Month: July 2017

Traveling to Europe

Day after tomorrow my calendar has an appointment named “flight to Paris.” I’m not actually going to stay in Paris long, just touch down long enough to clear customs and get on another plane. Yet part of my brain sings “I’m going to Paris.”

I first dreamed of a trip to Europe when I was sixteen years old. I’d heard of some summer-long teen ambassador program which pitched itself as a hugely educational connection between teens from other countries. I dragged my dad with me to a meeting, where he worried about supervision and I was discouraged by the hefty price tag. Life intervened, I didn’t have the resources to come up with that money, so I didn’t go. (Though I did get to do a week-long school trip to Washington DC a year later for a much smaller price tag and supervised by people who were familiar to us.)

I next made plans to go to Europe as a sophomore in college. There were semester abroad programs. I researched and intended to take out a loan to go. Ultimately I chose fiscal responsibility over an exciting trip. Which turned out to be a good thing because shortly after that I met Howard. We got engaged during the semester I would have been gone.

My third moment when Europe seemed possible was brief. Howard and I were discussing plans for our honeymoon. He pointed out that he had enough money for us to pick Europe if we wanted. Except I knew that money needed to carry through the rest of my schooling. It was the fund we planned to use to allow Howard to pursue a creative career instead of being tied to a job. We chose the long-haul dream over the fantastic trip. We picked the dream of family and stability over travel. At the moment of that decision, I knew I might be giving up Europe forever. I knew that we wanted kids and that having kids limited travel options. I knew that my life was changing, but I chose to set aside the idea of seeing Europe.

Fast forward twenty three years from those decisions made so long ago that they might as well have been made by another person. I don’t regret them. Yet somehow the musician I married turned into a cartoonist. And this small podcast he was invited to join got bigger than anyone expected. And then the podcast started hosting retreats and paying for instructors to come. And then one of those retreats was planned as a cruise tour of the Baltic sea. So instead of me making Europe happen out of determination and force of will, it has come to me of it’s own accord. And it has come in a way that I can afford without jeopardizing and of my longer-term, more-important dreams.

I get to fly to Paris, then Hamburg. I get to shuttle to Kiel where I’ll board a ship that stops in Copenhagen (Denmark), Stockholm (Sweden), Tallinn (Estonia), and St. Petersburg (Russia). Then I fly home, touching down briefly to change planes in Amsterdam. At the end of ten days I’ll have added seven countries to the “places I’ve been” list. I’ll get to see their art, hear their languages, and tour both a viking ship and a Russian cold war submarine. I’m going to fill my head with new experiences, and then I get to return home to all my favorite dreams.

Excited isn’t quit the right word for how I feel about this trip. I’m too calm inside for “excited.” I feel anticipation, peace, curiosity, anxiety, and happiness. I get to go with the flow of a trip with scheduled travel and guided tours. For ten days I don’t have to be in charge of everything, I get to be a passenger. I get to make choices based on my feelings of the moment instead of the requirements of my responsibilities. And I get to be on a ship. I’m surprised at how much I long to be on a ship again.

Tomorrow is the day of last minute preparations, Wednesday I depart.

Life is Made of Minutiae

It has been a full week since I last had enough space to think writer thoughts. Shipping has consumed most of my hours for the past three weeks. There is one week more before I switch over into travel mode. In between shipping, I’ve had two doctor’s appointments and one medical test in the past week. Swallowing is harder for me than it should be. This is probably an after effect of radiation therapy I had twenty years ago. The difficulty was minimal and static for decades, so I adapted. It has felt a little worse lately, hence seeing my primary care doctor, an ENT, and going in for a fun test where I swallow barium sludge so they can x-ray while it goes down. Yesterday was a more specific test where they will ruin food by mixing it with barium and then took x-rays while I chewed and attempted to swallow. The most sadly terrible one was the oreo cookie with barium filling. I walked out of the test with a diagnosis of “dismotility of the swallow mechanism” some instructions for eating carefully and a referral to a speech therapist who will give me a set of exercises designed to strengthen throat muscles.

