Month: April 2014

Drifting Day

I finished the Strength of Wild Horses shipping except for a few odds and ends. I expected to spend today clearing those away and preparing for Kiki to come home tomorrow. Instead my brain declared a jellyfish day and I’ve accomplished very little. Or rather, I’ve done some important things, but not in any sort of a focused way. That four hour nap was crucial to my ability to drive safely tomorrow. So I meandered my way through the day, getting the most important things done. Everything else will sit until Friday.

It turns out that after a sufficient period of focused drive, my brain just stops and I drift for a bit. If I embrace the drift and let it happen, then I can get moving again on a different day. Excuse me, there’s a hammock there outside my window and it needs someone to sit in it for awhile.

Learning to Divide the Load

At 2am this morning I had a brilliant opening sentence for this blog post. My brain worked, crafted, and whittled to make sure I had a sentence that was balanced and clever. Of course at that hour I was attempting to be asleep and so I did not get up and write it down. Naturally I can’t recall it this morning, partially because my brain is fogged from lack of sleep. Stupid brain.

I haven’t been writing much in these past few weeks. I’m juggling too many things and holding them all in my head. The logical thing to do would be to reach out to one of my many willing friends and say “Hey, can you help me with this?” That would make a lot of sense. Tasks like shipping 300 Strength of Wild Horses packages would be far more enjoyable with company. The trouble is that the things to do arrive in such small pieces. I always have trouble deciding that this one additional email means that I should stop and figure out how to reconfigure the load so someone else can help me carry it. It always seems like stopping to shift things around will delay progress. Surely I should just carry on. Besides, other people are busy too. I don’t want to bother them.

I want to say that this “do it myself” tendency is some sort of virtue or at least not a symptom of pride, but I suspect the opposite is true. It is a flaw which frequently leads to me being overwhelmed. I don’t have to be. Many people have told me on many occasions that they’re happy to help out. Yet somehow I always fail to stop and decide to divide the load.

I’m hoping to change this when Kiki gets home from college. She’s going to spend the summer with us dividing her time between art commissions and being a Tayler Corporation employee. I will have someone in my house to whom I can assign work because she is getting paid. I’m certain it will not all be sunshine and roses. I’m still going to have to fight my tendency to not want to bother other people. Yet hopefully by the time she heads back to college, I’ll have learned some things about where hired help is helpful in my business processes. Also hopefully, I will have figured out how to budget and pay for that help. It will be a learning experience for us both.

Of course between now and Thursday when I drive to fetch her from school, I have much work to do. Not the least of this work is turning our dungeon basement room into a space that Kiki can live in for three months without feeling opressed by the bare concrete walls. We don’t have the money to fund framing and finishing. Instead I’ve put up sheetrock on the one framed wall and I’ll be hanging unbleached muslin over the remaining concrete. ($40 can cover most of the room.) The walls will still be hard to the touch, but hopefully we can trade Dungeon-bedroom for blanket-tent bedroom, which seems lots cozier, if still odd. Planning how to make it work is one of the things my brain was considering late last night while also crafting the perfect blog opening.

Perhaps I’ll do some before and after pictures later today. For now, I need to head over to the warehouse. I have 90 more packages to mail and then I can call the SWH shipping complete.

Learning is not Always Fun

I read a blog called Mayaland. I love reading Maya’s blog. Her approach to life and raising kids warms my heart. They have adventures, a pond which sometimes has a turtle, a dog, there used to be goats, and they build houses out of found parts. I truly respect Maya for the life she has built and how she is raising her kids.

Maya unschools her kids. This is a form of homeschooling that doesn’t require structure or formal lessons. Instead it lets the kids follow their own interests. Maya wrote about how it works for them. I’m so glad that it does work for her family, but that post made me cry. In particular, this sentence hit me hard:
“learning is easy when you’re having fun”
Because I do not think that all learning can be fun for all people. I do not believe that a dyslexic child, left to herself, will automatically learn how to read when she is “ready.” There are a host of other challenges and disabilities which act as road blocks to learning because the associated activities can’t be fun. At least not until a certain level of skill is acquired first. Yes it is possible to use future fun as an incentive to get over the hard bits, but for some people learning itself is hard. Worthwhile, rewarding, but hard.

