Month: January 2018

Pieces of a Day

This was one of my birthday gifts. It is an Aerogarden, which is a hydroponic system for growing plants indoors. They’ve simplified everything from planting to feeding to timing the lights. In theory I could grow plants just as effectively using dirt and grow lights, but I haven’t actually done that. Ever. And when I have attempted to grow seedlings, the results were unimpressive. This little garden makes me happy, even though it has only been planted for two days and there is not a sprout to be seen. Soon there will be sprouts. I’m looking forward to that. Green things are a joy during the midwinter months.

Flu has arrived at Chez Tayler. It is not a particularly welcome visitor, but there is no denying that it is here when I’ve got two kids running fevers. Howard just hit fever territory this evening, so he’s on the way down. I’m taking lots of vitamin C and hoping that at least some of us will be able to use the tickets we have for tomorrow to go see the ice castle in Midway Utah. Twenty four hours will tell.

I spent most of the morning doing accounting. I have now finished Stage 1 taxes. That is the part of taxes where I behave like a responsible employer and issue both 1099s and W2s. I also file all the accompanying reports with both the federal government and the state of Utah. Stage 2 taxes have already begun. They are where I accumulate incoming 1099s and K1s to make sure I have all the info in hand for actually filing tax returns for both our business and our personal taxes. Stage 3 is when I hand everything over to my tax accountant and she works her magic to turn everything into returns. Stage three begins in early February, but will have to sit around twiddling its thumbs while Stage two dawdles along to completion. It always seems to take until the end of February to track down all the loose papers.

Another portion of my day went into figuring out how to set up the new storefront for our online store. Because we assembled our sales mechanisms back in 2007 when small-scale e-commerce was barely getting started, our solutions have been a bit…clunky. Particularly since in order to accomplish all the functions we had to add services. For a while we had separate software for our online store and point of sale. We had two different merchant accounts to go with both of those services. Then my postage program was also a separate account. None of my programs communicated well with each other. And each thing was billing separately. Its been messy for years, but at least it was messy that I understood how to make work. But there comes a time to completely scrap the old messy system for something complex but fully integrated. I’ll be spending much of this week hiking the learning curve that is necessary to setting things up. Then there will be oh-so-much data entry as I’ve already figured out that my old system will not export in a way that lets me import into the new system. Data entry is tedious, but the clean start is good.

This day also contained quite a lot of email, some grocery shopping, and too much browsing of social media.


I met this fellow yesterday. He’s the lone cuttlefish who lives at our local aquarium. Note his bumpy red coloration and lifted tentacles. That is his threat display. It means he is either angry or scared. I visited him several times during my multi-hour aquarium stay. He always looked like this. I began to feel very sad for him, worried that the crowds were causing him stress. But even when no one was nearby, he would turn and display to various corners of his tank. It turns out that this particular cuttlefish is very old and has a form of dementia. His entire existence has become one long defense against a threat that doesn’t exist.

I feel great sympathy for this little guy. I’ve been in an emotional place where I was spending huge amounts of energy reacting to threats that were only imagined. It is an exhausting way to live. I wished there were some way to soothe him, tell him it is safe to relax. The aquarium staff have done everything they know how.

This is a shot of the exact same tank from a year or two ago. It might even be the exact same cuttlefish, though that seems unlikely. This cuttlefish is relaxed and content. Several other cuttlefish share the tank and while sometimes they were agressive toward each other, for the most part, they were just doing their thing. I remember watching this cuttlefish and thinking how beautiful it was as colors pulsed under the surface of its skin.

I would like at this point to have a larger connection to make. Perhaps something about how I sometimes feel like everyone on the internet is reacting like that poor demented cuttlefish, displaying aggressively against threats that aren’t there. Or perhaps I could draw an analogy in which I explain how I’m trying to be like the relaxed cuttlefish after spending years like the upset one. I think the connection that resonates most comes because today my heart is tired. Someone I love is miserable and the only way for that person to become less miserable is for them to be willing to accept proffered help that they’re currently rejecting. My loved one is keeping everyone at a distance, not with a threat display, but with a plastered-in-place cheerful countenance. But cheerful or angry, the result is the same. Others are held at a remove and the displaying person is all alone.

