Month: October 2015

Gathering Loose Ends

I spent the weekend in my hometown of Livermore California so I could attend my Grandma’s funeral. I have thoughts about that experience that I’d like to write, but I have been too busy to find the words for them. All last week was about triaging my tasks. I took care of the critical things, canceled some appointments, and let many things slide while I attempted to make space for me to leave and grieve. Unfortunately the world did not pause out of respect for my emotional event.

We had a DNS issue with the main schlock site that Howard and I had to figure out via phone call. This caused many many people to email us, and buried the schlock mailbox. I’ve still got to get in there and find out what emails I have to answer and which I can just file. There are business critical emails mixed in there, people waiting for answers since the middle of last week. I believe that I’ve caught the truly urgent ones, but I won’t know for certain until I clear the mailbox.

Last Friday was the final day of term one for the schools. This means it was the day that grades were finalized. The end of a term always means a flurry of communication and last minute assignments. This is particularly true when a child’s grades are low, as Patch’s have been. His grades reflect the panic attacks and general malaise that he’s been experiencing since school started. Several of his teachers reached out to me with willingness to help bring his grades up before that Friday deadline arrived. I finally answered them late Monday night after I arrived back home. There have been a multitude of emails since then as we hammer out plans for how to proceed.

Yes Patch has real anxiety and panic attacks, but at least half of what we’re seeing is him using those to get out of work that he doesn’t like. Much credit goes to Howard who had a really unpleasant school morning while I was gone. Howard’s approach differed from mine in ways that showed Patch has more control over his panic attacks than he’d been leading us to believe. That unpleasant morning gave me a framework around which I’m building a new plan. So I have to step up my parenting game. I have to pay more attention and be more strict about play time and homework time. I have to make sure there are consequences at home if he’s failing to try at school. All of this has an ongoing impact on my daily schedule during a period when I’d really like to double down and clear away accumulated work things.

Naturally last week was also when I finally got the phone call from the UofU psych clinic to schedule an evaluation. I’d originally put us on that waiting list last January when I was seeking guidance for Link. At this point I feel like Link has all the diagnosis he needs. Fortunately they were happy to switch the appointment over to Patch, for whom I DO need diagnosis. The first appointment for that will happen tomorrow and full assessment next week. At the same time I’ve been communicating with Patch’s school counselor to put in place a 504 plan for him at school. We’ve made some adjustments to his schedule for term 2, and have plans for the school psychologist to observe Patch in the classroom. It is all pretty complicated, but necessary at this time. I need additional opinions and observations to inform my plan for how to proceed.

I’ve also spent time talking with Patch himself. In the wake of the unpleasant school morning, he is much more willing to admit that he’s been using panic as a crutch. He’s on board with the new structure we intend and the diagnostics we plan to do. His head is full of swirling thoughts and emotions. We’ve agreed to have a talking time each day during which he speaks whatever comes to mind and we find out what is in there. Of course what Patch is willing to do when he is calm is different than what happens when he’s under stress. I hope that he continues to work with us and tries to be a partner in quelling anxiety rather than diving into it as a shield against things he wants to avoid.

And then there are the more usual parenting tasks. Gleek needed to go swimming on the day I came back because her mermaid tail (which she saved money all summer to buy) arrived the day that I left. Patch needed to be taken to the archery range to practice because I’m glad for him to be doing an activity that isn’t attached to an electronic screen. Link needed an adjustment to his schedule for term 2, so I had to contact his school counselor. I went to the bank to deposit some money in Kiki’s account so she has funds to pay for an upcoming trip. I also checked in with Kiki via phone to see if she’s doing better. She seems to be. The medicine is making depression back off. And then there is the ever-present guilt that I should be enforcing better eating habits on my kids as they forage the kitchen.

Later today I plan to call my parents and check in on them. I expect this week to be harder on them than last week was. Last week they had a huge list of overwhelming chores related to Grandma’s funeral. This week everyone has gone home and they are left with daily, hourly reminders of the fact that Grandma no longer needs their regular care. This is a huge shift in their patterns of living. They’ve been tending Grandma extensively for the last decade. My daily life is not impacted by her absence, and I can’t let that make me forget that theirs is.

And then there are the business tasks. I spent my work hours yesterday doing the accounting. I had two week’s worth to do since I didn’t have brain for it last week. I also had to prep for the tax appointment I have scheduled tomorrow. I’ll be meeting with our accountant and discussing the impact of Kickstarter funds carried across the end of the calendar year. I’ve got a couple of contracts to read and sign, one for book printing, another for renewing the lease on our warehouse space. I’m also mid negotiations for hiring an editor for the Planet Mercenary project. We’ve found someone with the expertise we need, now we just have to hammer out schedule and work methods. There are packages to ship, writing to do, and layout work that is necessary.

