Month: July 2013

Five More Weeks of Summer

It was mid-afternoon yesterday when the trucking company called and fractured my attention for the rest of the day. Four pallets of books, 5000 copies, will be arriving at my house tomorrow afternoon. We have suddenly shifted into book shipping season and I wasn’t expecting to hit that until the middle of next week. Early is good though. It means I can ship books to GenCon with a comfortable margin to spare. It means that Howard has more time to get the sketching done. Yet there is this list of things I wanted to complete before the books arrived and now I’ll be running things in parallel, which is more normal than not, but I keep dreaming of finishing tasks before starting other tasks.

We’ve entered the middle of summer muddle. This is when Howard and I look at the shamble of our schedule and have a conversation about how we really should be getting up before 9 am and also perhaps regular meals would be better for the children than letting them forage through the cupboards. I’m not yet to the point where I look forward to having school as a provider of schedule in our lives. I may never reach that point this summer because the onset of school brings with it challenges that sound exhausting. However I do wish that our days had more structure without me having to be the one to create and maintain it. I’m far too prone to letting the structure go wibbly wobbly.

It does feel like the arrival of the books this afternoon will tip us over into the approach to summer’s end. We have five weeks and that time begins to feel short for all the things we have to do. For Kiki it feels quite long she’s ready to begin her college adventures now. Among the things I’d like to do in the next five weeks are some of those summer activities, like swimming, that we’ve yet to do. Sometimes I feel vaguely guilty about that, because summer is when families go on trips and see relatives. Instead we’ve mostly stayed home. I’ve got five weeks. I should do something more with them.

Prayers for the Coming School Year

It is too early to be thinking about the coming school year. Yet taking Kiki to her college orientation filled my head with concerns and fervent prayers for what is coming.

May my college bound Kiki quickly adapt to her new habitat, let her find friends who are enough like her that she feels comfortable, and enough different that her horizons broaden. Let her learn her own limits and discover she is stronger than she expects. Let her miss home enough to call once in a while, but not so much that she can’t embrace the newness that college has to offer.

May high school bound Link learn how to navigate a new social environment which involves hanging out with girls and listening to what they have to say. Let him find friends and places where he feels fully himself, even if he is surprised to discover that he is different than he thought he was. Let him find ways to be kind and of service to others because that always makes him happier.

May junior high Gleek be stressed enough to bring out some of her anxiety so that we can help her learn strategies to manage it, but help her not be so stressed that those anxieties overwhelm her. Let her find friendships in unexpected places, but avoid the notice of insecure peers who are seeking targets. May she use her strength to defend others and help her school be a friendlier place.

May Patch learn to manage elementary school without an older sibling there as security. Let him find his own inner strength and self confidence. Help him know that making mistakes is not the end of anything and learn to change his plans when the world does not go as he expects.

May all of us here at home adapt to having Kiki gone, with the younger kids stepping up and learning new responsibility. Yet let us always be ready to make space for her to return.

Change is coming, there is no way for us to adapt to in in advance, so may we rest this summer and adapt quickly when the time comes.

Writing Thoughts

My friends write books. They do this a lot. I watch them write. Not in person, that would be kind of creepy, but via their social media posts or when we get together then we talk about the book they are writing and how it is going. It is rarely the same book. My opening question is not “how is your book going?” but “which book are you working on now?” Because each friend writes books, plural. More than one book. They live in plot and story. I watch them mid conversation, when we’re talking about something else and just for a moment their brain shutters over, and I know that my friend has had a writing thought and filed it away for later. I’ve had that experience, had a story live in my brain and snatch bits and pieces of my day to be part of it. I’ve written more than one story. What I have failed to do is sit down and write regularly.

I’m quite able to point at my life and say, “but look how busy I was.” I will be telling the truth, no one will argue that I live my life in an insanely busy way. I keep trying to slow down and not doing that either. The thing is my writer friends are also busy, but they write fiction anyway. Lately I have been watching them more, as if that would help me figure out how it is done, but watching won’t reveal a secret. There isn’t one. People who write books, plural, are people who choose to sit down and write instead of sitting down and doing something else.

