Month: May 2014

Thinking Week

“Are you okay? You seem a little off this morning.” Howard said to me from across the kitchen counter. At first I tried to answer that I was just tired. It is true that I’m tired, but more is going on than that. I’ve been off for most of the week. Some of it is due to the fact that I had a necessary conversation with a friend. It is the sort of conversation which is important to have so that everyone stays friends. I’m glad my friend saw the need. I’m still soul searching and thinking as a result. Unfortunately soul searching tends to scare the demons of self-doubt out of the corners where they’ve been hiding. But I already wrote a post about that, and the noise has mostly settled anyway, so it wasn’t really what Howard was seeing this morning. (Also I probably need to write an entirely different post about how a loving personal critique from a friend can save hundreds of future conversations not with just that friend, but with others as well. I’m pretty sure that is going to be the outcome here and it’s worth wading through a cloud of demons.)

We’re in the final week of school, which means we have a routine that is only sort-of normal. Instead of having a pattern so familiar I can almost ignore it, I have to look at each day and remember its special parameters. This day is the dance festival, that day is the drama showcase, Link comes home early all week, Gleek and Patch have partial days on Friday. None of it is a surprise. The patterns are familiar from prior years, but I have to think about them.

The shipment of Longshoreman of the Apocalypse arrived yesterday. That means life has switched over into high-gear shipping mode. After nine Schlock books, two picture books, two XDM books, and thirty thousand coins, shipping is familiar. Yet for the past several years I’ve had my friend Janci as an auxiliary brain during shipping season. This year Janci was booked solid and Kiki needs college money, so Kiki has taken on the role of auxiliary brain. Kiki is doing a fine job, but the role is new to her. As with the final week of school, the patterns are familiar, but I’m having to think through all of them.

Add physical fatigue because boxes of books are heavy and some sleep deprivation because I haven’t been getting to bed on time. Yup Howard, I was a little off. There was a lot of thinking to be done this week. The good news is that most of the thinking is complete. All that remains is to do the things.

Final Days of the School Year

I’ve been watching the approaching end of the school year with anticipation. Yesterday I wished that we could just switch over into summer mode. It always feels unfair to have Memorial Day weekend to make clear what summer will be like and then to require one more week of school. I admit I was not thrilled when I had to roll out of bed at 6:45 this morning. But then we gathered in the family room for the brief prayer and scripture study we do on school mornings. The kids were curled up in blankets, half asleep, as usual. I looked around and counted to four, not three as I have for most of the year.

I felt it again as I drove Link to school. I’m going to miss the patterns and structures of this school year. Having a reason to pull everyone out of bed at the same time gives focus to my days. I’m going to miss that. Sure, we’ll be back to that schedule in the fall, but I’ll also be back to counting to three instead of four, since Kiki will be back at college. This past month with her woven into the patterns of daily life has been lovely.

So I’m going to try to savor this week as much as I can. I have four days then we’re launched into summer where the structure is all of my own making. I both love that and struggle with it.

Demons of Self Doubt

There are some days when the demons of self-doubt set up a howling screaming chorus in my head. If I turn my back on them and try to work, they do everything they can to convince me my efforts are futile. Everything I do or see becomes evidence of my failure as a human being. Dishes not done? Obviously I’m a slob who doesn’t know how to clean up or to teach her kids to clean up. Kids fighting or crying? My fault. I’m a bad parent. Breakfast? Don’t eat that, I’m fat enough already. I should eat mindfully, but I shouldn’t try to cook something healthy because I suck at cooking. Might as well embrace the fat and eat whatever is easiest. Try to write about self-doubt? All my words are stupid and no one will want to read them anyway. The demons use all the mean words and they never pull their punches.

When the demons get to howling it feels like I have no power to make them stop. That is a lie they’d like me to believe. The power I have, and that I must use even though it is hard, is to make sure that I don’t stop. I inch my way forward toward some goal, any of my goals. As I do, I hang tight to the hope that the demons will wear out and go back to whatever cave it is where they usually dwell. If I’m feeling up to it, sometimes I name the demons. Each one harps on a single message, a single fear. Sometimes by separating one from the pack I can see how ridiculous it is and it withers away. Other times I catch a demon and confront it with counter examples, things in my life which are evidence that the demon lies. Unfortunately it is hard to catch an individual when they’re all swarming at once.

Sometimes prayer vanquishes the howling mob. Other times prayer just gives me enough strength to keep inching forward. Both are answers to my need, though I naturally prefer the outcome that has “vanquishes” in it.

