Month: November 2016

Letters to Things

Dear Road Sign,
“Road Congestion at Scipio Summit, Expect Delays” Does not adequately convey “You will be parked on the freeway for so long that people will be walking their dogs and men will be heading into the bushes to pee.” I think that word does not mean what you think it means.

Dear fellow drivers caught in a traffic jam,
I understand that you are frustrated at being stopped on the freeway, and that you really want to get home, but please don’t be stupid. Driving on shoulder of road = stupid. Driving wrong way up freeway onramp because you didn’t take the exit 100 feet and twenty minutes ago, also stupid. Fleeing onto frontage roads and then reconnecting with the freeway in reckless ways so that you cause additional accidents, supremely stupid. At least six of you were this last kind of stupid. Less than an inch of snow on the ground, just drive slow and patient then we’ll all get home.
No love.

Dear Brain,
Why did you decide to hand me the title and plot for a picture book where Amy’s Mommy is the central character? Amy’s fans don’t want a book about Amy’s Mommy. Okay, maybe parents of Amy’s fans might want it, but it is still a strange and difficult-to-market niche. Also, we have other projects where our attention should be focused. We don’t need to be drafting sentences, okay fine, I’ll write them down.

Dear fellow travelers after the traffic jam,
Thank you for being far more sane and patient that I was afraid you would be. You didn’t cause any more accidents after we cleared the mess. Thank you.

Dear home,
I love you. Glad I got here.

Sea Glass


Sea glass is what happens when people leave broken glass garbage on beaches or toss it into the ocean. The shards are moved about by waves, scoured by sand, and eaten by salt until all the sharp edges are worn away. The entire surface of the glass gains a frosted appearance as a result of this treatment. The process is slow, taking twenty to fifty years to render dangerous trash into something that is beautiful and sought after. The glass pictured in the above photo is artificial, made in a tumbler for people like me who want the allure without paying the prices associated with true sea glass.

I bought my little bag of glass last week. I’m not certain why the memory of sea glass popped into my mind, but I remember being much younger and finding tiny pieces of it on a beach trip. Those pieces are long lost, but the memory lingered and it was strong enough for me to look up and purchase a bag. For years I’ve been quite happy without sea glass in my life, this week I needed it. Since its arrival, I’ve been trying to figure out why. What piece of my soul responds to the idea of sea glass right now? I hold the pieces in my hand, listen to the way they clink against each other, watch how they refract the light. I don’t know that I’ll ever find a definitive answer to my question, but the following things are part of it:

Glass of all kinds has been more beautiful to me since last June when I helped to clean out my Grandmother’s house. She was a collector of beautiful glass. Some of that glass came home with me.

Beaches and oceans are deeply peaceful for me. Most recently I experienced them in conjunction with the Writing Excuses cruise. That trip was difficult and wonderful. It was the source of insights I don’t want to lose and memories I’d like to keep close.

I’ve felt tumbled about and at the mercy of large forces outside my control. I’ve felt this for years as I wore myself out trying to help my children. I like the idea that being tumbled about can make a damaged thing into a beautiful one.

Ive done this before, collected images and objects without being sure why they interest me. I have a file on my desktop where I collect images that speak to me. Sometimes examining these things helps me to understand myself, particularly the parts of myself that I’ve tucked away because they are painful or vulnerable. So I’ll be getting a little bowl to put my sea glass on display, and I’ll keep looking at it and waiting to find out what it means to me.


Thanksgiving is accomplished. We went nowhere, played video games, watched movies, and read books all day. There was food, and for once the kids didn’t snarf it down and leave the table in less than ten minutes. We ate, laughed, shared stories, and cleaned up together. One of the things I am most grateful for at Thanksgiving is the way that the world backs off. Emails taper to a trickle. Social media slows down. None of the organizations to which I belong schedule anything because they all assume people are busy with family. So for a day or two, my world shrinks to just the people in my house. It is peaceful. My house is filled with good people. Tomorrow work begins again, and by Monday we’ll be fully into the swing of Christmas season. But for tonight I have the quiet calm of Thanksgiving.

Things Changing

A couple of weeks ago my country had an election and the results of it are a real shift in how things are done. Many people I know are terrified of how the changes will play out. I’ve spent some time anxious as well. So my usual online places are full of anxiety, outrage, calls for people to calm down, and calls to action.