Then I have to ask myself the question, how important is it that I write? Because the world is full of things I can do. Some of them may be better uses of my time than writing fiction. What does my fiction matter when weighed on a scale of all the things I could have done with the hours I’m allotted daily? Sometimes our lives are measurably better if I spend time on laundry instead of typing. Yet the regular processing of laundry from dirty to clean does not feel like adding something of import to the universe, it is merely the front lines of beating back entropy. When I ponder the worth of my writing, knowing other writers hampers me some, because I know the hard stories. I know about the beloved books that did not sell. I know about the months, weeks, and years spent waiting for some kind of response from the glacially slow publishing process. In social media it is word counts, interviews, and book releases. Behind the scenes are two years of work put into a book that will never see print. I have one of those books. It reminds me that work does not always equal success. So I can’t dive into the work of writing with a rosy eyed dream that as soon as I’m done my book will be packaged and put into the hands of readers.

I sometimes envy writers who are able to dream. One of my friends said that she’s not sure she could write a book without believing it will be published. I wonder if that is why I have not been writing. Things have calmed down. July has gifted me with enough time to write and I have not been using that time for writing. I am sadly jaded before my first novel is even written. It makes turning away very attractive. There are so many things I could do. Good things. I should spend more time with the kids. I should organize the house. I should reconnect with my friends and communities. I should pull the weeds from my flowerbeds. I should look around and see who needs help. In comparison, writing feels selfish, a thing I do that takes me away from all of the other things rather than something that connects me to others. And that is sad, because the point of story is to travel between people. My finished stories don’t go very far. Ah, but there I’ve spotted a lie in my brain. Hold Onto Your Horses keeps filtering outward, making friends, bringing happiness. It is the reminder that sometimes a book doesn’t make a big splash, but it keeps going and existing for a very long time. I think of that and I find a little pocket of hope because I love my novel Amelia and her eponymous protagonist. I would love for her to go out in the world and make friends. I’m not sure I can believe in publishing success for me, but I can hope for it for her. Which is a weird mental trick, but I suppose if it lets me finish writing the book, I’ll take it.

I Found Time to Garden

The casual passerby out for a walk would not look at my flower beds and intuit that I am a person who enjoys weeding. Surely a person who enjoys pulling weeds would not let crab grass grow waist high until the flowering plants are nearly choked to death. Yet I do. The trouble is that I forget that weeding is an activity which makes me happy. I wait for the right conjunction of weather, available time, and energy instead of arranging so that those things will overlap.

This evening I rescued my baby butterfly bush from the grass. I am quite happy to see that it has not died. I planted it last fall, but I feared that the cold winter had killed it and then I worried that neglect would do the same. But now it stands in a space of bare earth, putting forth its first flowers. Perhaps next week I’ll be able to rescue the peonies and day lilies. In late August I hope to begin putting new plants into the ground. For once I would like to end the gardening season with the weeds in retreat. I hope for that most years, but perhaps this is the year that I will succeed. If I can just get the plants into the ground, then some of them will thrive despite my neglect. I like that about plants.

Tipping Over the Midpoint of Summer

Something shifted the last few days. The kids went from being happy to ignore me unless they were hungry to seeking me out to tell me things. Last night Kiki flopped herself on my bed and spent over an hour talking through college thoughts, growing up thoughts, future parenting thoughts, and what she is looking for in a future spouse thoughts. In the end I had to send her to bed because I could see that late night fatigue was starting to cause her to dwell on the negatives instead of the hopefuls. In Kiki’s case much of this was triggered by the overnight college orientation that she’ll be attending on Monday. It will be her first sampling of the year to come.

This morning Gleek came to me and told me every single detail about the dream she had. It was full of memory-fragments spun through a kaleidoscope and assembled into a sort-of narrative, which is much like most dreams. The details of her dream did not matter, my listening to it was really important. I was able to talk to her about dreams and help her pull out the relevant emotional content of this particular dream, which was that I was not in the dream and yet I was always there. She woke from the dream wanting to be with me.

At bedtime I lay down next to Patch and waited to see what he would talk to me about. He uses those quiet moments to unpack his brain before sleeping. Mostly it was about the current video game of choice. I listened, not because I care about the game, but because I care about the boy.

