Month: July 2016

My week in pictures (and some words)

This last week before GenCon I had a to do list as long as my arm. I began whittling away at it on Monday morning. By afternoon I was ready to run out and get Prescription refills. Then this happened.
A semi shed giant pieces of tire across my lane and I didn’t see them until the car in front of me sent them flying at my car. No time to avoid, I drove over them. So all of Tuesday was spent talking to insurance people and the car repair shop. The good news is that I have insurance and a fairly low deductible. Unknown is whether this incident will raise my insurance rates. It is a possibility since I had an accident (my fault) only a couple of months ago. But more good news is that my local insurance agent and the car repair place conspired to give me a rental car at no charge even though my policy does not cover rental vehicles.

This is also happening in my house this week:
Home construction is not what I’d pick the week before a major convention, but that is how the schedule worked out. That nook used to be a fireplace that we never used except as a flat place to accumulate all the things which didn’t really have a place to belong. Now it will either be a game closet or the storage space for electronic devices. We’re gaining a significant amount of square footage and we like it already.

I also spent time on Tuesday preparing these. They’re the final invoices and postage for the Force Multiplication shipping.

I bought boxes for the orders to go into. They also arrived on Tuesday:

Wednesday morning I hauled two of my kids over to the warehouse and put them to work making packages.
Unfortunately the air conditioning at the warehouse is not working well, so we were hot, sweaty, and tired in short order. That’s when a truck pulled up. I’d been told “We’ll call Wednesday morning for a delivery appointment.” But they didn’t call, they just showed up. I guess it was fortunate we were spending a hot day at the warehouse.
The truck delivered these:
And these:
And these:
All of which are things we are going to need for shipping Planet Mercenary once we have the books done. Unfortunately the contract with the trucking company didn’t obligate him to wheel the pallets inside. He kindly did for the two lighter pallets. But the heavy pallet was too much to try to get over the small lip into our warehouse. Which left my son and I hefting heavy boxes in 90 degree heat. Had the company actually scheduled a delivery appointment, I’d have arranged for more lifting help. But we got it done.

Then we finished the shipping:

Today I had to scramble to assemble sheets for the Planet Mercenary games that will be run while we’re at GenCon. It was my plan to scramble something together. But when my book designer heard what I was up to, he said “would you like me to do that?” So instead of spending all day frantically attempting to lay out the sheet, I was able to spend 3/4 of the day making sure I’d collected all the relevant information and images. Then I put them into a format where the designer could plunk them into place. It took much longer than expected because I was pulling information from six different sources. I shudder to think how stressed I would have been had I also had to try to make it all attractive.
This was my first pass attempt. Note that some of the elements were borrowed from a prior design pass that my designer did. I don’t have the skill to make some of the decorative elements, but I can plunk them into place:
GenCon Char Sheet test2-1

This is my layout designer’s first pass:
GenCon Pregen-1
Seriously folks, be willing to pay money for good design. It makes all the difference.

Since my designer currently resides on the other side of the world, I was able to collect all the info while he was sleeping. Then he could work while I was sleeping. (Though I’m not actually sleeping at this moment. Hello 3am insomnia.) Tomorrow (Friday) I will collect the images and haul them to a printer.

Sprinkled throughout the week was customer support for the Writing Excuses cruise and for Schlock customers.

Thursday also contained taking my daughter shopping for the last wardrobe thing she needed in order to be a bridesmaid at a wedding on Friday. She also needed to get a painting framed because it is her gift to the couple.

Things on my list for Friday:
Pre-pay hotel room for GenCon booth staff
Write a couple of emails related to the WX cruise
Call a doctor and remind him that he was supposed to send a prescription to the pharmacy
Final odds and ends for the Force Multiplication shipping
Update some store items in the wake of Force Multiplication shipping
Take Pre Gen sheets to printer
Make reference cards related to the Planet Mercenary GenCon games
Assemble player kits for the GenCon players
Assemble GM Kits for the kind folks who will be running our games
Prepare two solo presentations that I’ll be giving at GenCon
Help Kiki sort out some plot issues with a story she is working on so that she can continue to work while I’m fully occupied at GenCon
Go over the 70 Maxims book copy edits
Work on collecting the remaining handwritten notes for 70 Maxims book
Scan the handwriting
Assemble 70 maxims pages to check layout
Begin packing for GenCon
Move things around in my family room so that the workmen can paint ceiling and walls.
Attend a wedding reception

That is more things than I can reasonably do in a single day. Fortunately some of them can roll over onto Saturday and Monday. But right now I need to go see if writing up this blog post has now convinced my brain that it does not have to hold onto every single thought. We can let go and sleep. Really.