Much closer to home, my congregation was reorganized last week. My church organizes its congregations (called wards) geographically. Where you live decides where you attend and who you attend with. The neighborhoods around my house have had significant demographic shifts in the past five years. Lots of apartment complexes have gone in, the average homeowner in my area is a grandparent rather than a parent with young children under their roof. These shifts left some of the wards seriously understaffed and other wards overflowing with new residents from apartment complexes. So they re-drew the imaginary lines which defined the ward boundaries.

The new boundaries have some of my friends, with whom I’ve attended for years, now attending different congregations than I do. It adds a lot of new people to my ward. My ward has a different number than it used to (7th instead of 9th). This means a complete shakedown in ward leadership. We have a new bishopric and new presidencies of all the auxiliary organizations (like youth classes, children’s classes, Sunday School, etc.) For myself, all of this is fine. But it means that my children will have new teachers, and I may have to go explain to those teachers about the special needs of my kids. There are conversations incoming, and I have no way of knowing if the conversations will be quick and simple or if I’ll be spending significant time and energy teaching people how to deal with my kids. I’ll begin to know who the new teachers are starting tomorrow morning.

On top of all the above change, we’re also remodeling. Oddly the remodeling has been more grounding than disruptive. The original plan would have been very disruptive. We’d intended to hire a contractor and do our best to stay out of his way. But the significant increase in our health insurance premium, and financial uncertainty surrounding how the new national administration will affect our business, made us decide to do more of the remodeling work ourselves. As a result, we’ve been taking the work in small sections. Move furniture from corner, paint corner, replace furniture, prep next segment. It is an odd, piecemeal approach, but it gives us time to think about each step as we get to it. When we get to the point of replacing cabinets, counters, and flooring, we’ll hire professionals. But the small stuff we can do, and we have been.

Taking control of the physical appearance of our house doesn’t actually help us control any of the other changes, but we feel better about all of it. We are slowly, carefully, piece by piece, creating the place where we want to live. I figure I can take the same approach with the other changes as well. I can pick a spot to focus and try to make that spot work as it should. On a community scale, I might spend a life’s worth of effort in a single spot, and that is okay.

For now, I have a ceiling to paint.

Happiness in the Present

This picture is hanging on the wall across from me. I had Howard print it out and we framed it. It catches one brilliant, joyful moment. Not pictured is the fact that I had to strong arm my son into going on the excursion where this picture happened. Also not pictured is the emotional meltdown he had later that evening, nor the multi-child meltdown of the night before the excursion. This wonderful moment was surrounded by hard things. It was inextricably entwined with them. Part of the reason that moment shines so brightly for me, and for my son, was because it came in the middle of so much stress.

Yesterday evening I went and saw the movie Arrival. It was beautiful, brilliantly written, and deeply thoughtful. As the credits rolled, I continued sitting in my seat, not quite ready to leave the experience. When I did begin gathering to stand up, the woman next to me, who had also been quietly sitting, asked “What do you think it means?” I hardly knew what to say, though I fumbled through some words about not letting future or past sadness steal joy from the moment we’re in. At home I asked Howard the same question and he came up with a completely different answer than I had. His answer reflected what he’d been thinking about when he entered the theater. I’d been thinking different things and I found different meanings in the film. There are far more connections between this movie and my current train of thought, but to say more might spoil the experience for others. The film is worth seeing.

The snorkeling photo was a comfort to me this past week when everything felt doomed and hopeless. I would look at that photo and realize that no matter what happens in the future, nothing can take that moment away from me. It is safe, encapsulated in the unchangeable past. Realizing that showed me how to continue forward. Each happy thing in the present is safe from future events. Future darkness can only steal present joy if I allow it to. I will hold tight to this idea in the coming months. I have to find ways to not become complaisant about the rights of vulnerable people while also not spending all my days in fear and anger. If all my days are angry and sad, even if the cause for human rights wins, then something will be irrevocably lost. Grief should contain some laughter. Pain should make space for peace and joy. We have to find ways to be happy, especially when we’re surrounded by hard things.

Over Time Small Efforts Make a Big Difference

A couple of days ago I tweeted:
“Today I’m shipping packages, taking care of household tasks, and considering carefully what I should do to make the world a better place.”
“I need to pick a “make the world better” goal which is sustainable over the long haul, which is why I’m considering carefully.”

