Month: September 2016

Looking Ahead

I keep looking at my calendar, mapping out the shape for the next few weeks. It is a necessary task because the cruise trip loomed so large that I couldn’t see past it. Now the trip is behind me and I have to figure out how to organize the next things. My two school kids have extra homework, but we now have all the papers we need to get that done. I’ve cleared out the shipping queue and done the accounting. The last loads of vacation laundry are running now.

That only leaves the giant projects which feel horribly overdue and which I can’t always wrap my brain around. There are moments when I can see exactly how it is all going to work. Those slip away from me when I get distracted. Then I am left with doing the next step, because I can see how to do that. The hope is that enough next steps in a row will eventually land us in project completion.

In the midst of building momentum for the big projects, I am also trying to use the lessons learned on the cruise trip to make small changes here at home. Over time small changes create massive shifts in trajectory.

We do have a pair of trips that land before the end of October, one for Howard, one for me. But compared to the cruise they are logistically tiny. Pretty much all we have to do for Howard is pack a suitcase and shove him onto a plane. My trip requires a bit more preparation because I have two presentations to fine tune. Yet once the presentations are done, I expect the trip itself to be a delight. Howard will have the kids so the only one to manage will be me. Also, the conference features several writing friends I am excited to spend time with.

It is nice to be able to see far ahead on the schedule without a massive anxiety thing in the way.

Things I Learned While Cruising

Dolphins have a series of sounds that they always use when approaching another dolphin. Each dolphin has a unique set of sounds. This means that dolphins name themselves and routinely introduce themselves by name.

If you place two Tayler kids at adjoining tables, they will create little fortresses and villages out of sugar packets.

Different ships have different social structures between staff and guests. This one felt more stratified than the last ship. I kept trying to put my waiter and my room attendant at ease and was never able to quite do it.

The world is full of amazingly kind people. Many of them were our attendees and teachers for this event.

Having a larger ship does not mean I’ll feel the ocean less. Because the ship was so tall and the underwater portion shallow in comparison, I felt the motion of the ship most of the time. I never felt sick with it except on the one night where I was in the highest lounge of the ship while the ship was skirting the edge of a storm.

I do not like it when they make the dining hall staff dance to music. I’d much rather be having conversations. They danced four times during the week. It was a lot.

Sometimes the light strikes the water in a way that makes crepuscular rays reflecting down into the water. This is hard to catch on film, but I tried.

There were lots of knowledge gaps in my children’s experiences of travel. Howard and I were frequently explaining things and demonstrating things. They had to be shown how to navigate an airport, how to order room service on a ship, how to share elevators with lots of other people, how to be polite in all the small ways that are necessary in crowds.

Bringing kids onto a crowded ship with fourteen decks, then making them stay for a week, is an effective way to exterminate elevator anxiety.

While some of my kids dove in, did their own research, and ran off to do things, I had to be cruise director for some of the other ones. I had to book tickets to shows then require them to actually attend those shows, which they then enjoyed.

Nassau has iguanas everywhere. This delighted all Taylers.

Dusk while pulling away from port is beautiful.

Standing on a balcony and watching water flow by is a huge destressor. Riding a smaller boat with wind in my face is also a destressor while simultaneously being invigorating.

Dan Wells will let his assistant paint his nails if the polish is glow in the dark with tiny bats.

If we leave the room set up and the mics hot, apparently attendees will host a spontaneous Writing Excuses episode with various people playing the part of the cast members.

Swimming with dolphins will make my daughter vibrate with joy.

Other people genuinely like my kids and find them charming. This is nice to know because I often worry that their various intensities will make them bothersome in public.

Old Heidelberg is a marvelous restaurant and I should eat all the potato pancakes.

When there is a fire at an airport, security will completely empty the terminal and we’ll get to stand in a long line waiting to get into the building. Once inside I could smell that it had been a bread fire, it smelled exactly like scorched toast. Then I thought about it and realized that the evacuation was not an over reaction. A small fire could be a staged distraction and they had to rule that out before allowing travelers back into the building.