Thoughts About Movies

Our family watches a lot of movies and TV shows. Howard sees them in the theater and reviews on his website. It is one of the ways he gets outside of his box and refreshes his brain to work again. The rest of us go to the theater far less often. Frequently we don’t see things until they hit DVD or Netflix. There are many things I don’t bother to see at all for various reasons, the main one of which is that I don’t have all the time in the world. Today I find myself thinking of some movies I’ve seen in the past few weeks.

Howard and I went to see it in the theater on the Friday it opened. We came out happy and glad we had gone. The internet is rife with reviews of this movie. Many people found triumph and identity in it. Others saw the whole thing as a travesty. I liked it. It made me laugh. In comparing my reaction walking out of this movie to they way I felt when I first saw the original, I can’t say which I enjoyed more. But my enjoyment of the original has dampened through the decades. I still love it, but it isn’t paced for the modern audience. And the love sub-plot in it makes me actively uncomfortable. So right now Ghostbusters 2016 is my favorite of the Ghostbusters movies. I do love that the female heroes get to just do stuff without having to look sexy while they do it. I also loved Hemsworth’s parody of every ditzy secretary and rom com heroine ever. As a story and a movie, it is normal/entertaining. As a deliberate upturning of tropes and challenging the norms of film roles, it is brilliant.

Schindler’s List
Before this week I had deliberately avoided seeing Schindler’s List. I knew that it was heart wrenching. I knew it was a movie composed of grief, death, and disregard for human life. All the more painful because all of it was based in historical fact. I also knew that it is an important movie to have. And it had to be made when it was, when there were still living people who had gone through the experience. Most of the Holocaust survivors are gone now. It is good that we’re that much further away from this terrible historical event. It also means that society is in danger of forgetting, of sliding into some configuration which will allow people to be dehumanized again.

Now felt like the right time for me to watch the film. I think I wanted a clear picture of where the world needs to not go again. After watching I understood why Spielberg would never allow it to be shown edited. There are times when we shouldn’t sanitize history to make it more palatable. The movie was beautifully shot and hauntingly written. I loved how human everyone was, particularly Schindler himself who never set out to be a hero. He just wanted to make a fortune and live lavishly. Only over time his heart opened more and more. He began to see the suffering and to love the people. That is the piece I want to hold tight and remember. Even when the world is at it’s worst. Even when people are being drawn en-masse into evil behaviors. There will always be a chance to transform, to open closed hearts, and to do the right thing if we are brave enough to do it.

Batman Vs Superman

After watching deep dark history, I needed to turn to lighter things. The fact that Batman Vs. Superman came off as lighter tells you much about history. I haven’t seen Man of Steel and probably won’t bother to. This meant that in the opening scenes I was just as confused and dismayed by the battle in the sky as Bruce Wayne was. I was really able to see and feel the powerlessness in the face of demi gods. It helped a lot that I went into the film with the firm idea that I wasn’t actually watching Superman, it was more Steelheart (by Brandon Sanderson). This meant that instead of being disappointed in Superman being not all that likable, I was pleasantly surprised by the moments when I liked him. I found myself thinking about the psychology of Superman as a person. People who have never been hurt are often unable to empathize with the hurts of others. This Superman is young and the consequences of his actions are just beginning to be real to him. He is beginning to see that, even with his powers, he has to make choices about who to save. That he is responsible for the outcomes of those choices.

This is definitely more of a Batman movie than a Superman movie. I liked Affleck’s Batman. I loved the pivotal moment where they stop fighting against each other and instead teamed up. I also loved the fact that each of them was so able to see the negative consequences of the other’s actions and less able to see the consequences of their own. That is so human. I loved Wonder Woman every time she was on the screen. I hope that she can keep that up in her solo movie. I’ve rarely like the extended use of dream sequences in films and that was used here. I felt like those could have been greatly shortened. The one thing that kept throwing me out of the story was the voice of that one senator. Her voice is so distinctive that every time she spoke I started seeing the mother character from Incredibles.

