Month: February 2014

Catching Up

“I heard you were all sick. Are you feeling better?” my neighbor asked over the short fence which divides her garden from my driveway. It was a beautiful day which invited her to begin clearing her garden beds and made me wish I had time to clear mine.
“We’re still recovering.” I answered. It has become my standard answer, because while it is true to say that we’re better than we were, some of us are still not well. My answer always surprises people. In our world of modern medicine and vaccines, no one is used to seeing an illness take this long to abate. Or maybe that is just brain wiring. It takes three weeks to make a habit, which means that five weeks of illness has lasted so long that sick becomes normal.

Last night I did an hour of angry cleaning. It is the sort of cleaning I do when I want to cry about something else, so I get mad about the state of the house instead. Then I pick up all the things, because then I will have exerted control over at least one aspect of our lives. Just before I cleaned all the things is when it became obvious that Link was not going to be going back to school this morning. He’s entering is fourth week of absence and a part of me despairs if we’ll ever get back on track. But the mix of fatigue, brain fog, ongoing coughing fits, and social anxiety meant that keeping him home was the right thing to do. It wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted him to be well enough so that we could reclaim the normal patterns of our lives. Instead I’m homeschooling using assignments that we collect from teachers in the after school hours.

Then there are the small evidences that I am not tracking as I should, because I’m recovering too. I picked up Patch from school and noticed the ski lift tag on his jacket. That was when I remembered that today was the fifth grade field trip to go skiing. I looked at my son in his light jacket with no gloves and the first thing I asked was whether he’d been warm enough. He was, we were blessed with a beautiful day and he was hot from exertion rather than cold. Further conversation showed that Patch is firmly re-established in his school patterns. He’s back in the swing after missing two weeks. This is good.

The first thing I did this morning was update my to do list. It was all red because everything on it was something I’d planned to do last week, or the week before. So I rescheduled, pushed forward, canceled. I whittled it away until it was only too much, instead of way too much. I know I can’t get it all done, particularly since there is the huge unwritten task of helping Link get on top of his work and normalize his life again. But today I hit the ground running and accomplished an astonishing amount of things. I do not think it is coincidence that I have a very effective day on the day after I put exercise back into my life. So I put exercise into this day too. Because I need a day like this one tomorrow as well.

Kiki called just as I was finishing my exercise walk. She told me all about the communication she has been doing with professors and other administrators at her college. She figured out she wants to go for the more rigorous BFA because it will allow her to focus more tightly on illustration. She’s also found the paperwork she’s going to need to do in order to set up an internship for next summer. As I talked to her I realized that Kiki was also doing a really good job of finessing her mom to make sure she got to arrange her summer the way that she wants to. It was really good to hear the ways that she is taking control of her life and making plans for what comes next.

I’m told it is going to snow tomorrow. That makes me a little sad. The sunshine and fifty degree weather has me feeling like we’re coming out of the long winter of sickness. I would like it to be spring. I’d like to be caught up on all the things and hitting our deadlines instead of endlessly adjusting them. But I’ll take the snow if we can just have a week’s worth of routine work and catch up on all the things.

My Solo Presentation Day at LTUE

After writing yesterday’s blog post, the part of my brain which remembers how to do conventions woke up. I was able to think in advance and organize. This meant today I was prepared to commit commerce and to enjoy interactions with friends, fans, and others. All of this was greatly helped by the fact that Kiki arrived home from college and came to the convention with me. It is a professional event for her as well and we made a good team. She makes me laugh, which always makes the day better.

I had some conversations today that I will treasure. I can’t share them because they aren’t my stories to tell. They really aren’t about me at all. They are about the person who came to my table with a question or an observation. Then some bit of knowledge that I shared or some stray eddy of thought changed them. Because of that conversation, they walked away with a new plan or insight. I love getting to witness those moments. LTUE always provides far more of those moments than any other convention I attend. People’s lives and careers are changed. Things are made possible.

The other thing from today that I will treasure was my reading. People came, which always feels like a miracle, particularly at an event like LTUE when I know that they have to give up something else to be there. It was just us there in that room, me at the front, and an hour to focus on the words that I have written. A reading is an experience that can feel daunting or terrifying, particularly because writers often wonder if their words are good enough. I am fortunate in that I could begin with a picture book. Picture books are friendly. I pulled up a chair and announced the beginning of story time. So there I was, reading a picture book and pausing to show the pictures to the room full of adults. A small piece of my brain was sure that they were bored, particularly because the first book was one that many of them had already read to their kids. Probably more than once. That was when the second miracle occurred. They laughed. It wasn’t loud or long, just a chuckle, but it was enough to let me know that they were enjoying the story.