If you let Gleek loose with a free afternoon and a pool area populated with little lizards, she will become so expert at catch and release that she can practically just walk up to them and pick them up. Also, she will manage to tame them so that they’ll just sit on her hands and shoulders.

Those photos with water and hair flips are a lot harder to pull off than you would think. Water up the nose is a serious issue. Also if you have long hair, it requires serious back muscles to move the weight of the hair and water.

Given the opportunity, a conference of writers will claim space in a lounge and gradually all the other people will leave because we’re talking about weird stuff.

While on a cruise, strangers will use the elevator ride to divulge random details about their lives. Sometimes this is delightful, other times it’s just weird.

If you put siblings into tiny cabins for a week, all the latent rivalries and tensions will come to the surface.

Day three is when kids melt down and want to go home. Day five is when they really settle in to the rhythms of ship life.

An autistic adult who is removed from most of his familiar routines, will need someone to be with him pretty constantly so that he doesn’t retract inward into loneliness and sadness. Also the newness of things means he can’t fully enjoy them. They have to repeat and become familiar before he can evaluate if he actually likes them.

When we are willing to be vulnerable with each other, a powerful connection can be formed in a very short span of time. Also a single sentence can tell a powerful story. I witnessed nine people take painful personal stories and distill them into a single sentence as part of an exercise. It was amazing.

My camera has settings that let me catch moon on water (If a bit dark and blurry). You can also see the constellation Orion if you look right of the moon.

I need my trips to have spaces of unscheduled time so that I can process the experiences I’m having. I’m home now and life is moving onward. Some of those thoughts are going to be lost or buried unexamined.

I love writer people. (This isn’t a new thing I learned, but it is a thing I’ve been reminded of.)

Royal Caribbean has an entire Autism program. I knew that before embarking, but I thought it was kid focused so I didn’t tap into it on the ship. After disembarking I learned that they’re trained to help autistic adults as well. If I’d engaged with guest services we would have had a different week. But since every single hard thing opened up new knowledge and realizations for all of us, I’m not sure I’d trade away the week I had. If there is another time with my son along, I’ll have a conversation with guest services.

Sand and water are good for hours of entertainment, even when the kids are all grown up.

Sometimes when I make my kid go along on an excursion that he really doesn’t want to do, he will discover that he loves part of it. Same was true for dinners and shows. I need to make him do more things that make him uncomfortable so that his world can become larger.

Sometimes it only takes small things to create happiness.

There are people who can understand what I’m dealing with and will give me hugs when stuff is hard.

The WXR staff is amazing. We watch out for each other and tell each other when to take time off or to nap. When an emergency comes up, everyone steps in and helps so that the conference proceeds smoothly while the emergency is managed. And happily the emergency was minor and resolved without any long term consequences.

Ships on the ocean leaves trails in the water, much like airplanes leave contrails in the sky.

All of that, and I’ve only begun to mention the things I’ve learned in the last ten days. I wish I had the funds to travel more with my kids. I wish I had the time to travel more. I’m looking forward to next year’s WXR cruise in Europe.

I had a marvelous, wonderous, complicated, challenging, stressful, joyful, beautiful trip.

Home from WXR2016


I have spent the last ten days away from my house with all of my children. We traversed the country via shuttle and airplane. Then we got on a ship to sail for seven days. Today we returned home. I have so many thoughts about all of it.

The event was the Writing Excuses Workshop that for the past two years has taken place on a cruise ship. I wrote about it last year. This year was also magical, but also more exhausting because I was pulled in more directions. My children had never taken a trip like this one before and they needed help learning how to manage themselves and navigate the cruise experience. I did not have many down times where I got to emotionally process the experiences. I was often up until 2 or 3am, either because I was finally getting a chance to sit and have a lovely conversation or because one of my kids hit meltdown at midnight and it took that long to help them sort it.

The entire thing pinged between marvelous and exhausting. I had joyous moments with my family. I also had moments which made me cry because I don’t have fixes for hard things in their lives. Pretty much all the sibling conflicts busted open at one point or another. The kids finally said to each other some of the things that they’ve only been willing to say to me. Their world is a different place post-cruise. We’ll see what changes that makes in the patterns of our lives back at home. I would like for some things to be different.