So I am left, wishing there were more I could do to help the little fish (or loved one, or person on the internet) find a happy place.

Two Twitter Conversations

I participated in a couple of twitter conversations this morning and I wanted to elaborate my thoughts in a slightly longer form.

Conversation 1:
My friend Jim Zub posted the following thread:

I woke up this morning to a half dozen angry anon messages on my Tumblr. Nasty insulting stuff about me, my appearance, my work. It happens a few times a week and usually flares up around new project announcements. With a new D&D mini and Champions announced, it happened again.
If I go after every single one, I’ve given those people what they want – my attention. They learned what it takes to get a response from me and look forward to ringing the bell and doing it again.
If there’s valid criticism, I’ll take it on the chin. Absolutely. If it’s just insults and flailing, I’m happy to move on and get back to doing the work.

His thread hit a whole series of thoughts that I’ve been trying to articulate about attention, rewards, and how to extinguish unwanted behavior. Attention is a reward, high energy attention even more so. Outrage and anger are extremely high energy. If I post outrage at a thing, I have rewarded that thing with high energy attention. Sufficient quantities of outrage from enough sources have the power to blast a thing out of existence, but usually what happens is that the attention just rallies support to the thing which outraged me. So when I see a thing that makes me angry or upsets me, I go through an evaluative process.

Am I angry because I feel defensive about the thing? If yes, that is a moment for introspection about why I’m defensive instead of confident/secure.

Does the thing directly affect me?

If it is an attack aimed at me, does it have power to actually harm me or something I care about? (Note that my reaction to an attack may feed energy into it, thus helping it gain enough power to harm me; power it didn’t have until my reaction granted that power.)

If it does have power to harm me, what actions can I take to undermine that power? How can I secure my reputation or defend others in the splash zone?

What cause can I support which comes at the issue from a constructive and healing way instead of an angry/hurt/criticizing one?

The usual result of this evaluation is to ignore/block the person or thing which made me angry, perhaps take a step to secure my safety, then take a deliberate action to make the world a better place.

I don’t always manage to follow this process. I’m human and therefore prone to irritation and over-reaction. But when I do follow the process I have a lot less drama to deal with and a sense that I am participating in making the world a better place.

Conversation #2:
My brother-in-law Randy asked this question:

Curious: at what point did you guys realize that your cartooning had given Sandra a full-time job?

I answered:

It was part time by 2004, and full time by 2008. It took me until at least 2010 before I realized I was working full time. Work-from-home is sneaky that way.
Recognizing I was a work from home mom, not a stay at home mom was a revelation because it shifted all my expectations of myself. It was suddenly okay to not dive into PTA or school volunteering.

A guy named Kevin chimed in:

Congratulations on figuring that out. How long did it take you to convince the other moms?

I answered:

I’ve no idea when or if they became convinced. I was too busy to pay attention to their opinions and none of them attempted to impede my path.

The conversation continued a bit with Kevin saying something about the other moms gossiping behind my back, which made me stop and recognize that I’ve never really felt judged by people in my neighborhood about my parenting choices. It could be that I am fortunate enough to live in a place with exceptionally nice people. It certainly feels that way to me. I’m surrounded by neighbors who all desire to be good and helpful to others. Yet sometimes it goes wrong. I know people in this same neighborhood who have felt terribly judged and are wounded because of it. So I’m left wondering where the difference comes from. It could be that others get different treatment than I do. This seems probable, a college-educated, married, white woman receives far more benefit-of-doubt than someone without those advantages. It is entirely possible that the judgements bounce off of me simply because I’m so tangled up in my own thoughts that I am not paying attention.

The difference between the times when I’ve felt judged and the times when I haven’t felt judged have far more to do with my internal landscape than the other person. Usually when I do feel judged it is because something the person said connects with a pocket of self doubt that already exists in my head. It hurts when someone implies that my toddler’s misbehavior is a result of poor parenting, because I secretly wonder and agonize if I’m failing as a parent. Because the accusation strikes deep into my self doubt, the defensive shield of anger slams into place, leading me to want to rant about how that person really doesn’t understand what I deal with.