Next week I travel again. We have tickets and reservations for me to attend the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, New York. There is part of me that is very tired and willing to consider cancelling that trip. There are lots of solid reasons for sending me, but I’m still scrambling to catch up after my trip last weekend.

For now, it is time for me to go do some work and save the rest of the thinking for later.

Grieving for Grandma

Writing about grief is hard because grief is never singular. It comes as a flood, a single mass that breaks and flows filling up spaces. Yet the mass is made up of a hundred million parts that all must be managed. It is also not singular in that rarely is only one person affected.

My Grandma died on Monday. The fact of her death is an impact crater with those closest most affected, first my Father, then my mother, Grandma’s brothers and sisters, me and my siblings, then further out to my children and their cousins. So many people with so many raw feelings. My head is full of thoughts, yet my writing of them is constrained by the need to not add hurt. When feelings are all on the surface it is best to tread lightly.

Death brings with it a list of chores a mile long. My parents are having to dismantle the care systems that they had in place for Grandma. All of us are scrambling and rearranging our schedules so we can gather for a funeral. There is legal paperwork, flowers, an obituary, rides from the airport, housing for extended family, and a program to plan. Decision after decision is to be made, all while rational functions are impaired by grief. I don’t know a way to do it better, all of it feels necessary. And there is some comfort in the list of chores. They provide a focus, a way to move forward and rearrange life without Grandma in it. Though I worry about the space after, when chores are complete and all that is left is an absence.

I’ll admit that I dove into the chores. I tried to involve myself and make myself useful. I’d hoped to alleviate burden by managing some communications for my parents. But it is possible that my attempts only increased the number of phone calls and confusion. I know I wore out by the end of today. I have my itinerary. I know when I leave, where to pick up my rental car, and the hotel where I will stay. Tomorrow I have to dive into work and prepare things so that Howard will be able to manage school and work while I am gone.

I have crying to do. I haven’t done most of it yet. I’ve been too busy arranging things. But there is space for it this weekend. I will go be in that space and see what feelings join me there.

For now I reread Grandma on her 90th Birthday which I wrote five years ago.

Thinking on Crimson Peak

Perhaps it is because this is the month of October. Maybe the rain and falling leaves have affected my mood. Or it could be that I soon expect a phone call which will tell me that I need to fly out for my Grandma’s funeral, thus I needed a distraction. For whatever reason, the movie Crimson Peak drew my attention and I found myself wanting to go see it even though I generally don’t like horror films. Or rather, I don’t enjoy gore-fest, jump-scare movies that are about murder and death. I do enjoy spooky thriller movies with mysteries to solve. Crimson Peak does have blood, death, and other dark things, but it is more a gothic love story than a horror movie. Gothic heroines do not get happy endings, but they do have beautiful scenery and mysteries to unravel. Crimson Peak has all the dark mystery of Wuthering Heights and matches it for mood. The opening lines say that it is not a ghost story, but rather a story with ghosts in it. I found that to be true and I liked that about it. I liked that the supernatural world entwined with the material and affected it, but the plot did not revolve around the existence of ghosts. The movie was beautiful and dark. I enjoyed it for what it was though it is not a happy story.

Far away my Grandma lays in a hospital bed, tiny and weak. The latest report is that she is eighty four pounds and has forgotten how to swallow or speak intelligibly. There are not many days left. Her room is antiseptic and hallowed, a place where she is getting ready to leave the body she’s inhabited for ninety five years. That room is about love and letting go.

I suppose it makes sense that I’m attracted to a story about loss just now. I’m able to follow the emotion, but all the images are romanticized, beautiful, and clearly fiction. So I sit here in the evening and think of the movie I just saw. I imagine the hospital room where my parents are sitting lovingly nearby so Grandma won’t be alone. And I am glad to live in my world that is more prosaic and less vivid than the one on the screen. I’ll take death as a granter of peace and passage over howling ghosts and crumbling mansions. I’ll take my warm bright home full of video games and laughing. My life is a good place and sometimes I can best see that when I have something for contrast.

Dressing Up

It is not often that Howard and I get a chance to put on our nicest clothes. Usually it is in connection with an award ceremony and thus is an inherently stressful situation. On the cruise we got to dress up without stress and we quite enjoyed it.
Fancy 1

Here is a better picture of my dress. I’m standing with Ellen Kushner.
Fancy 2

I’m quite pleased with the dress. I found it at a thrift store. It had been overlooked because at the time it was a pants suit. I altered it to be a dress and made the shrug to match. One of the nicest things is that the base fabric is polyester knit, so I can wad it into a ball in my suitcase and it will still come out wrinkle-free and ready to wear.