There is real power in taking a family, pulling them all outside their comfort zone, and then trapping them there for a week because we simply can’t abort the experience until the ship gets back to port. I flat out couldn’t solve some of the problems, which meant the kids had to face the problems and deal with them. It was hard on them sometimes. Mostly it was hard on Link, who is a creature of patterns and habits. The family had to take turns helping him get through. Gleek loved the teen program and ran her own schedule. Kiki loved being staff for the conference. Patch had an abundance of time to read and enjoyed being at the adult tables for dinner. Link discovered he loves snorkeling.

And all of that doesn’t begin to touch the conference aspects of the cruise. I renewed friendship with people who have attended prior events. I made new friends. I got to meet in person some people that I’d only known online. It was very difficult to be pulled away from conference classes and conversations to check on kids, manage kids, require kids to try things they didn’t want to try (which they then loved). I wanted to spend all my time in classes, in conversations, in helping manage the event, in sitting down to get my own work done.

I got no work done other than staying on top of email. Work was one of the pieces that simply didn’t fit. I don’t know what that means for work this week. Howard had trouble clearing space to be working as well. If we had not had the kids, I think we would have gotten much more done.

I have many thoughts about cruises, about kids on cruises, about cruises and special needs people, about the social environments on the ship, about the shows on the cruise (which I would not have seen except that I needed to pull kids into activities,) about the size of the ship itself and whether it is wise to make a ship that large. Our ship was one of the largest in the world. I hadn’t really wrapped my head around that fact until I got off the ship at Nassau and saw this:

One guess which was our ship. Gleek got off the ship onto the pier and looked up to the top of the ship beside us. “They’re like mountains!” she said then she turned to look up at our ship “Whoa, ours is even bigger.” I’m glad to have sailed on a giant ship once, but I preferred the smaller ship last year.

I have even more thoughts about the emotional experiences of this event. I need some quiet processing time before I can frame those thoughts. But I will say this, every time an emotional thing was hard, I was able to see exactly why it was an important experience to have. Not fun, but definitely important.

On the other hand, anytime things felt hard, I could step out onto my balcony and watch the water flow by. Within moments my spirit would quiet and calm would flow over me. I really need a door in my house which opens up to a balcony like that.

I’m exhausted both physically and mentally. I want to bounce right back into work, into helping the kids get their schoolwork made up, into being effective in regular life. But I have some sleeping and processing to do. Emotional processing is important work and it requires a free space of time for it to happen. Right now, bed.


Packing Along Ways to Cope

In the near future I am taking my family on a cruise. It is a big trip that I’ve spent quite a lot of time planning and saving for. It is the sort of trip where people are supposed to leave behind all the trappings of regular life and go have adventures. We’re not going to do that. Adventures, yes. Leave everything behind, no. There isn’t a member of my family who doesn’t have some sort of mental health issue. Some of the management techniques for these issues involved coping strategies and controlling our environments. If you remove us from our regular environments and coping mechanisms, we melt down in fairly spectacular fashion. Howard and I discovered this last year when we went on a cruise. It turns out that both he and I function much better as human beings when we have an internet connection. When we wander through our usual internet rounds, we show our brain that everything is okay, predictable, normal. If internet makes the cruise enjoyable, then buying the internet package seems like a no brainer.

For the past week I’ve been watching my kids and evaluating which coping things we need to bring with us. I’m bringing DVDs of familiar shows, because several of us use shows as a form of emotional regulation. We’ll be bringing hand held video games for the same reason. I’m contemplating packing along one of our weighted blankets despite what that will do to the weight of our luggage. We’ve got travel speakers so that people can have their night time music. All of us will bring phones with an international texting plan so that we can find each other in anxious moments. Even with all of that, I expect there to be moments where one or another of us gets melty and just wants to be back at home. It is possible that someone will flip out and I’ll have to spend a portion of my trip actively helping that person make it through. But I don’t think so. I think that of the big family trips we could take, this cruise is going to fit into a relatively comfortable place for most of us. The travel days with multiple plane flights will be the hardest part.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to not have to do this level of planning for emotional management. I also wonder if we actually need this level of planning, or if it is all just a manifestation of my anxiety. Whatever it is, the planning is mostly done, which is good.