I switched to some essays and then finished with the first part of my novel in progress. More than once I looked up to see emotion on the faces of my audience. I wrote words, I read those words aloud, and the audience cared. What a gift to see that in action. I forget sometimes when I’m sitting in my house with my laptop that my words can reach out and cause someone else to feel, to grow, to change. That is an amazing power that writers reach for when they tell their stories. I felt humbled to actually see it working. Hours later, I’m still thinking about it and part of me is like a little child crying out “Let’s do that again!” Another part of me thinks that this reading was a special case, a gift to people in that room who needed it, one of whom was me. I’m so very grateful for the people who came and listened.

There were lots of other things about the day which went well. My brain was in full gear for my presentation: Building a Community Among Your Readers. I should blog my notes for that. It was obvious from the comments afterward that people found it useful, which is the point of having panels and presentations. They exist for the attendees. I’m relieved, because the last time I gave presentations I walked away feeling like I could have done much better. I’m also relieved that I managed to get through two hours of talking and didn’t have a coughing fit in front of an audience.

Tomorrow I’m back to being on panels. My solo day is over, which makes me both glad, because I’m not under quite as much pressure, but also sad, because I really love this sort of teaching. One more day.

The First Day of LTUE

There was a moment early in the first panel of the day where I thought “I just don’t have this in me.” I arrived to LTUE tired, not sleepy, but weary. I’m still not up to speed after being sick. We still haven’t returned to normal. I’d arrived at the event to discover how many things I’d forgotten to bring in order to stock our table. They were things I normally would not forget. Then in the panel, I was half way through a sentence when a sound in the room distracted me. I lost my place and could not find it again. I handed off the microphone and hoped I’d have a chance to speak more clearly later. I did. The panel was fine, and hopefully useful to those attending.

I just wish I could come to LTUE with my full capabilities. I love this event. I love the energy and the people. They’ve given me lots of great program items. I’m going to do my very best to give back. But I’m tired. People who know me can tell that I’m tired. Sometimes people who don’t know me can tell too. I don’t want to be tired, but I am.

I came home early, in part because I was the only one available to pick Patch up from school, but also in part because I need to conserve energy. I’ll go back tomorrow and hopefully have more energy. I’ll need it, because tomorrow is my day of solo presentations.

Life The Universe and Everything Symposium 2014

Beginning tomorrow and running through Saturday I’ll be at the Life The Universe and Everything symposium in downtown Provo. If you’re local, I highly recommend it. Attendance is FREE to anyone with a student ID. If you’re at LTUE and looking for me in particular, you should pay special attention to the Friday items. I’m giving a solo presentation and doing a reading. I’ve not yet determined whether I’ll be available for the mass signing that is scheduled for Friday evening. Here is my schedule:

Thursday 11:00am:
Why Economics Matters
Why do people build cities where they do? How do your protagonists make sure that they will be able to eat? Basic economics and how it impacts the world of your story.
Orson Scott Card, L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Dr. David Ferro, Eric Swedin, Robison Wells, Sandra Tayler

Thursday 1:00 pm
Writing Children
Aaron Johnston, J Scott Savage, Patricia K. Castelli, Lehua Parker, Sandra Tayler, Tristi Pinkston

Friday 11:00 am
Building a Community Among Your Readers
Sandra Tayler

Friday 12:00pm
Reading: Sandra Tayler

Saturday 9:00am
Self-Publishing Pros and Cons
Aneeka Richins, Fiona Ostler, Jaleta Clegg, Pendragon Inman, Sandra Tayler

Saturday 1:00pm
Using Games in the Classroom
Games can be used a teaching tool in a variety of situations. This panel discusses ways that teachers can use games in new ways, and the importance .
Karen Anne Webb, Sandra Tayler, Jaleta Clegg, Heather B Monson, Revan, Flagoon

Saturday 4:00 pm
Writing Children’s Books
Chad Morris, J Scott Savage, Mikey Brooks, Sandra Tayler, Patricia K. Castelli, Tiffini Knight

Horseback Riding, Barn Community, and Parenting

I sat wrapped in a thick coat, scarf around my neck, gloves on my hands, because the arena is not heated. In front of me is a vast swath of soft dirt pocked with the prints of the horses who have been exercised that day. Gleek sits astride one of those horses, riding in a circle on the end of a lunge line while her teacher holds the other end and calls instructions. Around and around they go, walk, trot, canter, and Gleek begins to learn the rhythms she needs to make with her body so that they match to the horse she is riding.