The one time when I can’t hear the demons is when I’m listening to someone else. Howard talks me through many things. Or I walk outside and visit with a neighbor. She can’t see the plague of negativity in my head, and for the span of time when we talk, I don’t hear it either. So I inch my way forward, pray, and seek out loving voices. Over time the demons will get tired. I can outlast them. I have before and I’ll do it again.

Tayler Family Photo Books

One of my Sunday activities is to work on the annual Tayler Family photo book. In theory, I will sometimes have Sundays where there is no work to be done. We don’t generate family pictures and events every single week. The reality is that I have months at a time where I don’t work on the photo books at all. Then I spend the rest of the time trying to catch up. I began 2014 with both the 2012 and 2013 books incomplete. This is a byproduct of all of the many emotional events of 2013 during our year of transition. I just didn’t have the focus to work on it. When I did find the focus again, I decided to work chronologically. Besides, I knew that the photos and family stories of 2012 would not have huge emotional landmines waiting for me.

I finished 2012 a few weeks ago and began working on 2013. There is so much family story that is not in the photo book. I don’t have any pictures of the hard bits of last year. I don’t have pictures of Kiki’s birthday being unfortunate. I don’t have pictures of my stress, or any of the other hard things that happened as we adjusted and learned. I really expected that as I put pictures into place, my mind would fill in the gaps. That I would spend my time working on the pages re-living the emotions I felt at the time the pictures were taken. Instead what I have is a highlights reel from that year. I have a record of the moments when we laughed together, when we took trips, when Mom made all four kids stand together and smile for the camera. It is a record of all the good bits. There were a lot of good bits. That version of 2013 is just as true as the harder one. The hard things do not eliminate the joyful ones unless we choose to only remember the hard things, which is kind of what I was doing.

Once I’m caught up on the family photo books, my next Sunday activity will be to put together the One Cobble at a Time book from 2013. That will have a more even mixture of the hard things and the bright ones. I expect to re-experience some hard emotions as I put the book together. But I could be wrong there too. It is possible that most of the emotion will have attenuated to only a whisper of what it once was. That would be nice.

I’ve been making annual photo books since 2007. They’re my version of our family life together. At first it was to give the kids story books about themselves. They still serve that purpose, but they also exist because I like making books. It makes me happy to see pictures and words gathered together so that people can enjoy them. At some point my kids will make homes of their own. They’ll get copies of the photo books to take with them, probably digital copies, since there will be quite a stack by then. What happens to them eventually is less important than the fact that making them and having them brings me joy. That seems like a good use for Sunday afternoons.

Building a Grape Arbor

Yesterday I wrote about my grand garden plans. One of them involved grapes and an arbor.

I left the space for one when I put posts into the ground. The idea was to have a grape hedge with an arbor. Today I bought lumber and pulled out my power tools.

The timing on this really was perfect. I had an overcast day and if I’d waited any longer the grapes would have been unweildy to work with.

It is not a particularly elegant arbor, but within only a few weeks you’re not going to be able to see much of it anyway. Next spring, when the wood has had time to weather, I’ll stain it to better match the posts to which it is attached.

It is nice to finally see one of the grand garden plans realized.

Making Friends with Flowers

I did not always know the names of flowers. I knew the popular ones, the ones that most people know: rose, carnation. I came to know the rest in 1999 when I was recovering from an extended illness. I needed a year of peace, I needed to emerge from a winter of illness into something green and growing. So I read gardening books and I made grand plans for how my garden beds would mature. On any day when the weather cooperated I went outside and made the acquaintance of flowers. I learned their habits, I discovered which ones faded out like guests who leave a party without staying to say goodbye. And I learned which ones were my staunch friends.

To my surprise, my best friends were not roses. I thought they would be. My middle name is Rose, I thought I would always carry that connection. We bought this house only a year before my illness when it had twenty rose bushes and my grand plans featured those bushes. I loved them enough to buy rose gloves that went up to my elbows. I tended them, clipping dead flowers all summer long and amassing piles of thorny sticks in the annual pruning. Yet where roses lived it was hard to grow anything else. If I tried to work around the bases of the rosebushes, they drew blood. I wanted many flowers, not just one.

The rosebushes are all gone now. I didn’t set out to remove them all. It was a series of decisions. This bush needed to come out because I wanted a peony. That one had died. Those were blocking passage to the neighbor’s yard and scratching kids as they ran back and forth to play. One by one they were gone. I remember them fondly. But not fondly enough to make space for new ones in my life. Instead I have friendlier, more sturdy flowers. The irises and peonies which are blooming now I planted all those years ago. I’ve neglected them a lot during the years between. They’ve spent much time swamped with weeds. Yet they’re still here. As are the lilacs, mock orange, wisteria, day lilies, bleeding hearts, and lily of the valley.