I see this exact dynamic play out on the internet constantly. People get angry and defensive, even when there wasn’t actually an attack, because the words said triggered the person’s self-doubt and the person projects that self-judgement onto the words of another.

I don’t have a conclusion to wrap these two conversations together. I just have ongoing thoughts as I pay attention to the way people interact with each other, particularly on the internet.

Interrupts, Books, and Star Gazing

Yesterday was not a day that went according to plan. The first turn was when my 14 year old texted from school because he was having a panic attack. I dropped what I was doing and went to help him. I’ve done it before, but this is the first time I’ve had to this school year. We went through more than half the year with no panic attacks at all. A huge improvement over last year when they averaged about one per week. My son’s current life is not his best life, his choices are still dictated by anxiety management. Yet we’re on the path that leads to a better life. Being able to see progress helps us to use this panic attack as an opportunity to examine triggers and coping strategies. We learn from it, we move on.

The second turn was when my 20 year old called me from the phone in the commons area of his school. He couldn’t call me from his cell phone because it wouldn’t stay on for more than two minutes without crashing. The phone is an essential life tool for him as he’s learning to track his own schedule and set his own alarms. The tech at the store confirmed that once a phone starts a crash loop like that, it is pretty much dead. Fortunately we don’t have any data to grieve, just a new phone to learn how to use.

Two turns doesn’t sound like a lot, but each one took several hours and in between them were a myriad of little tasks and errands. It meant the book was not finished yesterday.

But it was finished today. Random Access Memorabilia is done. I’m letting it rest over night. In the morning I’ll go through it one more time, then I upload it to the printer. It seems like a thing worthy of celebration. I rejoiced by immediately getting to work on the next two Schlock books. We’re ganging these two together in an attempt to optimize the process. We’ll see how that goes.

The day wrapped with a trip up the canyon. My 16 year old needed to count stars for an astronomy assignment. It’s an assignment that has been pending for more than a month because on the nights we remembered, there were clouds, and on the nights that were clear, we forgot.

Stars are counted. Book is done. Phone is replaced. Panic is managed and learned from. That’s a good score for two days.

The Measure of a Day

I was not an effective business person today. Instead my day was spent connecting with people in my community. I talked with Howard while driving him to the airport. I went to a lunch with a dozen women from my neighborhood. I spent an hour catching up with my back yard neighbor. I spent several hours listening to my son unpack his brain, taking him out for food, then listening some more. At the end of the day, my To Do list is the same length it was this morning, but that does not mean the day was wasted. On the contrary, this was an important use for a day. Sometimes I forget that lists of tasks done or not done are not an accurate measure for a worthwhile life.

Sometimes There Comes a Day…

Sometimes there comes a day when your kids who have been depressed, aren’t anymore. The new meds are working, they’ve learned cognitive skills, things are just better. Then one kid plunks herself down and chatters to you about her life for two hours, some of which covers events in elementary school. Which leads you to look up favorite teachers to see if they’re still at the school. And they are. So the next day you grab the younger brother, who also had these teachers, and you drive over to the school for a visit. It turns out that you arrived early and the kids aren’t out yet, but the teacher you visit first just happens to have an empty classroom because her current crop of fifth graders are all in the computer lab. She’s always busy, but this day she has an hour to smile as she watches your kids talk and reminisce.

Then, when you seek out the other teacher, she almost cries because she’d been thinking about your kids only a few days before. She’d been wondering about them and and planning to write you a letter to ask about them, but then you walked into the office. And there they are: standing tall (in one case, 1.5 feet taller than when last seen) with bright faces, and cheerful chatter about their lives and their plans for the future. And when the kids go run off to see the playground, you get to stand with these two teachers who cried with you over your kids when they were struggling hard, and you cry a little bit again, but this time it is happy. Because here you are on the far side of a hard dark place, which lasted much longer than anyone wanted, but which also laid all sorts of necessary groundwork for the growing that is happening now.

Sometimes you get to have that day. And it is a beautiful one.

Civil Rights Day and Moving Forward

I think it is good that Civil Rights Day (or Martin Luther King day) comes at the beginning of the year. We’re still looking around and figuring out how this year needs to go and who we need to be during it. It is a good time to be reminded that non-violent civil protest can be a hugely powerful force in the world, but only when it is fueled by resolute anger, the kind of anger that says “things must change.”