I remember fourteen years ago when my two and a half year old son was tested for developmental delays. That test revealed much, as did the classes and education that came afterward. The classes taught me how to teach him. My son did not know how to communicate beyond a couple dozen words. He did not even know how to point to indicate something he wanted. Toddlers point and insist on the things they want. They demand and reach to communicate. My son didn’t. The teachers gave me a simple activity to teach my son how to point. An M&M candy in a cup with a black dot on it. I put my son’s finger to the dot and gave him the candy. We played the game four times and the lights went on. Suddenly he pointed at all the things he wanted and his world was larger. A simple adult-structured activity gave him a tool that enabled him. Yet that first time, I had to grab his hand and put his finger on the dot. I had to push him to do something that did not come naturally to him.

When the time came to teach my son to read, I used exactly the book that Maya dismisses as a waste of time. I didn’t need a structured reading program for my older child. She took to reading easily, but my son needed someone to break things down for him. He needed smaller steps, different steps. Truthfully, he probably would have been content to grow up without ever learning to read. He’s sixteen now and still does not seek out reading, but the fact that he can read enables his life in hundreds of ways. I suppose it is possible that left to himself, he would have tackled reading in his own time. But back in first, second, third grade I had to choose whether to push or to let him continue not knowing. I chose to push, to create structured activities, to insist that he learn skills that I knew would make his world a larger place. It was learning to read that finally taught him how to speak comprehensibly to the world at large.

My son has an auditory processing disorder. All language was scrambled on the way into his brain. This was a large part of his developmental delays. It was why, even at ten years old, he spoke in sentences that sounded like he’d thrown the words into a cup and pulled them out in random order. Given context and familiarity with him, we could figure out what he meant. But when he started reading sentences, he finally learned that spoken sentences should have a natural rhythm and order. Requiring him to learn to read made it possible for me to talk to my son, and that is truly worthwhile. He is amazing inside his head. He sees things that I don’t. He thinks in ways that are unique to him and now he can share that with me when he couldn’t before. It is possible that his innate brilliance would have eventually led him to read without my structured lessons, but I would have missed out on years of being able to talk to him. I don’t regret those years, nor the educational pushing that gave them to me.

My choices are different than Maya’s, which does not mean that either of us is wrong. It just means that we have diverse challenges, children, resources, and capabilities. We definitely agree that people learn best when the process is enjoyable. I structured my son’s lessons in games as often as I could, because games spoke to him. I just think there is also value in learning that comes in ways that require a person to do something hard that they dislike.

Enjoying Spring

Spring is hope. I breathe it in the mild air. I see it on all the trees which have begun to leaf out after looking dead all winter. Spring is when the world turns green again after the darkness. For the first half of my life I did not have a favorite season. Ever since I went through a dark winter which included radiation therapy, Spring has been my favorite. Summer is good. Autumn is fine. Winter can be beautiful, though it wears at my spirits. Spring is hope. I like hope.

My kids feel the hope too. Yesterday Patch’s teacher requested a quick meeting with me, and my heart sank, because the last two quick meetings about Patch were filled with concern about the levels of anxiety he carries. This one was markedly different. “He’s doing so well.” She said. “It’s almost like he’s a different child.” We talked for awhile, trying to figure out what caused the change. Maybe it was his long-time best friend moving back into town. Maybe it was when we passed the anniversary of when everything fell apart last year. Maybe it is the cello lessons which are giving him confidence. Maybe he’s finally made peace with the fact that life changes. Maybe it’s because Kiki comes home next week. Or maybe he just blooms in the springtime like the flowers do. I’ve seen it year after year. He struggles in the winter and is happier come Spring. But each year he struggles less and blooms more, so it is progress of sorts.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told “It’s like he’s a different child” by teachers, though sometimes the pronoun is “she” instead. It is one of the reasons that I was able to survive last year. I knew that the struggles were not our destiny forever. I don’t know if all kids go through cycles where they flounder, turn inward, lash out, and worry the adults who love them. I’d like to think so, rather than believing that my kids have more intense experiences than average. In the hardest moments I look at my child and know that the capability to soar is in there, that they have to find it themselves, and once the child taps into it, everyone around will say “It’s like she’s a different child.” No. She is what she has always been. He is what he has always been. It is just that the potential has burst forth, and where there were only bare branches, now there are blooms.

We have five weeks until summer. Technically summer doesn’t begin until June 21st, but for all practical purposes, once school lets out–it is summer. It feels like we’re heading into a season of summer for our emotional lives as well. We had our year of transition. Now it would be nice to have a year of stability and plenty. A year where the kids all stay in the same schools and we enjoy a quiet routine. We’re almost there, but I’m not going to rush forward. Because it is spring now, and spring is a season to be relished.