Link has not yet come to talk to me, but then he’s less likely to chat than the other kids. On the other hand, he’s more likely to seek me out to ask me things and request permission.

We’ve reached the midpoint of summer. The kids are shifting, ready for something more than just hanging around the house, but not yet ready to focus on school. I should probably schedule some family outings, times when we’ll get out of the house to go do things like swim. I’m starting to feel ready for these sorts of things. Though continuing to hide in work and electronic things also has its appeal. I do think it is time to venture forth more lest the summer get away from us completely.

Being Social

When I am under stress, I pull back from socializing. In March I pulled back from some social things I was in the habit of doing. Then in April I deliberately dropped several more. In May and June I didn’t notice their absence. I was far too busy managing things and then recovering from managing things. Then last week I realized that I missed my friends. This week I’m catching up with several. I’m still not committing to anything regular or ongoing. I need weather the coming school transitions before I can predict how much social energy I will have available. As I told a friend earlier this week, we may transition smoothly into school, but I rather expect some sort of emotional storm. The storm is not here yet and it is much better if I spend these weeks happy rather than fretting. So I am visiting friends.

Computer Troubleshooting Again

After my last post in which I talked about my computer crashing woes. I had a couple of really helpful responses suggesting that the problem might be bad RAM. This was quite useful because I’d been thinking that everything inside the box was cleared as good, when that was not the case. The symptoms pointed to a hardware issue. So this morning I took my crash log and my computer over to Mireya at JPL Computers. She opened it up and helped me test all the RAM inside individually. This mostly consisted of putting each piece of RAM in all by itself and then seeing if the machine would boot. We found one stick of questionable RAM and one slot that was dusty. We reassembled it and checked it twice. No troubles booting.

I brought it home, plugged it in, and it crashed. I pulled out all of the old RAM, leaving only the brand new RAM. It crashed. I tried to think what could possibly be different in my house from when it worked fine in the store. Then I tipped the computer over to lay on its side. We had done all the testing with the panel open and the computer on its side. I restarted the computer and it has run without crashing since 5pm.

I’m not done with the trouble shooting, but my current theory involves a short or loose part. This afternoon I hurried to get my accounting done. Every momentary pause in response made me fear another crash. So I plowed through, getting as much work done in the window of time while the computer had decided to work. I didn’t get through all of it. I ran out of brain, so hopefully the computer will also work tomorrow.

As a tangential note, this whole experience has taught me not to think of a computer as a magic box, but instead as a conglomeration of bits any of which might break. I feel more competent now, but I would like to move on to the part where my magic box just does the work I ask it to do without causing me stress.

Editorial Work

This afternoon I carried all of the Schlock books and arranged them on a kitchen table for a photo. We’re opening pre-orders for The Body Politic tomorrow morning, which meant I had to create store items for the new book and for the nine book bundle.

I left the books where they were while I edited the photo and created the store item. Howard wandered through and looked at the array. “These are all the books you made.” I looked up from my laptop, confused for a moment. Then I realized he was right. Howard drew the comics, but I did the design and editorial work on all nine of the books. Howard is the author and creator, but the finished books are mine as well.

I’ve been pondering editorial work as I work on assembling the Jay Wake Book. My job is to create a framework and to remain as invisible as possible. That book must belong to the contributors, not to me. Yet I care deeply about the project. Many of the submissions have brought me to tears. If I didn’t I could not do a good job with it. An editor must be objective enough to see how a thing could be better and passionate enough about the work to understand what it needs and to put in the hours necessary to help it get there. I care very much about the Jay Wake Book, yet my emotions are not so raw that the process of creation hurts at every step. Mostly though, I feel honored to be able to be a part of such a creation.

I like making books.


I had to call customer support because the postage printing program would not load. The tech person listened to my description and started on his list of “customer’s firewall is blocking our program” trouble shooting steps. Except that every step showed that I’d already unblocked and allowed. He decided that there must be something wrong with my router and that I should consult with my “IT department” to get it fixed. Except I’d already told him twice that I am the IT department. By then I was tired and half convinced that computers did not work they way I thought they did. After I got off the phone I made some additional notes on the problem, like the fact that I was perfectly able to use their program and reach their servers to install an update, but not to log in. This was not a firewall problem. And in fact, the next morning my “firewall problem” had magically vanished. I was brutally honest on the survey they sent me a day later. No their tech was not helpful. It was their problem and he was either clueless or not willing to admit it.