“She’s got a really good seat Mama.” The woman has come up to me while I was focused on the rider in front of me. I’m surprised to be addressed, because I’m in full self-erasure mode. This time with the horses is Gleek’s time. I drive her here. I observe. I do not insert myself into any of the conversations. Gleek’s interactions with the horses and with her teacher are what matter here.
“Thank you.” I answer, glancing at the woman. She isn’t really focused on me, she’s watching Gleek and the horse. I’ve noticed that among the people around the barn. Almost all of them will stop to watch horses and riders in motion. This woman isn’t really engaging with me. I’m “Mama” the sideline sitter for my daughter’s display. The woman just wanted to make an observation to an audience before she moved away to ride her own horse.

I watch Gleek as she bounces up and down, posting to the rhythm of a trot. This is not the first time I’ve been informed that Gleek has a good seat or a natural seat. I watch, trying to see what they see, but my eye is uneducated. I see my daughter on a horse. Sometimes I can tell that she is trying too hard, not letting the motions flow naturally. Other times I can tell that she’s getting it right. I listen to the calls of the teacher and I watch, but half the time when the teacher calls out “There! That’s much better!” I can’t see any difference. I don’t know enough to tell a good seat from a bad one. I can’t tell if these horse people are truly impressed or if they’re trying to be encouraging to a beginner. Either way, I’m glad for the encouragement. Each time we come, Gleek is showered with compliments that are interspersed with gentle education and corrections. It is exactly what she needs and she loves it.

The first few weeks Gleek announced “I want my own horse” as we departed the barn. I agreed that it is a good dream, but made no promises. The conversations have shifted. Now Gleek says things that start with “If I get my own horse…” She has begun to see how complex owning a horse truly can be. You don’t just go buy a horse, we need to understand what sort of a horse will meet our needs and allow Gleek to do the things she hopes to do. That means that we first have to figure out what sort of a rider Gleek is. She needs several years of riding instruction before we can truly know. Horses also require lots of infrastructure and a community of people who are willing to trade off work. We’re beginning to see how such communities work. We’re beginning to understand the ways in which life would need to wrap around horses if Gleek wants that for herself. She has so much growing to do in the next few years, it is tricky to predict what will happen.

I don’t know what these horseback riding lessons will bring. I do know what they are giving to us right now. That is all I really need to focus on. So much of parenting anxiety is generated by attempts to predict the future. Parents feel compelled to do things now because of college applications or impending adulthood. But the future is never exactly what we think it will be. When Kiki was in high school we made choices that went against the standard college prep advice. Those choices did affect her options, but she ended up at a good school that is perfectly suited for what she needs. It is far more important for me to see Gleek as she is now rather than to try to adjust now because of some imagined future.

In another month the weather will be warmer. I won’t have to huddle inside my coat on the horseback riding days. I’m also slowly learning the names of people and horses around the barn. This is part of joining the community. I will need to participate as well as Gleek. Each time we come, Gleek is smoother in the saddle. She’s begun to hold the reins as practice for the future when the lunge line will be removed. Slowly and carefully Gleek is learning skills and most of them have far more to do with self control than with controlling the horse. Around and around she goes, walk, trot, canter, learning to move with the horse. I watch because the process is interesting and because the older she gets the more I become audience to her show.

Tracking and Not Tracking

There is a thing that my brain does where it notes a thing that needs to be tracked and then tracks it. Locations of objects in the house are frequent items in the tracked queue, but it could be a phone call that needs to be made next month, or a prescription refill. Often I’m not even aware that I’m tracking. It is just that the relevant item pops into the front of my brain when the internal timer goes ping. There are times when this tendency is annoying, like when my brain decides to track and fret over things that are decidedly not my problem. Or when it tracks something that I’m trying to ignore, such as how long I’ve been waiting for a submission reply. This constant subconscious tracking definitely adds some tension and stress to my daily life because I’m constantly hounded with a sense that I need to hurry and get things done because more tasks are coming. Automatic tracking is both a blessing and a trial.