Pride and Prejudice (the BBC mini series with Colin Firth)
I know so many people who love this, but I’d never taken the time. However I had some manual tasks to do (related to book shipping) that didn’t really need my brain. So This kept me company while I did them. At the end of the first episode I wondered why people love it so much. It was fine, but not really drawing me in. By the end of the third episode I was truly enjoying it. By the end of the last episode, I’ll admit to wishing for a little more modernizing of the ending. I really wanted Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth to hold hands, kiss, and be less formal. Even though I know that what was portrayed is far more accurate to the book. I don’t know if I’ll be a person who watches it multiple times, but I really enjoyed seeing a romance story full off complex characters where the obstacles flowed from their personalities rather than being imposed from outside. Most conflicts with other people have more to do with misunderstanding than with villainy.

All the things in my head

Colloquially it is called “Getting up on the wrong side of the bed.” The fact that there is a colloquialism about it, shows that the experience of waking up in an unpleasant emotional state is a common and normal experience. Yet it feels to me that there is a fundamental difference between waking up a little grouchy or sad, and waking up feeling as sad as if someone you love just died. It is the difference between tripping because you misjudged the last step and falling into a pit. Yet the wrong side of the bed terminology might serve as a bridge to help those who haven’t had this experience understand those who have.

It wasn’t a pit this morning, but after two nights of insomnia, I woke into a day that just feels a little sad. I looked at my list of things to do and it felt like I’d already failed at most of it, which isn’t a great feeling to have at 8am on a Monday morning. I’m used to feeling a little overwhelmed at the tasks of the week. I’m often afraid that I will fail if I don’t get moving. But this morning I had the sense that I had already failed before I’d even attempted to do anything. Logically I knew it wasn’t true. This week has great potential for success. I just needed to get moving and do the things. Yet pushing against that feeling of failure is like walking in waist deep water with a current trying to send me in a direction I don’t want to go. It is a gentle current, one I can counter, but pushing against it is tiring. Push I did, and by afternoon things felt better.

It is possible that the morning emotion was in part due to thoughts I had yesterday. I was thinking about how I’ve written very little about the kids on my blog lately. This is not because they haven’t provided material, it is just that with teenagers it is more complicated to navigate which parts of the stories are mine to tell. Since January Gleek has become more clearly OCD. I’m not sure if that is because we’re now seeing the behaviors for what they’ve always been, or if the “volume” has been turned up on those behaviors. It is hard for me to judge because it all feels like daily life to me. Yet when I use objective measures, such as participation in girl’s camp, I have to acknowledge something is different. Last year she was able to stay all week. This year she had to come home early because being there was too hard on her and on her leaders. There are specific incidents that both Gleek and I find fascinating (Why does her brain do that?) but writing them up feels vulnerable and my first loyalty must be to my daughter not to any audience.

None of the other mental health issues have vanished either. While Patch hasn’t had a full on panic attack since school started, he hasn’t exactly been going out into the world doing adventurous things. He’s demonstrated some more self awareness than he had before, but he still locks up in a way that is like the panic attacks, but with less adrenaline. Link, Howard, and I are still working to figure out what adulthood will look like for him. Being connected to resources for autistic adults has really helped, but much of what I’m hearing is “give him extra time to develop and room to learn from the mistakes he makes.” Patience is a thing I’m tired of having to carry around all the time. Kiki’s struggles are improved and not mine to tell.

I still wrestle with my own thoughts, wondering if I am culpable in the quantities of mental health issues of my children and deciding, yet again, that genetics have a stronger influence than nurture in this case. (Family history from both sides which include: Autism, anxiety disorders, depression, bi-polar disorder, ADHD, and a host of other things.) I think about work, money, packages, and projects. I look ahead to the advent of school and to Gen Con and to the cruise at the end of September. I plan for these things. My thoughts keep circling over the same ground and it all feels like repeats. I don’t really want to blog repeats. That gets boring for me as much as anyone else. I need to do some things to break me out of my cycle of thoughts. I need to take the kids out of the house and get out myself. There are plans to do that on Wednesday. And GenCon will take me far outside my usual stomping grounds. Hopefully getting outside the box will help me shake loose some new thoughts that are interesting to write.

Loose Thoughts

This morning, while I was dropping of packages, I listened to a pair of postal employees argue over who was right and who was wrong in a recent shooting case. As I listened, the following thought occurred to me. I’m still turning it over in my head to see if it rings true.
The thought:
As a private citizen it is not my job to judge individuals (unless I’m on a jury), but it is my job to pass judgement on the systems which judge those individuals and the laws that they are judged by. It is also my job to take action if I feel the systems or laws are broken or unfair.