The kids had an argument in the backyard. This time it was Patch in the center of the conflict instead of Gleek who is usually the one who buts heads with this particular neighbor child. In fact Patch has been more volatile lately, almost certainly because of the randomness of our summer schedule. It is time for me to step back up and put more structure into our days. I will primarily accomplish this by serving meals on a regular schedule.

My computer has been freezing and crashing lately. I trip to our local computer store shows that all the components pass diagnostic tests with flying colors. They were not able to replicate the crashes. So I brought it home and it worked without error for several days. Then it began crashing again. I’ve been taking notes, what programs were running, what I was doing. What I changed. All of these things go into the crash log. So far the only consistent element is that the computer was on while it crashed. I’ll have a full day running InDesign, firefox, photoshop, and USB drives without trouble. Then it crashes when only firefox is running. Sometimes it crashes when nothing is running. I’ll just return to my desk and it will have crashed while I was gone. Once it crashed while trying to restart. I keep making notes and hoping that a fix will become apparent. In between I try to get work done and hope that this will be one of the days when it works as it should. I watch and I try not to flinch any time a program pauses for a moment.

Many of my online and in person friends are writers. Lately I’ve been watching what they post about word counts. I don’t care to compare the numbers, but I’m definitely seeing a pattern. My friends who complete books are the ones who write or think about writing every day. That is not the kind of person I’ve been during the last years. I’ve written a book’s worth of blog entries each year. One year I also wrote/revised an essay book in addition to the ongoing blog entries. This week it hit home to me that if I want Amelia (my book in progress) to be complete, I need to put in the time. I haven’t been. Not for a long time. I’m not going to make any sort of vow or promise. I don’t intend to create a goal or resolution. But I worked on the outline yesterday and again today. I need that outline so that when I have days where I can’t see very far, I have some instructions to follow.

My house is cleaner than it was a month ago. When life is less full of things I find the time to do things like rallying the children to organize the garage. It was a cluttered accumulation of garbage and misplaced items. We sorted and swept. It looks worlds better. Now I can see where to begin with the major reorganization that it needs. We should finally admit that we are not camping people and let go some of the odds and ends that have been taking up space in our lives for years. I love quiet open spaces and I create them when I have enough space in my head to realize that I want them.

It is strange to have a car that I really love. I’ve always driven a vehicle which was chosen to meet our family needs rather than according to my preferences. This new car, which is still seeking a name, keeps making me happy.

It is late, I should probably start making good on my intention to get to bed earlier as part of resetting the family schedule.

Fourth of July

There is always a moment at the beginning of the festival of fireworks when I look around at the chaos of kids running and burning objects, sometimes kids running with burning objects, and I feel a strong desire to call a halt to the whole thing. But then it settles down. The kids become more content to watch from the curb as the daylight wanes. Either that, or they’ve vanished into the back yard with glow bracelets to play their own games. This leaves only a few people running out to the middle of the street to light the aerials that shoot into the sky to explode.

I always think of “the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air” when I am surrounded by booming and colorful bursts on all sides.

I was aware that I ought to spend some of the Fourth of July contemplating freedom. The first sight this morning was the view of a flag through my doorway window. Yet my mind slipped away from serious contemplation. I alternated between working and relaxing. We did not participate in any public events, choosing instead to contemplate a canopy of green leaves as seen from a hammock. This is an expression of freedom I suppose, to enjoy the luxuries that others sacrificed so that I could have. I was conscious of my privileges today because they are a gift. Other years we have attended balloon launches, parades, and festivals. This year it felt good to just be at home. In the evening we cooked food on the grill and enjoyed fireworks with neighbors.

Our cat was less pleased with the day.

We kept her indoors for the most explosive hours of the evening, but she was still skittish and obviously trying to make sense of a world gone crazy. This is always a hard day for pets.

Tomorrow we’ll be back to work, which makes me glad. We have good work to do.