My garden now does not look much like my grand plan. The plan was beautiful, but high maintenance. What has evolved instead is mostly self sustaining. It is a green space with some flowers instead of a showy floral display space. This spring for the first time in years, I’m once again planning improvements for my garden. They are small plans, all aimed at doing extra work this year when I have help, so that I can do less work in years to come. I’m not even planning the entire summer’s work, just this week and next week. I take each week as it comes, knowing that each Saturday when I take the time to garden, that is a gift. One that I have not always had. I became a gardening because I needed to heal. Gardening still heals me. Why do I forget that?

BYU Special Collections Tour

If you are ever offered the opportunity to tour a university library’s special collections department, say yes. Howard and I got just such a tour today deep in the basement of the Harold B. Lee Library on BYU campus. On our way in, they gave us bright red visitors badges and our very own security guard. Though really his job was to protect all the things from us, so I guess he wasn’t really our guard. We also had three librarian archivists leading us on the tour to show us the coolest things. It was part sales pitch “See, we’ll take good care of the things that you give us.” But mostly they were excited to showcase their collection and genuinely thrilled at the history that they’ve collected, restored, and preserved. Justifiably so. I came away filled with awe, not just for the things they showed me, but for the dedication and love that goes into making sure that generations to come will be able to see the same things.

The first thing we noticed were the shelves themselves.

They looked like a wall when we first entered the vault room. But they move to create aisles so that librarians can find the materials they are seeking.

It was impressive to see these massive rows slide around noiselessly. We were cautioned to be wary about being between them if they began to move. They have sensors that are supposed to prevent motion if something is there, but the casual way that they mentioned sensors failing made me sure it is a thing that has happened more than once. Fortunately only some metal stools have thus far been sacrificed to the gods of mechanical shelving.

Our first stop was where they keep the first printings of The Book of Mormon. I was startled when the librarian pulled one out of its box and let us hold it.

I’ve seen one before, but not to touch. I was awed to be in contact with a piece of my religious history. I was also impressed with the array of first editions in different languages that they had.

The early Mormon people were not wealthy. It speaks of how much they reverenced this book that the constructions and bindings are all so beautiful.

I spent a lot of time in general looking at the bindings and details of books. I noticed how many of the older volumes had ridges on their spines.

I asked if those ridges were decorative or structural. It turns out to be a result of the binding methods that were used.

They showed us one of the oldest “books” in existence. A cuneiform tablet.

There we all were, six of us staring in awe at this evidence of the first writing of humanity. It was thousands of years old. It is also a receipt for beer.

We didn’t have a chance to see the most elaborate illuminated manuscripts, but this lesser one was still amazing.

The gold shined across the pages and we could see that all the letters were hand drawn. I could have stared at that for a very long time. But there was a different wonder to see. For a time it was popular to create hidden paintings on the edge of book pages. My photo does not do this justice. Fortunately the internet can show you more clearly.

Seeing this one kind of makes me want to take some of my One Cobble books, the really thick ones, and paint something on the edges.

I’d mentioned Jane Austen, so they took me to where the Austen books were. A librarian took this first edition copy of Emma and put it into my hands.

I’d seen this pattern on endpapers of books before, but figured that it was some sort of 70’s thing. Instead it appears to be authentic to the era when Austen was publishing.

I would have loved more time to look at each of these things, to sit with them and really comprehend each one individually. The immensity of what they have down there is staggering. There are fifteen miles of shelving and they’ve just been given five more miles. More than once I was glad of our guides, because I would have had to wander to find a way out.

Books are not the only things they have. This is the Oscar for the movie Camelot.

These days Oscars are not allowed to be sold or donated. They are supposed to go back to the academy. This one was acquired by special collections before those rules were created. I love that you could see the place around Oscar’s legs where he’d been picked up and carried, or perhaps held aloft in triumph.

We got to peek at the cold vault, though we didn’t go inside.

Instead week peeked at it through a window while standing in the yellow lit ante chamber. Film has to be kept cold. It also has to sit in the ante room and come slowly up to temperature before it can be manipulated. The yellow light did strange things to vision. We didn’t stay there long.

The library is making massive efforts to digitize as much of the collection as they can and to make it available online. This set up is for exactly that purpose.