Tending and Blooming

I used to be a gardener. It is still a thing that I love and someday I will again make time to tend the ground and grow flowers. Right now it is simply not as important to me as a dozen other projects that I have. I find time to get outside and beat back the weeds, but that is not the same as being a focused gardener. A tended garden is a thing of beauty. My garden is a wilderness where plants have a survival-of-the-fittest battle with only occasional intervention from me. I’m pleased that sometimes the flowers win.

Every year Thanksgiving Point Gardens hosts a tulip festival. I always intend to go. One year I even scheduled an outing to go, but then one of my kids picked that day to pretend to be sick. All of the other years, at least five or six of them, I simply missed the window. Somehow the two weeks in April when the tulips are in full bloom always were busy. I would look up at the end of the month and realize that I’d missed my chance yet again.

This morning, for the first time ever, I didn’t miss it. My friend said “Do you want to go?” and I said “Yes.” So we both ditched our piles of work and we wandered the gardens.

Beauty can be found wild, in untended corners, or even wide open spaces. Yet there is an art to a tended garden, I walk there and I know that it is loved because someone had to get down on hands and knees and dig. They had to get dirty, tired, and sweaty to make sure that all goes well. A tended garden takes a sacrifice of time. I’ve spent my last few years tending other things. This year I’m watching my children bloom when last year was life torn up, mud, and despair. Sometimes tending something is like that, you have to make a big mess before beauty can happen. I’ve also tended many books and last week I got to see them arrayed in a booth where others could see the results of all those invisible hours. My garden is full of weeds, but my life is full of things that are beautiful because of the effort I’ve put into them. So perhaps I am still a gardener, just not of flowers right now.

Some Updates

One day of laying down and watching shows all day with breaks only for eating and sleeping. A second day of slow-paced work where I’m not particularly efficient, but things get done. Then on the third day I feel normal again. Thus does the regular pattern of our lives reassert itself after the massive strain of FanX. News reports put the attendance at the show as over 100,000 people. This means it is the largest show that Utah has ever seen and it begins to rival San Diego Comic con for size. We only saw the portions of the crowd that made their way past our booth. Since the aisles were wider than last year, it actually felt less crowded. The show went much better, but we’re still not convinced that a massive show like this is a good return on investment for us. When I finished all the math on hours and dollars, we made around $10 per hour. That’s much improved over last year’s $0 per hour, but still not great money. We may give this one more shot with yet another experimental configuration of booth and people.

But that is not my focus for this week. I’m just trying to re-establish normal patterns, because we haven’t had them for two weeks between spring break and massive convention. I’m also fighting the spring impulse to just let everything slump because we only have five weeks left in the school year. Instead I’m trying to re-establish healthy eating, homework, and chores for all of us. I’m also looking at the plants growing in my yard and remembering that I should really get out there with some tools to beat back the weeds.

I’m also looking at fulfilling Kickstarter promises. I’ve got Strength of Wild Horses to ship. (It arrived last Wednesday while I was in Salt Lake setting up the booth. So I didn’t get to greet the truck or write a lovely post about happiness and triumph. Hopefully those words will come to me when I’m doing the shipping days.) I’ve got challenge coin stories to sort.

The third thing on my plate this week is prepping for Kiki to come home. Nine days and she’s here for the summer. This makes all of us glad, as evidenced by the fact that when I’m on a skype video call with her, all the other kids come flocking. Kiki and Link got nostalgic for our old Nintendo 64 during their portion of the conversation, so now Link wants to pull it out and see if he can make it work. I recall that it was flaky because it had been accidentally pulled off the cabinet a few too many times back in the days when all controllers had cords.

So that’s how things are here.

Altered Perceptions

When I wrote Married to Depression I mentioned Robison Wells whose experiences with mental illness were pivotal in convincing Howard to seek help. The severity of Rob’s struggles far outstrip what Howard and I deal with, yet Rob continues to turn his struggles to good purpose. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Rob is now insured for the first time in years, unfortunately he spent most of his diagnosis and treatment cycles with no insurance at all. His mental health related medical debt is large and the weight of that debt increases his struggles with panic disorder. As a person whose anxiety is heavily linked to finances, my heart goes out to him.

This is why I’m supporting the Altered Perceptions anthology. The book will contain my essay Married to Depression. It also has a very personal piece from Howard which illustrates his depression from inside his head. Howard was a little afraid to let me read his piece, because he worried it would make me cry. It did, because it so accurately portrays moments that we’ve had. Most of the anthology will be filled with alternate endings and deleted chapters from many popular book series. The list of authors involved is impressive. I invite you to go take a look and please consider supporting this fundraiser. It can change lives.