A friend tweeted back that she would love to hear what ideas I came up with. I still haven’t formulated a full plan, but last night a piece of it came into focus. It started with reading this series of tweets from a former Congress staffer on
How to effectively talk to your member of congress

A step not mentioned in that link is figuring out what to talk to my representatives about. Specific conversation is much more effective than generalized conversation. If you call and say “Please oppose Bill A because of reason Z” That is concrete and actionable. Whereas “Protect the rights of vulnerable people” can be interpreted in all sorts of ways, both good and bad. It is also more effective to talk about specific bills right before they are voted on.

It turns out there is a website dedicated to informing US Citizens when Congress is in session and what they’ll be voting on.
Calendars and Schedules for the House and Senate

They don’t yet have a schedule for 2017, but I noticed that the House will be in session the week of November 14. Here is a list of bills they will be voting on. Maybe one of those bills matters to you. You might want to check.

I also googled and found a website that makes it easy to find out who your representatives are and how to contact them.

Having found those sites, I’ve realized that if I take a small fraction of the time I spend reading news sites and just scan over upcoming legislation, I will be aware when a bill occurs that I feel strongly about. Then I can take the few minutes necessary to call my representative. Or if I feel really strongly, perhaps I can speak up to draw attention to the bill. Or if I feel critically urgent about a particular bill, I might be able to organize a group of people to work together to support or oppose.

I suspect I won’t feel critically urgent very often. The vast majority of bills are routine or have no effect where I live. I’ll leave those to the people who are affected.

For this next week, one bill jumped out at me. H.R.5332 Women, Peace, and Security act. (Full text available at the link) In my quick read, it states that, statistically, peace treaties and agreements last longer when women are involved in making them, so therefore the US should make an effort to include more women in creating peace treaties and in negotiations. I would like to see that pass, so I’ll be calling my representative this week.

I’m also setting a reminder on my calendar to check back on the scheduling website in a month to see if they’ve posted the 2017 schedule yet. Then once they have, I’ll set reminders to check the specific bills the week before they get voted on. This is a small sustainable thing I can do.

Pain in its First Moment

Last winter I fell because of a patch of ice on my front walk. It was dark and cold. I didn’t see the ice before my foot landed on it. The result was giant bruises all over, and a couple of micro fractures in my hand and wrist. All of that is now a memory, healed up. But today I am thinking about the moment after the fall. I don’t remember the fall itself. I do remember a moment of disorientation “why am I here on the ground?” Then the pain hit. I was incoherent with it for at least a minute. All I could do was make a loud, distressed noise. It was pure instinct, crying out. My brain knew that, in my pain, the best way to summon help was to make noise. That first wave of pain passed in a minute or two. I was able to control the noises more. Then I was able to assess the damage, figure out how to stand up, get myself into the house, and begin to treat my injuries.

I wonder if there is a name for that moment when the pain hits. Doctors probably know it. Even if there isn’t a specific name, I know that emergency personnel are trained to handle it. People in that first blast of pain are not rational. They can’t be. The pain short circuits careful thought. What is left are survival strategies: howling into the darkness and lashing out at anything that might cause more harm.

I have been present when someone gets hurt. I’ve seen that moment of irrationality from the outside as well as felt it from the inside. I’ve seen someone pound the wall because they stubbed their toe, only to discover later that the damage to the hand is worse than the toe. I’ve heard people say hurtful things in the first flush of pain, things they would not ordinarily say. I’ve learned that it falls to those who aren’t hurt to help those that are. Part of helping is having compassion for that moment of yelling an flailing. No it doesn’t make sense. Often it isn’t productive. It can lead to further injury both to that person and others. Sometimes the flailing hits the helper so hard that the helper then has to manage their own pain for a time. In that first painful moment rationality and planning may not be possible.

All people experience pain in their own way and on their own schedule. One person may proceed to rationality in seconds while another requires minutes, hours, or even days. The severity of the injury also affects the recovery. In this too, everyone is different, a blow which one person shrugs off, can destroy another. I fell and had bruises. An older friend’s fall left her with three broken ribs and fractured arm. I was functional, if hurting, the next day. She was not back to normal for weeks.

Emotional pain is as real as physical pain. It can trigger the same neurochemicals and the same physiological reactions. An emotional blow can trigger the same irrational reaction as a physical one.