It allows for simultaneous photography of both pages while protecting the book and the spine. All a human has to do is raise the glass, turn a page, lower the glass and photograph again.

They’ve lots of books yet to do.

I walked out of the building with a renewed respect for librarians. They were as excited to show us the amazing things as we were to see them. I could hear in their voices how much they value history, which was why it felt so strange that they’d like to have some of our papers. This is why we got the tour, they want to create a Howard and Sandra Tayler collection into their massive archive. They reach out to alumni who are creators with this sort of request and they found us. This leaves me feeling honored and…with an odd feeling I don’t quite have a name for.

To be remembered is the dream, isn’t it? I’ve read essays from scholars who create treatises on the correspondence of Jane Austen. In daydream moments, I’ve looked at letters and journals of my own and wondered if someday there would be a researcher glad to have them, or at least my great grandchildren might be interested in family stories. Now a library actually wants these things. They are things which have been taking up space in my house because of that daydream. Yet I’ve seen the preservation infrastructure that they have. I know how much all that effort must cost and I can’t imagine anything that I produce being worth the expense to preserve it for generations. Then I think of all six of us hovering in amazement around a little stone beer receipt. None of us have any way of knowing what future generations will want to reference.

So, yes there will be a Howard and Sandra Tayler collection in the Special Collections of the BYU Library. We don’t know yet what will be in it, nor how much will be public during our lifetimes. But if nothing else I can stop having to decide to throw out things which might be interesting for future generations, but which I haven’t the space to store.

Special collections is well worth your time to visit and if you are so lucky as to be offered a tour. Say yes.

Filling the Waiting Space With Other Work

I have been informed that the shipment of books will not be arriving this week after all. So now we’re back to the original schedule instead of the week early schedule. This leaves me with a space of time where I’m accumulating and processing orders, but not yet beginning to sort invoices for shipping. The busy is coming, but it is not here yet. Not only is it not here, but also I’ll be handing off portions of the work to Kiki. Even at the busiest, it won’t be as crazy as it has sometimes been.

I’m going to use the time to push through the challenge coin PDF. I my second preliminary layout for it today. The first preliminary layout showed me how I did not want to organize the stories. I knew it was wrong, but hadn’t a clue what would be right. So I talked with Howard and he said it should read as if you were sitting at a bar where folk were swapping coin stories. The moment I heard that, I knew it was the right approach. It helped me figure out what stories go where, because one story can be a set up for the next one. It gives a narrative flow to the whole project. Today I started defining the design space. I threw in a top and bottom border element which is vaguely like what we’ll actually use. I put page numbering in place. I defined the styles for basic text, pull quote text, and sidebar text. All of these things need to be refined, but when I took it to Howard he agreed that the shape is right.

One of the hard things about starting to design a new book project is that every decision extinguishes another possibility. I love the bar conversation format. I believe it is the right one for this project. But it means the death of my original concept which was to sort stories by service. Each choice narrows the project into what it will actually be. In the refining stages it is easy to see how each change makes the project better. In the early stages there are so many possibilities and they are all so ephemeral that it is hard to see which will work best. I end up spinning in paralysis of choice. Today’s work means I’m past that stage. (I hope.)

The other work I’m going to try to push forward in the next few days is writing. I’ve just hit the mid-point in my novel. I wanted to have the draft done by the end of June. I’m not sure I can make that, but it is worth reaching for. If nothing else, I want this to be a week where I average 1000 words per day across both fiction and non-fiction writing. That’s a good writing week for me. I’ve even set up a spread sheet to help me track. Now I can look back and see when I was writing and when I was focused on other things instead.

I have plenty of things to keep me usefully busy while I’m waiting for books. Yet somehow part of my brain would really just like to sit and wait. Not that waiting is fun, I don’t like it much at all, it is just that even when I’m trying to get the other things done, part of my brain is focused on waiting instead. This makes the waiting feel much longer. Not my favorite.

Watching and Counting

The day we open pre-orders on a new book is always a day of distraction for Howard and I. (Related news: You can now pre-order Schlock Mercenary: Longshoreman of the Apocalypse. It is one of my favorite Schlock books.) In theory we should just be able to open ordering and just go about the regular work of the day. Instead we end up watching the numbers and then doing math in our heads, because different things are possible in the months to come depending on how well the book launch does. It used to be that everything rode on book launches. We’re trying to even out the business so that there is more to sustain us in between. This reduces the stress of pre-order days, but habits formed under pressure are tricky to change. So we’ve been checking numbers a lot today.