Recovery Day

The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant. – Eleventh Doctor

Howard and I are both exhausted from FanX. Our bodies and brains have no reserves left and we’re ready to hibernate until we’ve replenished. We keep having small conversations about the show and all the smaller events that were part of it. Sometimes we’re exploring the shape of a thing that was hard. Other times we are recalling a moment that was rewarding. Bit by bit we’re sorting our experiences into the pile of good things and the pile of hard things. Over all, I think the “good thing” pile is bigger, but we still need to figure out how to manage a massive event like this without it costing us so much. That “good thing” pile is not winning by enough. The “bad thing” pile needs to be smaller. We’re beginning to have ideas about how to make that happen, so I guess there is a third pile, the “ideas for Comic Con in September” pile. Some of the bad things we have no control over, like the show floor hours. (11 hours is an insanely long time for the dealer’s hall to be open.) All the piles are accumulating, we’ll still be sorting for awhile.

The other thing my brain is trying to do today, is remember where I left off with all the other things in my life. Everything was put on hold for a week and now I’ve got to find all the loose ends and get moving again. My brain sorts that, while my body just wants to lay still and sleep.

Revisiting: Sympathetic Vibration and Depression

On this third day of the massive comic convention in Salt Lake City, I expect I am completely brain frazzled, which is why I’ve scheduled this post in advance. Since I wrote this post, I’ve written Married to Depression, which covers the topic more thoroughly, but in this one you can see I’m trying to get a handle on how to manage Howard’s depression in the era before he went to a doctor. I originally wrote it in 2012 and then revised for my book Cobble Stones 2012. You can find the book in our store for only $5. I don’t have an e-book edition at this time.

Sympathetic Vibration and Depression

If you slowly press down the C key on a piano so that the hammer does not strike the string, and then you keep the key pressed so that the dampers remain lifted, that string is now sitting free inside the piano. Take a different finger and play a different C somewhere on the keyboard. Just push and let go so that the second string plays and then is dampened. You can hear the free string still vibrating in tune with the other. This is resonance, also known as sympathetic vibration. The two strings vibrate at the same frequency, which means that they can cause each other to sound.

I am in tune with the people in my household. I pick up whatever sound it is that they are playing. I have my own music, naturally, but if two or three members of my family are playing mournful songs, I pick up on that. Even when I am trying not to, my heartstrings will vibrate sympathetically. Sympathy is a good trait to have in a relationship, yet often what is needed is not sympathy but harmony or counterpoint. When Howard is depressed, he doesn’t need me to sing along in tune. He needs something else so that the tune of the day will not be all bleak. This is one of the hard things about dealing with depression. I must have enough sympathy to feel compassion and still have enough detachment to play a different music.

Learning that was hard. Even harder was learning that I can’t fix someone else’s depression. Not really. I can succeed in alleviating bad moods or cheering up a child. I can get quite good at it, but I have not actually solved a problem in a lasting way. I’ve just acquired a never-ending job as the make-it-better person. This job burdens me and prevents anyone from taking the long, hard steps to seek out a true solution.

So I sing my own songs. I do my own soul-searching to figure out why some of my songs are sad or scared. I find ways to be happy. And I try to sing in harmony with those around me. Because sympathetic vibration works in both directions. Sometimes I’m the one who gets lifted by it.

Massive Geek, Comic, Media Convention. Fan X

Twelve hours in the small 10×10 space that we set up and stocked with Schlock things. Lots of lovely conversations. Handing out flyers to people who have never heard of us before. Selling starter books to people who have never heard of Schlock. Greeting returning fans and helping them find shiny merchandise they love. Long stretches of time where people walk past and don’t even look at us. Watching the sales numbers slowly inch past the point where the endeavor is profitable in a strict sense, but knowing later we’ll have to evaluate whether the profit is sufficient to pay for the time and stress. Watching people in costumes pass, many of them impressive, some of them delightful. Exhaustion. Sore feet. Being extra careful on the drive home because of the tired. Another fifteen hour work day tomorrow.

All of that.

But there was one moment today… I was talking to a woman, I can’t even remember which one. But in the midst of talking Schlock or maybe talking about one of my picture books, her eyes flickered over the booth. I turned to see what she was looking at, what had impressed her. I saw three tables covered in books, pins, dice, coins, posters, and other things. She was impressed by the extent of our creations and for a moment I saw what she saw. We’ve made enough stuff to fill a little 10×10 store, and that is an accomplishment in itself.