Things of today

Today I…

Got out of bed before the sun was up and discovered one of my kids was awake before me.

Researched the causes of night terrors.

Hammered away at layout and felt excited for how some of the pages are shaping up. I ran out of brain before I ran out of enthusiasm.

Answered some email.

Made an appointment with a podiatrist.

Made an appointment for a psychiatrist check up.

Called to excuse a school absence.

Researched transitional programs for kids with autism who are struggling with becoming independent adults.

Left a message for a parent advocate who I’m told has inside information on resources available to parents of special needs kids.

Took my son to his first appointment with a tutor.

Met my two junior high kids as they came in the door and double checked to see what sort of day they’d had.

Looked at the front lawn and remembered (again) that I keep forgetting to make one of the kids mow it.

Did some brainstorming on a plot problem in my novel.

Began wrapping my head around the structure I’ll need as a framework for the picture book story I want to tell.

Took a quick nap with a purring kitty.

Sent emails to collaborators and potential editors on the Planet Mercenary project.

Answered the phone to discover that my son’s Eagle Scout certificate has come through.

Picked up the mail from the mailbox.

When I said that my brain was coming back up to speed. This is what I meant. Until I started listing things I hadn’t really been aware of how many things I’d accomplished today, nor how scattered they all are across my various life roles. I shall not list all the things I would have liked to do, but didn’t get done. That list is even longer. But if I can just keep doing the things, then bit by bit all the big projects will get done.

Coming back up to speed

This week my brain woke up. Suddenly it is composing blog posts while I’m doing other things. Or planning a short story collection. Or thinking up picture books. Or all of those simultaneously. I’m facing huge projects with excitement rather than a sense that I have to push through inertia just to keep moving. I don’t know how long it has been since my brain was bubbling over with thoughts like this, but I suspect it was more than a year ago. I’ve missed it. Project energy combined with the emptiness of my calendar for the next few weeks bodes well for getting lots of work done. That’s good, because I have a lot of work I need to do, particularly for Planet Mercenary.

General Conference Notes

Usually I try to make my blog entries generally accessible rather than specific to my religion and context. But twice per year my church has a set of meetings called General Conference that are broadcast worldwide and during which the leaders of my church speak about matters of scripture, faith, family, doctrine, and policy. The most recent conference was held this past weekend and I had a lot of thoughts I wanted to write about. Some of it may be more specific to my faith than usual. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly called Mormons.

This particular conference was filled with talks that seemed directed to me. So much so, that as one talk finished and the next talk began, I often wished for a pause. I wanted time to assimilate and think through my reactions before launching into a new topic. Fortunately the talks are still available via streaming from the church website Also I’ll have a print version in the church magazine next month. There will be ways for me to review the information and pause to think it through. Truthfully, it is not that the words spoke directly to my various situations. It is more that the words exist and all of the experiences and thoughts in my head exist, then there is this space between the words and my thoughts where inspiration flows. That space is where the words are transformed into the messages I need to have epiphanies about my life. I need conference, church, and scripture study because I have to get into proximity with good words. I need the inspirations that come into my head as a result.

One of the thoughts, which I’m still mulling over, came as a speaker was telling of the power of the atonement of Christ. He said that Christ’s healing is complete and leaves no scars. I thought of the people I know who struggle with mental illness and with ongoing problems as a result of emotional trauma. Observation and science tells me that they will struggle for most of their lives. Yet I do believe in the power of Christ to truly heal. I do not think that the people who struggle, myself included, lack faith enough to be healed. Yet God does not heal everyone. Some of this I can ascribe to eternal perspective rather than earthly perspective. Heavenly Father and Christ know that the pains of this life are temporary. They know that struggle is how we grow. Striving to understand suffering and miracles is the thought-work of a lifetime. My comprehension continues to evolve. Sometimes I am able to move forward in faith, trusting that all will be made clear. Other times I am more frustrated and angry. I don’t have any answers, but I think it is good for me to open my mind and heart to these questions. Conference reminds me what the questions are.

I was much taken with the talk by Devin G. Durrant. He described a process for picking a scripture each week to ponder and memorize. He made up a word, ponderize, to name this process. I don’t like the word. It feels cutesy and diminutive to a process with great spiritual potential. As he spoke about the process, I knew that it was one that I need. He bore a powerful witness of what this process can give to people. I loved listening to that witness, though I winced a little every time he used his word. I’ve put up my first scripture. I’ll be thinking about it this week. And I’ll be trying not to think about made up words.