I am seeing a lot of irrational reactions to recent events. I’m seeing lots of lashing out. I hope that those who are not hurting can be kind to those who are. Give them space while the pain overwhelms them. Understand that they have to yell and lash out, they can’t not. Recognize that they may be overwhelmed for a lot longer than you think is reasonable. Depending upon the extent of their injury, they may be permanently different, even when that first irrational pain has passed. Pain changes people, changes perspectives. Have compassion for that too.

We have wounded. There is healing to do. There will be disagreements about how that healing should be accomplished. Those disagreements will cause new pain, new irrationality, new lashing out. So we must come back to compassion. Over and over again. Every time there is anger, fear, damage, we must return to compassion, empathy, kindness. It will be hard.

As we move out of that first pain, the strategies adapt. Then we must learn to live with the cognitive dissonance of having compassion for those who rail, howl, and fight against us, while not relinquishing our resolve to change the world for better. We must learn to hold tight to both resolution and to compassion for those who react in pain and fear to the changes we seek. This sort of compassion is exhausting, but it is necessary. Many people who seem like opponents could be allies with an application of compassion. There are true opponents out there, people who calmly and rationally choose things which hurt us. We’ll have more energy to oppose them if we can tell them apart from people who are reacting out of fear or pain.

I wish there were easy answers. I wish that there were one set of words that could provide healing to everyone. There isn’t. My words here will be healing to some and will make others angry. Both the person healed and the person angry have every right to feel as they do. Emotions are what they are. They should all be allowed. It is actions which must be controlled and managed. I do not control the feelings which show up, I have a responsibility to carefully choose my actions. Today I’m choosing to extend compassion toward people who are in the midst of pain and fear.


It turns out that I am among the people who are afraid because of the election results. I’d already been informed that our health insurance premium would be going up by $600 per month. Now I’m wondering if I’ll have health insurance at all a year from now. I worry that financial uncertainty will impact sales in our store over the holiday months. Which then affects my budget for next year. There are lots of large question marks. We’ll figure it out and find a way through, but the ambient anxiety in our house has gone up. I have a child who seriously and earnestly advocated for moving to a different country, even though it meant leaving her friends. She’s that scared. I don’t know what the increased uncertainty, and possible unpleasant interactions at school, will do to destabilize my kids’ mental health. We’d barely managed to get to a place where no one was in crisis.

And those are just the top of my head worries. I have larger worries for friends and family whose situations are far more vulnerable than mine. I worry for friends who are more likely to become targets for anger and hatred.

Yet, I believe in the power of people to band together and help each other through. So I’m going to spend today being kind. I’m also going to try to listen to the thin thread of reassurance which is coming to me and saying “It may be rough for a while, but you’ll be okay.” I’m also going to remember that anxiety means I’m focused on the future instead of being focused on today. I don’t have to do all the days ahead of me yet. I just have to do today, one hour at a time.


Since last Friday I’ve been practicing some deliberate cocooning. This means I’m not checking news sites, only peeking at social media to see if I’ve been messaged, and generally letting the larger world take care of itself without me paying attention. I’ve already placed my vote, what small amount of control I have has been exercised. So I’m going to ignore numbers and polls. Tomorrow I’m going to do my best to be occupied with work. Then Wednesday I’m going to do the same while there is furor over whatever result we get. Because no matter the election results, a significant portion of our fellow Americans will be terrified of the result. I hope that those who are relieved can be kind to those who are afraid. Because if I am among the afraid group, I would dearly love to be reassured that things will be okay.

I do think that if we can all be better about how we interact with the people we meet in person, then the sum of millions of compassionate interactions will be the America we’d like to be instead of the partisan one which is visible on the internet.

So tomorrow I will sign a paper to okay printing for the Pristine Seventy Maxims book. I will tweak the layout on the Defaced Seventy Maxims book so that it can go to print in the next few weeks. I will email the next batch of Kickstarter backers so that I can get their orders updated with the version of book they want. I will put finishing touches on a document we plan to release to Planet Mercenary backers. I will answer email. I will fold laundry. I will listen to my son tell me about the first performance for the school play (he’s stage crew.) I’ll listen to my daughter chatter about whichever random thing she is focused on. Maybe I will talk to my college girl on the phone. Perhaps I will send a picture of flowers to friends who I think might need one. Maybe I’ll rake leaves.

When I really think about it, all the fears are far out in the wide world. The things up close are mostly worthwhile and wonderful. For the next few days, I’m going to keep my eyes focused on the things up close.