossible and have instead moved in to the last rush toward the end. It feels like running down hill.

My front lawn is freshly mowed for the first time this year. I took a few minutes and did the job myself instead of spending energy negotiating with children. Afterward I felt accomplished. Next Saturday I need to declare a family yard work day so that we can remove all of the tall grass from the flower beds. I begin to believe that my garden is not doomed to be a weedy mess forever.

Winter is long and sometimes spring is chilly, but then there comes a day when the sun is warm and I step outside barefoot with no jacket. I look around and realize the grass is green, flowers have begun to bloom, and spring has stopped teasing. After things were hard for what seemed like a long time, suddenly they are lovely. It is enough.

My Cobble Stones Books

I just dropped the files off at the printer. Cobble Stones 2012 is temporarily out of my hands. In a few weeks I’ll need to put it in the store, open ordering, and begin the promotional push. I’ll also be re-introducing Cobble Stones 2011, which really didn’t get a proper launch of its own. Instead I just declared it done and moved onward because so many other things were demanding my attention. Several months ago I picked up the trade paperback size of Cobble Stones 2011 and realized that I’d made a mistake. These are sampler books, they should be small and light. People should be able to pick them up on a whim and read few a few essays. If I wanted the book to have those qualities, I needed to make the books smaller and less expensive. I sat down and re-designed them. Going forward all of the Cobble Stones books will be 4×7, which is the same size as a mass market paperback. The paper and binding will be the same quality as the larger book, but the smaller size lets me lower the price to $5 per book. I’m very pleased about this. I also love that the books are now an excellent size for tucking into a purse or bag and carrying along. This is the way these books ought to be. They’ll make their big debut in the store sometime next week. For now I have the last 30 copies of the 6×9 size. I suppose those 30 copies qualify as collectible since they’re at a discontinued size and they were printed before I redesigned the cover to include the year 2011 in the typography.

Putting together the second book was a fascinating project. I was able apply new things that I’ve learned about graphic design into the page layouts. It was also interesting to compare the content of the two books. There are some obvious thematic similarities, but you can tell that 2012 was a year when I was really wrestling with my tendency to struggle with anxiety, where the 2011 book just has hints of that and is far more focused on self discovery. It was why the snowy cover felt appropriate for the 2012 book. I’m hoping and picturing the 2013 book with a summery cover, perhaps on grass. Or maybe there won’t be an individual book for 2013, right now I have a hard time believing I’ll have enough solid essays to make a third book. I have to not focus on that. I write when I can and life is calming down so I’m able to write more often. Instead of fretting over the fate of future projects, I need to look at these two books I already have. I made two books. They’re pretty! And in only a week or so I’ll be able to show them to others. This is cause enough for rejoicing.

Spring Fever

Kiki is just a few weeks away from her high school graduation, but her brain is ready to run off to college. As she described it to me, she’ll walk into the front room and sit on the couch. Then her head fills up with thoughts like: I wonder what the couches will be like at college. Will I be the girl who is always sitting on the lobby couches and doing art? I wonder if there will be friends to sit on the couches with me. I hope those friends are nice. Then to escape the couch thoughts Kiki will step into the kitchen and be confronted with a new barrage: There are kitchens on each floor of the dorm. I wonder if we’ll have floor parties where everyone pitches together and there is yummy food. How will that work? Will other college kids no how to cook. Maybe I should learn to cook more. I don’t have any dishes, maybe I should bring some dishes. Pretty much everywhere she goes, her brain tries to jump ahead to college. This frustrates Kiki, who would like to be able to focus on finishing high school and let college get closer without constantly thinking about it. At least Kiki is self aware enough to see what is going rather than just getting quarrelsome about high school things.

Patch would also like to jump ahead to the end of school, only he is less self aware. His teacher is expressing concern that he is tuning out in class and thus missing important information he needs, like assignment details. Both the teacher and I have talked with Patch, mostly we need to corner him and require the work instead of letting him get away with sliding by. Unfortunately this means that homework times are unpleasant because Patch pulls out all the stops trying to avoid the work even though logically he knows he can’t and shouldn’t. This evening we had an extended negotiate about which work is actually due to see if some could be pushed off to a different day. Then there were tears because it was all too hard, after which he plowed through half of it with no trouble at all. Finally he manifested with a headache and general malaise which required flopping. When I did not excuse him from the work, he sat down and got rolling, cheerfully plowing through the rest of it. I find it fascinating to watch Patch’s avoidance techniques, because I see so many of them in myself when I have work I don’t want to do.

Thus far Gleek has responded toward the oncoming end of the year with a more relaxed attitude. This is good news in comparison with the stress she was carrying before. Link has exhibited renewed vigor in pursuing good grades as a result of an agreed upon incentive program.

I’m trying to take each day as it comes and make sure to notice the flowers so that they don’t bloom and vanish while I’m busy.

Glad for a Boring Work Day

Over the weekend both Howard and I had our eyes on today and hoped for normal. We wanted a boring work day during which nothing amazing or upsetting happened; a day when we could just put one foot in front of the other and be able to see significant progress by evening. I have now arrived at 7pm and that is the sort of day that I have had. Report from Howard’s drawing table tell a similar story. This feels like the first good work day we’ve had in weeks. I hardly dare hope that we can have two in a row, but I do hope for it.

I spent the day finishing copy edits and working layout for Cobble Stones 2012. I’ll review it tomorrow and then send it off to print. This means I’ll have copies with me at LDS Storymakers and they should be available online before that. Perhaps I’ll post the cover image tomorrow.