I’m also watching the progress of the Altered Perceptions fundraiser. I don’t have much personally at stake in that one, except that I’d dearly love to see my friend Rob out from under the medical debt that has been weighing him down. I’d love even more to see the proposed foundation have enough funds to get off of the ground. I’ve donated a revised version (made more appropriate for print) of my Married to Depression post. I’ve also been making social media noise as appropriate. Possibly more than most people would prefer to have to listen to.

I’ll be watching numbers on both the pre-order and the indiegogo campaign through the end of this week. However I’m hopeful that tomorrow I can spend more time working instead of hovering. Granted, some of the hovering is necessary. I am the customer service department for the Tayler Corporation and quite a few people have needed help with their orders today. The troubles have all been easy to solve, which is good.

Despite the distraction, I’ve still done some good things today. I helped Howard eat some yummy jambalaya that he made. I visited a friend who truly needed a visit. I wrote words on my novel. The kids all got to school and then they all came home. In a few minutes I’ll remind them all that homework is a thing which exists. Though I don’t expect they have much. The teachers can count to eight-school-days-left as easily as my kids can. Also that last day is only about two hours long, so it hardly counts. Field day doesn’t count as a real school day either. We’ve reached the point where books are being turned in and desks are starting to be cleared out. Soon I’ll be figuring out how to work with the kids home all day long. But for tomorrow, I send them to school and have a normal work day. Today was a day of counting. Tomorrow I go back to work.

Maturing Trees and Getting Older

Our trees have begun to poke their roots out of the surface of the lawn. This surfacing of roots is the natural result of having mature trees. The roots have grown in girth, just as the trunks have. They used to hide under the lawn, now they can be seen. This creates new challenges for our back garden. Where we once had to struggle to keep lawn alive in scorching summer sun, we now have protruding roots and spots where the lawn suffers because it doesn’t get very much sun. The challenges of a young yard are different from those of an older one.

I had my eyes examined about a year ago. I went because I’d noticed changes in my vision and thought that I might need new glasses. Upon hearing that I was forty, the optometrist looked at me sadly and said “The forties are not kind to eyes.” He’s correct. More and more of my friends are acquiring bifocals and reading glasses. Howard has had to adjust his work processes for the changes in his eyesight. Focusing my eyes takes far longer than it used to. Sometimes I have to hold a book in this position, other times in that one. My eyes are not the only things that I feel changing in my body. Dozens of small things work differently than they used to do.

I’m not complaining about my yard or about aging. There are advantages to mature trees and there are advantages to being forty. I’m spending much less time afraid than I used to. Most things I encounter I have the accumulated knowledge to handle with ease. This morning I was out with 13 year old Gleek weeding the tall grass out of the spot of dirt which is supposed to be an herb and vegetable garden. “How do you do that?” she asked.
“Do what?”
“Get the roots out with one pull.” I turned and looked at her. Sure enough, she kept pulling the tops off of the grass stalks while leaving the roots. My hands have been pulling weeds for so long that they know exactly where on a stalk I should grab, how hard to pull, and that slight twist that breaks the roots free. I don’t know when I learned it. I didn’t even realize it was a skill until I saw that Gleek didn’t have it. Being forty is like that all the time. Hundreds of things have become so easy for me that I’m hardly aware that they are complicated.

When the gardening work is done for the day, I walk in my yard. I trace the length of roots along the surface of the grass. One of the roots runs for more than six feet along the surface of the ground until it disappears under the fence into my neighbor’s yard. I can see the places where vines have grown through the fence and are breaking planks apart. I see the lattice we attached to the wall fifteen years ago, which is now a crumbling ruin around the trunks of the vines it once supported. I look at all these plants that I put into the ground. I now get the array of blooms that I pictured long ago when I planted a tiny wisteria stick and hoped that it would not die.

I don’t know what is coming for these plants. Possibly the roots will begin to trip people. The trees reach over the house now. Sometime soon we may have damage to repair because a tree begins to die, or begins to fight with the house. I can look ahead and try to imagine, just as I pictured grown trees when I dug holes for baby ones. Of course when I pictured canopy overhead, I didn’t picture roots underfoot, yet I get both. The future I’m going to get will be different than I can imagine today. I will be different. Like the trees, I am going to continue changing and maturing. I’ll need different glasses. My body will change. My capabilities will alter. Some of that I’m going to dislike, just as I get annoyed with my eyes right now. Yet I’m sure that continuing to age will continue to bring me unexpected gifts along with the annoyances.

For today, I walk my yard, tend my garden, and try to make decisions that will be good for years to come.