Right now it is not happening. I’m not tracking things in the back of my head. I have the few tasks in front of me, a normal quantity of things to do in a day. But when I reach into the back of my brain where I usually have a dozen little trackers ticking away, there is just nothing. It’s like a swirling fog. I’m too tired for the trackers to work. All my physiological energy is being used up by my daily tasks and by healing. It is so astonishingly quiet in my head without all that ticking. Yet I know that all the tasks have not gone away. It is just that now they’ll surprise me by suddenly being urgent. It also means that I’m letting people down. They expect me to remember meetings, to answer emails, to get things done. I can see lots of things I should be doing, particularly with picking up all the dropped threads of school work for my sons. I wear out before I can do them all.

It is like I’ve lost a super power. I know it will come back when I’m well again. I can see that things will return to normal, but I’m not there yet and it is frustrating.

Seeing and Naming the Difficulty

Tonight I miss my hammock swings and warm afternoons. Some of this is just regular mid-winter blues. Most of it is the fact that I’ve been nursing sick kids, sick me, sick husband for more than three weeks now. Logically I can see that we’re wending our way toward being well. That has been true ever since last Saturday when a doctor finally listened to me and agreed that we needed antibiotics. We’re getting better, but it is happening slowly. Today we had a set back. Link somehow contracted stomach flu. (Howard’s flu did not have a gastrointestinal component.) No idea how Link did that since he’s not gone anywhere but the doctor’s office for more than two weeks, but he’s got it. We traded post-cough vomit for empty-your-stomach vomit. I just want him to be well. I want him to have his life back. Today is not that day.

I remember reading a section of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, where the hero had been through a traumatic experience and was called on to describe that experience to someone else. The hero struggled with what words to use because it had been the hardest experience of his life and yet he knew that there were other people who’d been through even worse things. No one wants to be mid-lament, only to look around and realize that everyone else thinks you’re making a big deal out of a small thing. On the other hand, I’ve also had the experience of telling my story to an audience who then is so aghast at what I’ve been through that they then have their own grieving process because of my words. It is hard to know, in advance, how a difficult story will be received.

So the past few weeks have been very depressing and isolating for me. They could have been far worse. I was always aware that illness arrived with an expiration date. Whooping cough lasts 6-10 weeks, it is just that when you’re on week three of exhausted sickness, “only three to seven weeks to go” just doesn’t feel comforting. With the exception of the quarantined days, we were able to take care of ourselves. But I was far more tired and less focused than is usual for me. Howard suffered from flu and was even worse. I narrowed my focus, then narrowed it some more. During the first week of absences, I tried to contact teachers and collect homework. But then the kids were too sick to do the work anyway and I didn’t have the emotional energy to talk to more teachers. My well of sympathy tapped out to the point where my kids would need it and I had none to give. I let it all slide.

Part of me wants to qualify all of this by saying our lives were never in danger. And they weren’t, not really. Whooping cough is miserable but only dangerous to the very young and very old. Yet in those gasping moments when coughing has emptied my lungs and my throat has spasmed shut, my body was convinced it was going to die. For a minute or three I would alternate between coughing and gasping. Repetition taught me that I wouldn’t die. Logically I knew I wouldn’t, but adrenaline surged anyway, the body’s instinctive reaction to obstructed airways. I was shaky and weepy afterward. So were my kids when it happened to them. I would sit in my house and hear the whooping coughs resound from all over the house. I hated that sound with an adrenaline-driven vehemence. I can’t imagine what it would be like to try to tend a baby or toddler through those coughing fits. It could have been so much worse. That knowledge makes me feel like I’m just whinging.

But I am not. I am trying to record an experience so that I remember. So that when someone I know becomes ill, I can remember how much small kindnesses meant to me. So that I can remember what things I most needed and I can then offer those things. I’m not going to expect me to transform into an angel of mercy quite yet. We’re still recovering. I’ve still got to figure out what things I’m going to attempt next week and which things I will continue to ignore. because I can only do so much.