This is one way where life is not like fiction. Fiction is organized with narratives unfolding neatly, usually in chronological order. Plots and sub plots are clearly delineated. Life muddles everything together, tangled and overlapping. Pretty much everyone I know is caught up in a web of things that keep them busy, things they need to get out of the way so they can do other things that they want to do. I have to remind myself that the tangle is my life. This July my life is about shipping, swallowing, hauling my kids to work in the warehouse, watching them work, and preparations for my upcoming trip. It is also about fixing food, taking out the trash, going grocery shopping, negotiating for use of the big TV in the family room, replacing worn out clothing, and hundreds of other little tasks. What I have to remind myself is that all of the To Do items are in support of this life I’m living, and in the moments when I can clear away the stress of the To Do list, I recognize that the lifestyle I’m supporting is one I’m happy to occupy.

Seeing Past the Shipping

It is Sunday morning and for the first time in weeks, I have a space where I feel like I am allowed to set aside shipping thoughts for a day. I worked all last week and even more yesterday to make sure I had this space. Invoices for next Tuesday’s shipping are printed and sorted. I can’t begin printing postage until tomorrow. All the supplies are either in hand or enroute. I already know what lists I will ship on Thursday. There is email I could manage, but it can wait until Monday morning. I have space to breathe and to contemplate the fact that by the end of this week I will have shipped almost everything. What remains will be international orders and orders containing handbrain screens.

For the first time in months I’m able to contemplate my upcoming trip and make plans for it. Howard and I will be traveling to Europe to take part of the Writing Excuses conference and workshop on a cruise ship in the Baltic sea. I have never been to Europe before. It was always something that was out of reach both financially and in terms of schedule. But the Writing Excuses conference has made it possible. I don’t know what the trip will be like. I expect to see and experience amazing new things. I expect to have to eat unfamiliar foods some of which I’ll like and others I won’t. I expect to get homesick and to come home with my head full of new thoughts. It is going to be a good trip.

Howard’s trip will be more extended than mine. He will stay in Europe after the cruise to tour some castles and then attend WorldCon in Helsinki Finland. I’ll return home to check on the home front, answer emails, manage business things, likely ship some packages, deal with school registration issues, and dozens of other small management tasks. From Helsinki, Howard will fly directly to Indianapolis for GenCon. I will join him there for a week of convention. At the end of that we’ll fly home together and won’t want to leave the house for a good long time. I arrive home the day before my kids begin school and six days before I have to drop my college kid off for her (hopefully) final semester on campus.

I’ve watched these trips coming on the calendar. I’ve felt the pressure of them. I worried that I wouldn’t get enough shipping done before time to go and that I’d then feel guilty for running off on a big trip while backers were waiting for their packages. Now it looks like I won’t have to carry that guilt. I’ve got two weeks of hard work ahead to make sure that I have shipped everything I can possibly ship before departure.

Shipping and Fireworks

I’m halfway through the second week of Planet Mercenary shipping. The third big shipping day is scheduled for tomorrow. The postage is all printed, supplies are there, work crew gathers at 8:30 tomorrow morning. And I am tired. Some of it is physical tired. A six pound package doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re shifting 400 of them, that means we’ve moved more than a ton. Then there is moving supplies and boxes of books to keep the work stations stocked. But even more than physical tired, my brain is tired of all the tracking and pre-planning that is necessary in advance of a big shipping day.

Fortunately a good night’s sleep will help.

In the mean time all six Taylers took an hour to light fireworks in our cul de sac. It was only us out there instead of the forty or fifty people who gathered yesterday. Some years we like the energy of participating in a big group event. This year we were happier with our own little celebration. It was a nice way to finish off a long day of work.

Logistics of Shipping

The details of last week’s shipping efforts are detailed over on the Planet Mercenary update page. I’ll be posting similarly detailed updates over there each Friday until the shipping is done. The short version is that I need to ship 1000 packages (or more) per week until everything is in the mail. I’d take it slower except we have convention travel coming at the end of July. I really want the packages sent before that.

We’re starting to see pictures and reports from people who have gotten their packages. It makes me want to hurry and send all the rest so that no one has to wait for much longer. Unfortunately I keep hitting my physical and mental limitations and have to take breaks. Also there are other life things which have to be taken care of.

All of my thinking has turned into lists instead of long and careful thoughts. I will be really, really glad when Planet Mercenary is delivered.