My grandmother is dying and I am watching my parents navigate the decisions and grief that are inherent in that process. Over the last months I have observed her decline. A few months ago she was in rehab to learn to walk again after a surgery. Now she is in a permanent care facility and physical therapy is focused on getting her to eat. I will be surprised if she is still here at Christmas. I’ve watched this process tear my Dad apart. My Grandma is his mother and he has no siblings to share this burden. I watch, knowing that someday it will be my turn to help parents in their decline. I am learning from their example what to expect and how I might handle it. With all that in my mind, I found David A. Bednar’s talk on Sunday afternoon to be profoundly comforting. In his words I was able to see that a reduction in physical capability only changes what a person can offer the world. It does not render the person irrelevant. To quote Elder Bednar “Physical restrictions can expand vision. Limited stamina can clarify priorities. Inability to do many things can direct focus to a few things of greatest importance.” As I listened, I understood that growing old and infirm can be a gift both to the aged and to those who care for them. It was good to feel that. I’ve been quite focused on the hard parts. There is grace in my Grandmothers imminent departure, God’s grace. As her memories become confused, the anxiety which plagued her whole life is dropping away. She is becoming distilled, ready to travel elsewhere. And we are all becoming ready to let her go.

I will be continuing to interact with the words and messages of this General Conference. I have more inspirations that I need. For now, life is good and all my people in my house are aimed in good directions.

My Writing Excuses Cruise

A week ago today the island of Cozumel, Mexico was outside my stateroom window. Memories of the cruise sit in a strange space in my brain, like they belong to another life somehow. I read posts on social media from my fellow travelers about how they are sad it is all over. I haven’t been sad, but I think that is because my brain has decided that the cruise workshop space still exists and I’ve just stepped away for a bit. It feels as if I could just step back. Or maybe as if I’ve bundled it up small and carry it with me.

The trip was not made entirely of joy and awesomeness. This is because Howard and I accidentally packed along some emotional baggage. As this sort of baggage tends to be invisible, we tripped over it on a couple of days until we managed to identify it and get it safely stowed away. Perhaps that is why I’m not sad about being off the ship, perhaps it is because, when we left the stateroom, I left some of that stuff behind. I hope the porter doesn’t mind cleaning it up. Though it likely evaporated by itself without me there to sustain it. Yet the hard bits are vague in my memory and the lovely parts are crystal clear. All the photos remind me of happiness and the entire trip was a gift, one I shall treasure.

The attendees have been sharing their photos of the trip. As I flip through the folders I realize that while we were all on the same ship, each of us had an experience that was unique. I see photos of places I did not go, of people I did not spend much time with. That was one of the powers of the cruise as a location. Each person could choose what sort of trip they wanted to have. Some stayed on the ship and wrote, or read. Others went on tours and sampled native foods.

I climbed up a river in Jamaica with a group of people.
We laughed, chanted along with our guides, and got soaking wet.

I learned that building a house in Jamaica is a multi-generational project. They build a few rooms and move in, only adding to the house as funds come available. We saw lots of open and thriving businesses whose upper stories were construction zones.
House 1

House 2

I wore a silly hat and walked through a cave that has been traversed by a Spanish governor, pirates, runaway slaves, and nightclub goers. The very air of the cave reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, which told me I was passing through the original. I stared up in wonder as bats flew overhead.
Cave Selfie

Cave Stage

Then we found a towel bat in our stateroom that night.
Cruise Bat

I walked through Mayan ruins in Cozumel, Mexico, setting my feet on a road that has endured for thousands of years.
Mayan arch

I took beautiful pictures of ocean and beach.
Cozumel seaweed waves

Cozumel waves crash

Cozumel waves

Cozumel driftwood

Cozumel pebbles

I sampled Mayan chocolate made in the traditional ways.
Cozumel Cacao paint

I watched the sunset over the railings of the ship, and the clouds shift and glow in the fading light.
Cruise Sunset

Cruise ocean sunset

Cruise Sunset ocean

I found my fellow writers in the quiet corners of the ship.
Cruise Writing

And then there are the things for which I don’t have pictures.
I ate dinner every night with a different group of writers and never lacked for good conversation. I ate new foods, both on the ship and on the shore. I dressed in fancy clothes and felt happy. I stayed up late because talking was more attractive than sleeping. I participated in dozens of conversations that started “next year…” I was saved from awkward food by my waiter who showed me the proper way to go about eating butterflied shrimp. I spent time with long-known friends and acquired some new ones. I saw kindness as people helped those around them with problems both big and small. I felt an amazing sense of community among our group who was there.

As I said earlier, the trip was a gift. It is one I’d love to share. Registration for next year’s cruise will open in a couple of months, I hope that many amazing people will be able to join us because we plan to make it even better. I know I feel honored to have been a part of it.