I’m also recording this, because there is no suffering Olympics. It is not a competition where some suffering is deemed worthy of sympathy and other suffering is not. I’m allowed to complain. I need to remember that, because I’m not very good at letting myself recognize my own negative emotions. I am allowed to complain when things feel hard, even if I think that someone else would be happy to trade for my hard things. It has been hard. It is still hard even though we’re on the way to being better.

The Things We Bring with us to Stories

Over on twitter, someone was expressing love for Anna over Elsa in the movie Frozen. I opined that Elsa was the more interesting character. The other person disagreed. Then I had to figure out why I thought Elsa was more interesting. I think Elsa is more compelling because I know Gleek, who desperately needs more of Elsa’s story. She is trapped, liable to do damage on accident, and really needs to see a path toward self-acceptance and balance. I cry at Frozen and at the songs from Frozen because of the person I know who needs that story.

Disney has done a really good job lately of hitting pockets of emotion for me. Rapunzel from Tangled reminded me greatly of my somewhat mercurial and artistic Kiki. Brave brought me face to face with some of my emotional tangles about motherhood, decorum, and freedom. I’m not saying that Disney is always getting it right, but they’re doing a fine job of actually tackling some of these things. Thoughts on all of this led me to tweet:

How we react to a story depends greatly on the baggage we’re carrying when we arrive at the beginning of it.

I’ve heard from people who were flat out bored by Frozen. I know others that love it. I know people who are very concerned about subtext in the lyrics. I know others who felt like the whole movie was silly fun, without depth. All of these people saw the same film. The difference is what they brought with them when they entered the theater.

Thinking About Revision

A week ago I printed out the full draft of my sister’s novel. Then I read through it making notes as I went. I stuck post-it notes in the places with large plot problems and wrote in the margins for smaller ones. This afternoon I spent a couple of hours talking with my sister about problems and possibilities. It was really fun. The book needs work, but it is not broken.

After we got off the phone, I realized how much I want to do that for my own book. I want to have a completed draft and then begin fixing it. Revision is exciting for me, because it requires seeing the project anew. But before I can do that, I have to finish a draft.

At the End of a Very Long Week

I’ve been thinking about cutting my hair. Especially in the last few days thoughts of cutting my hair have been increasingly common. This is not because I want short hair, or any particular haircut at all. I just want something to be different. That “want something to be different” is being projected onto my hair because the last few weeks have been so miserable. We’ve been sick, Link has been miserable, and my head has not been clear enough to see how to navigate any better. I want to be able to control something, and hair is easy to change. (Though harder to change back.)

We’re not out of the woods yet as far as being sick goes. Though today I’m catching glimmers of light which have me believing that the woods edge actually exists. Some days I wasn’t so sure about that. I can now imagine that we’ll have a day with no post-cough vomit in it and that day may arrive between now and Monday. I don’t yet believe in days with no coughing. I’ll just be happy if we can keep coughing below the threshold where bystanders fear for the coughing person’s life. It would be lovely if Patch could go back to school next week. Even lovelier if Link could as well.

LTUE is next week. If your near Provo Utah and are at all interested in writing or in discussions of Science Fiction and Fantasy, I definitely recommend that you attend. I’ve got an array of program items and I’m hopeful that tomorrow I’ll have a chance to begin planning for them. I know lots of other people who are fantastic and will be teaching on amazing topics. It is a symposium that is well worth your time.

Howard will be at RadCon in Washington. He’ll have books there. I know because I mailed them on Tuesday. He’ll also have almost 40 pieces of art available in the art show. I mailed those today. The only thing left to do is pack up Howard and send him. We’ll do that next Thursday.

I still hate the gasping, whooping sound that accompanies so many of the coughs in our house. It is like being strangled by your own throat muscles 15-20 times per day. But we’re coughing less and sometime in the next month we’ll be done coughing. Ultimately the swabs testing for pertussis came up negative, so there is some question about whether that is what we have. The county health lady with whom I’ve been exchanging email suggested parapertussis, which I didn’t even know existed. It is like pertussis-lite and not covered by vaccines. However if our experience has been “light” then pertussis is deadly and everyone should be re-vaccinated. I am of the opinion that if something quacks like a duck, flies like a duck, and swims like a duck, I’m just going to call the thing a duck and treat it accordingly. So I’m going to continue to call it whooping cough.