In family news: there isn’t much. Yay! No one had crises today, homework is being completed as I type. The kids appear to have been happy at school. At the end of the week I’ve got meetings with staff at two schools as I arrange for both Link and Gleek to transition smoothly up to the next school in line. I hope these can be routine paperwork meetings. That would be so very lovely to have a meeting where I had to haul myself all the way over just to be briefed on things I already know and to sign a paper saying that I’ve been briefed. Because the alternative is that the meetings will have new information and lately new information requires emotional management. I’ll note that this will not necessarily always be the case. Sometimes I’m interested and enlivened by new things, but in this context boring is good.

Perhaps this week we’ll finally find time to mow the lawn, fold the laundry, clean the bathrooms, and all the other things. That would be lovely.

Kiki and the Photo Shoot

When someone says they are a model, it conjures images of a beautiful person who is dressed up fancy, gets a lot of attention, and sometimes fame or wealth as well. Those thoughts about modelling are products of the post-supermodel era that we live in. Prior to the supermodels of the 70’s, modelling was not about fame. Yesterday I accompanied my daughter Kiki on what turned out to be 8 hours of modelling work. It showed both of us that the real work of a model is not the be the center of attention and adulation, but to be a blank canvas or a mannequin upon which someone else hangs a concept. The shoot that Kiki posed for was an art shoot, so every step of the process aimed to create an effect. The final photographs are fascinating and compelling, but they do not in any way represent Kiki even though it is her face. The same is true of commercial shoots, where models are dressed in casual clothes and are smiling. Those models are still subsuming who they are to present an image that will attract buyers to purchase the item being advertised. Modelling is not about being the center of attention, which is not something I fully realized until yesterday.

Kiki was told to show up with no makeup and clean hair. The stylists needed a clean slate, a blank canvas.

The array of tools for make up was astonishing. I wish I’d gotten a shot of this table after the make up was applied. It was a complete jumbled mess which contrasted with the array in the picture.

The photo shoot was arranged by Rebekah McKinney who designed and made the dress that Kiki wore. Rebekah has become a friend of our family over the past year, enough so that Kiki felt comfortable asking to borrow the dress to wear for Prom, but once the dress was altered, everyone wanted to get some fun pictures of Kiki wearing it. So Beckie arranged for two stylists and a photographer. The stylists worked at 9 Salon and Spa. The photographer was Gary of Meaux Photography. I’ll have pictures from him to post later after he’s done processing. All the pictures in this post are ones that I took.

Every time Kiki and I thought things looked done, the stylists would add more: more hair, more sparkles, more eye liner, more lashes. I think the hair was Kiki’s biggest surprise. She has so much hair of her own that she was astonished that hair pieces could possibly be necessary. Before the stylists were done, they’d added a volume of hair approximately equal to a cat, in four colors.

There were some stages where the hair looked like something from an 80’s band.

After four hours of hair and make up, we paused long enough for Kiki to eat then made her sit down for another half hour of make up. Kiki was enjoying the process, though she confessed afterward that some stages of the hairdo made her wonder if anyone knew what they were doing. She also still has some sore spots on her head because the stylist pulled hard while braiding. Things got fun again at the photography studio.

We were extremely fortunate in our photographer. He coached Kiki, explaining to her that he was trying to create an S shape in each shot and how that was usually achieved using a human body. He also explained that she should make small moves when adjusting her body, because lots of small corrections would create the right effect.

My favorite moments were when the photographer said “relax” and then held the camera so Kiki could see the photo.

Kiki would melt out of her self-effaced art pose and become a girl who bounced from excitement. She would view the photo with her artist’s eye and see how a pose which felt awkward, yielded a highly effective image.

The photographer did not take any pictures of Kiki smiling. I did. Because I like her smiling, even if it ruins the artsy effect.

Also, sometimes she was a punk and made faces.

Yet I was impressed, even with Beckie and I poking fun at her, Kiki would quell her giggles and get back to striking the requested pose. One of the reasons this experience was so fun is that we were working with people who are very good at what they do, but who also don’t take themselves too seriously. The designer, stylists, and photographer were all fashion people who know that there is an element of the ridiculous involved with fashion. We all embraced the ridiculous and had fun.

I did have one concern about my daughter modelling. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about how much value and emphasis US society puts on physical beauty, particularly for women. I feel it is very important that women know that beauty is not required to be a valued and valuable person. Kiki has always been beautiful, both physically in ways that are recognized by society, and in her mind and heart. This photo shoot showed Kiki her own beauty in a way that she had never seen it before. Seeing that changes her own mental image of herself, and I was concerned about the shape of that change.

We talked afterward, as I was carefully unpinning and untangling all the extra pieces of hair to separate them from her own. This experience has been completely positive for her. She sees and understands now how very constructed all those media images are, that they are creations of concept, not reflections of a reality to which we should aspire. She’ll look at catalogs and remember the ache in her back from when she leaned the same way. Because of this photo shoot she is more able to see the artifice and know that it isn’t sustainable for any length of time. She is best off being herself in clothes that are livable. That’s a pretty good lesson for a girl who is launching into adulthood on her next birthday only weeks from now.

This is my favorite shot from the day.

It is the moment when Kiki had to figure out how to fit all of that skirt into the seat of a car. I love it because it catches her smile and catches a moment when the very ridiculousness of the beauty made us all laugh.

Placeholder for the Post about a Photography Shoot

Kiki and I spent eight hours of today participating in a photo shoot. Kiki was the model. I have many thoughts about this experience and some pictures to share. Unfortunately my brain is not making good words right now. I am too tired. I’m really glad we got to do this.