In traveling to and from the post office, I pass by a giant flag that waves over a grocery store parking lot. It was at half mast. Again. And I tried to remember when I last saw it at full mast. Or when it last spent an appreciable length of time at full mast. I would like to have a couple of months where no national or international tragedies send flags half way down the pole. It has all started to blur a bit, is this the left over half mast from last week, or the new one from yesterday? I don’t want to be asking that question anymore.

I recently had someone say to me that the internet is in it’s “wild west” phase. That with the advent of social media we haven’t had enough time to build social rules and laws about appropriate behavior as digital citizens of the online community. This feels true to me. It also starts me thinking about history, because social upheaval is not a new phenomenon. I wonder how societies felt as they navigated from having a mostly illiterate populace into having a mostly literate one. That changed all the rules. It shifted the balances of power. It changed the world forever. Or what about the shifts from hunting and gathering to agriculture? Again all the structures changed and it must have felt like the world was falling apart.

I’m certain that there were battles and deaths over both literacy and agriculture. There still are on smaller scales. It is always terrifying when the solutions which used to work don’t anymore. It is frightening when a person is used to having a particular capability and that capability is removed. It is frightening to see power shift into new hands, because we don’t know what those hands will do with it. Fear makes people rash in their decisions and actions.

I can only hope that since one of the hallmarks of the digital revolution is the speed at which things alter, that this will also be reflected in the speed at which we settle into social structures which are more adaptive for the post-internet era.

Mid Summer Updates

My time has been much occupied with making and mailing packages. These days we do Schlock shipping in patches over a week or more. It is less stress on me and causes less trouble with the post office.

I’ve also been spending time with cruise administration and planning. We have many attendees who have never been on a cruise before, so I’ve been helping to answer questions and make sure that everything is handled on schedule. I’m the help desk and the interface with our cruise liaison, so it means email. I’ve also been prepping and planning for the things we’ll be doing with our kids while on the cruise. I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to afford to bring them all again, so I’m making sure we get the chance to do interesting things on shore.

I’ve been working with the 70 Maxims files, prepping them to go to print. We’ve begun the process of creating all the handwritten notes. It is a slow process, but the result is beginning to look really cool.

I’ve been helping Kiki untangle some plot problems for a graphic novel project she is working on. I’ve also been an advisor for another of her projects which launched and then had to unlaunch because of a problem. There was an emotional ride involved, but all is at peace now. Particularly since some college friends have come to spend the weekend. Friends are a good thing.

I helped Gleek dye her hair bright blue. It is surprising to me how quickly seeing the blue began to feel normal.

All of these are good things. Less good are the anxiety attacks which lurk waiting to pounce when I’m trying to sleep. And then there are the random ebbs and flows of mental health which require management at times. And by “times” I mean “daily.” Rare is the day when none of us are off kilter. But the good news is that our established coping strategies usually fend off full meltdown mode.

Yet, when I take time to look at where we were this time last year, I am so glad to be in this year instead. We are all in better places than we were. I have large fears about what will come when school starts again, but I do my best to not let them run amok. When I look back at how far we’ve come, I can sometimes believe that we’ll manage to weather whatever comes next.

Another thing which uses hours is preparing for GenCon, which is only a few weeks away. I have many things I would like to do before it is time to depart. I have a couple of presentations to prepare, and hand outs to make. I’ve already sent packages to our team in Indiana. Exhibitor instructions are sitting in my mailbox so that we can properly set up the booth. When I get back from GenCon we’ll be right up against the beginning of school, but I’m trying hard not to think too much about that.

For now, I’ll be taking each day one at a time and trying to remember which day of the week it is. Pretty sure today is Thursday. Summer days blend into each other.

Things I’m Thinking About Because of the News

I’ve been thinking about this article on How Not to Say the Wrong Thing. The concept is simple, if someone is closer to a tragedy or source of emotional pain than you are, you should not vent your feelings in their direction. Instead you should do your venting and emotional sorting to someone who is further away than you. It is a good concept and works very well with personal situations.

The trouble comes when there is an emotional event of National or International proportions. We’ve had a barrage of these recently: mass shooting in Orlando, bomb in Iraq, bomb in Saudi Arabia, bomb in Turkey, Brexit, the deaths of black men by the hand of police officers, and now the shooting of police officers in Dallas. I’m sure I’ve missed something. When an event of this proportion hits, it is hard to tell who among our acquaintances is closer to the epicenter of damage. This means anyone who vents on the internet is likely to accidentally dump inward on someone who is also hurting. I watched the wife of a police officer be wounded by the mother of a black son and vice versa. They both needed to be able to sort their feelings, speak their fears, but ended up making each other more upset.