Household Tasks are Complicated

Sometime in the last month I had a conversation with a friend where we were commiserating about how often we feel like failures. She said something along the lines of “Yeah, I got grocery shopping done today. That’s it.” I don’t really remember the rest of the conversation, but that sentiment (and the self-critical tone she used to say it) have stuck with me.

As a society we seriously underestimate the value of household tasks such as grocery shopping and laundry. I’m not just talking about how we don’t pay money for this work, we also speak of these things as if maintaining a functioning household is so simple that every adult should be able to do it without stress. That is simply not true. Many household tasks are very complex, we just lose sight of that complexity because they are so familiar that some of them have become routine for us. Anything we practice becomes easier for us to accomplish, but that does not make the task itself easy.

Take grocery shopping for example. It requires the ability to inventory food currently stored at your house. Then you have to plan for future eating based on your past eating experiences. You have to evaluate rate-of-use on foods to decide when is the right time to replenish a particular item. You also have to calculate how much money you have available to spend, which might require a review of your budget. You have to look at your schedule to figure out when you have time to make the trip, which requires a knowledge of how long grocery shopping usually takes. You have to arrange for transportation of yourself to the store and back with the groceries. Even if you have a car readily available to you, that adds an entire set of tasks to keep the car functioning so that it may be used at a moment’s notice. Once you are at the store, you have hundreds of micro decisions to make. If you didn’t bring a list, you have to remember what you have at home and select based on that memory. Whether or not you brought a list, you have to navigate the store to find the items that you need. This requires a knowledge of what items are usually grouped together and where this particular store puts that particular grouping of items. While in the store you are confronted with hundreds of items which tempt you to purchase them. You have to decide, on the fly, whether or not you should. This involves thinking about budget, space in cupboards/fridge/freezer, and also an evaluation for whether this tempting item matches the diet or lifestyle that you want to have. Each micro decision makes your brain a little bit tired, rendering each subsequent decision fractionally more difficult than the one before it. When your cart is full or your list complete, you face further micro decisions: which line to check out, how to stack things on the conveyor, and paper or plastic. Or if you use a self-check option, then you need to navigate the system of ringing up and bagging your own groceries. When you arrive at home, all the things you have purchased need to be relocated to their appropriate storage locations.

Grocery shopping is far from simple. It is a hugely complex task and it is only one of many household tasks that require regular attention to keep things running. Yet we tend to discount the time, effort, brain necessary to make sure these tasks happen. If you add in tending to the needs of pets or other people, the level of complexity multiplies. It is all valuable work. Yet so often we (I definitely include myself in this) arrive at the end of a day full of household tasks feeling like we accomplished nothing important. Which is funny, because for people who lack basic necessities, these “simple” household and life maintenance tasks are of primary importance.

Adulting is hard. Most people struggle with some aspect of it. I’m watching my adult children as they learn to navigate all the household management stuff, and it reminds me how complicated it really is.

Thinking about Culture and Fluency

This past week, in between all the business and parenting to do lists, I was thinking about cultural fluency. I first thought about it weeks ago when a pair of presidential nominees both decided to write Op-Ed columns aimed at Utah and Mormons in particular. As a Utah-based Mormon person, they were both attempting to speak to me. One definitely came across as an outsider, not quite comprehending what is important to this demographic and why it matters to us. The other had a piece that sounded as if it had been written by someone who was raised as a Mormon. It not only hit the exact emotional notes that would appeal, it also used all the jargon words correctly. After reading the piece I had to stop and think about whether I was impressed that the candidate took the time to hire someone who was completely culturally fluent, or if I felt it was a little disingenuous for the candidate to pretend to a fluency they do not actually have. I still haven’t decided.

Reading the pieces brought to my attention, in a way I hadn’t seen before, that culture is subtle and extremely nuanced. My sister once commented that sometimes she is instantly comfortable with a person she just met. Usually she discovers that this person spent childhood or early adult years in California, Utah, Idaho, or Arizona. As a person who has lived abroad, she found that fascinating. She eventually decided that the difference is in the small things, the turn of phrase, how close the person stands, the way they accept or decline an offer, all the tiny social contracts that vary from region to region even when all the regions speak the same language. It is strange for me to realize that as I move through the world I am automatically behaving in ways that will make some people more comfortable with me and others less so.