I am also thinking about this article on What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone. It describes what it means to hold space open for someone else to grieve and process emotions. It also taps into the Dump Out Comfort In paradigm in a description of how people who are holding space for others also need someone to hold space for them.

I don’t know how to hold space for everyone who is injured in a giant event. I don’t think a single person can. I do think it is possible for me to read the angry words of a friend and try to reserve my judgement and anger. I can learn to recognize that the opinions expressed in the grip of strong emotion are going to be more radical and extreme than the person would usually allow. If the person is allowed space, they are more able to talk themselves down from the extreme. If they are forced to defend their statement, they’re more likely to become entrenched in it.

I’m worn out from the tumult and from all the emotions I’ve felt at each wave of news. Reading my social media streams is a storm of emotions battering away at any calm I try to maintain. In contrast, the world outside my computer is unchanged. My flowers are growing, I have packages to ship, I have the minor crises associated with mental health to manage. My neighborhood is not the scene of any of the tragedies. Reconciling it all is complex, I’m not certain how I will sort it. I just know that hasty action will not make things better. I shall strive to be like the Ents in Lord of the Rings (which I’ve been re-watching), slow and considered in the way that they approach the world, but decisive and unstoppable once action is decided upon. I have lots of feelings, I need to match them with actions that will make the world better.

Important Schlock Package Announcement

Unsketched Force Multiplication orders are in the mail. This is good news.
Unfortunately it has come to my attention that some of the packages were sent out with the wrong package weight. (Completely my mistake. I fumbled and types 1lb instead of 2lb when entering a batch.) At least one arrived to a customer Postage Due. (Which isn’t supposed to happen, they should send it back to me for more payment if I make a mistake like this.)

Please pass the word: If your Schlock package arrives Postage Due, email with a photo of the postage due label. I will happily reimburse for any additional postage expense either in funds or in store credit.

The next thing I’ll do is check with the post office and see if there is any way to chase down packages and get them fixed before they arrive postage due.

Update 1:23pm: More than fifty packages were sent back to me. I’m spending the next hour or two getting the right postage on them and getting them back into the mail. This means that there are about 30 more packages which are either being sent to customers postage due, or are taking their time getting back to me. There is no way for me to fix the postage on packages already in the system. I have to wait until customers notify me or until they come back.

Update: 2:51 pm: I’ve identified all the packages that are likely to be affected. I’ve emailed all the people whose orders show either “Delivered” or “In Transit” I’m now diving in to compare the remainder of the list to the packages that were returned to me. Then I can send emails to other potentially affected customers. I’ve already gotten one response that indicates a package was delivered with no trouble at all, so hopefully most of the packages went through.

Update 4:40 pm: All packages have been re-postaged. I’m about to take them to the post office.

Beginning July

The days slipped into being July, not exactly when my back was turned. I saw it coming, yet somehow when it actually became July, I felt a moment of surprise. This weekend most of my country will be on holiday. The official day of celebration is on Monday, so it grants a three day weekend to most people. Holidays don’t have the same feel in our house, particularly not the holidays which fall during the summer when all the kids are out of school anyway. Sometimes I don’t even realize a holiday is happening until I try to do something like go to the bank. Of course this particular holiday announces its presence with flashes of light and loud sounds.

Today I had to devote my time to Planet Mercenary and to helping Kiki work out some plotting issues on a story she needs to complete for school. The Planet Mercenary work was a brain slog of making sure that all the ships we plan to include have stats that match their descriptions. Then we have to make sure that the stats don’t break anything else, like the financial system or the hit point system. It is one of those tasks that on the surface looks simple, but gets persnickety in the details.

Tomorrow I will be doing organization to prepare for shipping. We need to begin getting books out the door now that they are signed. I should also spend time with my weekly accounting and with some basic house organization and cleaning. All of which is a bunch of words to wrap around what is basically a To Do list.

It is pleasantly warm when I step outside after the sun has gone down. The air in my front garden is fragrant with lilies in bloom. My cat yells at me to make sure that I stop and pet her since I’m outside anyway. In the middle of all the things to do, I need to make time to stop and sit. Otherwise July will slip away just as easily as the month before it did.