I thought about this again when I watched the first episode of a show called Quantico. It was about new recruits in the FBI training program. I was surprised to see one of the recruits being a Mormon, returned missionary from Salt Lake City, Utah. It makes sense I guess. The FBI does heavy recruiting in Utah because the clean living which Mormons impose on themselves make them less susceptible to certain methods of corruption. This was even mentioned in the show. Once I got over my surprise, I was quite curious to see how the show would handle this Mormon character. Would they do enough research? Would this character be written with cultural fluency or would I be left thinking “No Mormon would do that.” I didn’t get a chance to see. The Mormon character died before the end of the first episode in a very abrupt way. It was like the show writers wanted to acknowledge the Mormon/FBI thing, but they didn’t want to actually have to deal with getting a Mormon character right.

We learn so much about how the world works from social context. It is the kids around us in school that teach us what is acceptable and what is not. Often these lessons are unpleasant because humans can be cruel to those who make them uncomfortable by being different. Social context is in our entertainment as well, which is why it is unfortunate that so much of it is generic culture. So much entertainment assumes that most audiences will identify with characters who are white, medium to college educated, not particularly religious, and middle class. The thing is, that person isn’t actually neutral. The culture we see on TV is a fiction that is lacking specific cultural fluency. In some ways this is the creators of shows playing it safe. If they have their characters inhabit a generic American culture, then they won’t get angry emails from people telling them what cultural mistakes they made. I know that any time I see a Mormon character on the screen, I pay close attention to see if that character is mis-representing my people. I don’t get to pay that attention very often.

I was also thinking about how social culture is created. I used an example of the things school kids teach to each other. There are so many cultural things which schools and educators assume their students will learn at home or pick up automatically. Social skills and life skills aren’t explicitly taught. We’re expected to learn them by observing and living around other people. Except this leaves every single one of us with gaps in our knowledge. I see this with my kids all the time. School teaches them how to take turns on the playground and expects them to extrapolate that into adults who know how to take turns in a conversation. Except being socially fluent is so much more nuanced than taking turns for a slide. I wonder how a focus on social education would change the incidences of bullying inside a school.

I don’t really have any conclusion for all these loose thoughts other than to say that how people interact with their cultures is fascinating. There is so much nuance and I’m really glad that I live in a world where nuances and differences exist.

Days that Seem Hard, but Aren’t Really

Wednesday wasn’t really hard, not in comparison to some of the hard days we’ve had in the past few years. At least this time my kid was able to recognize the impending meltdown, call me, and articulate what went wrong. I still had to bring him home and let him curl up under a weighted blanket with a soft thing to hug tight until the shakes went away. Yet both he and I spent some time with the thought “how are we going to do this year if things are already going off the rails?” Except things weren’t off the rails, not really. This year he has several classes that he actively enjoys and looks forward to attending. This year he’s able to call me between classes and tell me “I think it might be good for me to have a notebook so I could write notes on when I’m anxious. Then we could figure out what is triggering it.” This year he is looking for solutions instead of flopping into a heap.

Thursday was a little hard, but only in my head. The events of Wednesday churned up emotional sediment that clouded my thinking all day long. I woke to the day certain that anything I touched was doomed to failure. So I pitched my plan to do creative work and instead asked Howard to give me the files for Random Access Memorabilia. Doing layout on a Schlock book is familiar. I know exactly how it needs to go. The work was comforting because I know it isn’t overdue or complicated.

This morning was better. All my kids attended all of their classes. I was able to see that I’m not failing at everything. I can also see that despite shifting around kids’ school schedules multiple times, and despite having to bring my son home mid-day 3 times (so far) We’re still aimed at having a good school year. Of course there is a great big disruption coming up in two weeks when I take all of my kids on the Writing Excuses cruise. That will mean missed classes, make up work, and having to re-orient ourselves when we get back. Yet that too will be a learning experience.