I resonate with that message. I declared it for myself this year as I try to face my anxiety head on. As a part of that, I am examining how I interact with social media, people in online communities, and people in my physical communities. The internet has enabled many beautiful things. The creative work that Howard and I do would not be possible without the internet. However there are also unintended consequences, and it is my moral and societal responsibility to pay attention to those consequences. I am responsible for deciding what changes to make in my own life to mitigate the negative effects of the internet. Every day I choose who to be on the internet and who to reward with my attention. Every day I choose my information sources and how thoroughly I examine my sources before spreading information from them. I am a participant in internet culture, and unless I am consciously working to mitigate the negative effects of current internet norms, I am complicit in the damage those norms do.

Howard recently tweeted a phrase that has been bouncing around in my head ever since: “Think globally, act locally.” For me this means imagining a world that I want to live in, figuring out what things I can do to help that world exist, then doing those things. So I will be donating to good causes with time, money, and attention. I will try to articulate my thoughts on how to make the world better instead of just complaining when it is hard. I will remember the efforts of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, John Lewis and hundreds of others. I will honor their efforts by making efforts of my own. Even if my efforts are small and only change me, that is still the world made a tiny bit better.

Rising Above the Fog

This morning I read a post from a woman whose blog I follow. In that post she expressed how chaotic and overwhelming her life felt. She has some special needs kids, and recent political turmoil has really hit home for her. Because of all of this, and some depression she’s battling, she feels like she is flailing around in the dark. She’s written posts like this one before and probably will again as she tries to find a new balance. What struck me this time has far more to do with me than with her, because this time I did not have an instant resonance with her emotional state. I spent a long time feeling as she does: lost, overwhelmed, continuing to move forward with determination instead of real hope. Today I could see all those things in her, but I could also see how much of her state is colored by the depression and anxiety that dwells in her head. She has honest cause for grief and an emotional reset, but grief, depression, and anxiety are darkening every day in ways that make her whole life difficult. This was true with me as well, but today’s reading also showed me that I’d emerged from it, at least a little.

When I was a child, my family would drive along I-70 into the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was a winding road with sharp drop offs down steep canyons. It is a stunning (if nerve wracking) drive full of amazing vistas. One trip was beset with fog. We drove slowly and carefully because we could only see a few feet in front of our vehicle. But then from one moment to the next, the fog was gone. We had climbed up above it, and we could see sunshine and a landscape of clouds, bordered on either side by tree covered mountain peaks. It was beautiful and mysterious. Such a surprise to be able to see so far when only moments before we’d only been able to see right in front of us.

I’m reluctant to draw any grand plans or conclusions from the fact that I’ve emerged above the fog this week. Part of me would like to state that my intention to live in less fear is working, the changes I’m making in confronting anxiety are working. However, there are so many other factors at play here. My kids who have all been struggling in pairs, trios, or quartets for the past five years, are suddenly not struggling in the ways they were before. Tipping over into the next year released some funds which make me less stressed about finances this month than I was last month. All of these things combine together and the fog vanishes. Also, it isn’t completely gone. I have to remember that just yesterday morning a small event had me curled up in bed with a fort of pillows so that I could cry in safety. For an hour. That sort of thing doesn’t really fit into the “I’m all better now” theme song. I’m not “all better” but I did get up, see the anxiety attack for what it was, and then move on with my day while doing my best to not berate myself for letting anxiety win.

On that foggy drive, we dipped back into the fog multiple times as the road curved up and down the mountainside. I’d expect the same from any emotional healing process. I’m still going to get ambushed by grief or anxiety. However I’m still determined to build an existence where anxiety and depression are no longer the soundtrack of my life.

Ordinary Day

I need to pause and acknowledge today. It wasn’t a day that ends up featured in family photos or social media posts. It was entirely ordinary, except it was the kind of ordinary that has been missing for a long time, so I want to pause and notice instead of letting it slip by.

Howard scripted a full batch of comics and generally felt good about the work he did. So often his brain plagues him with negative emotions or self doubt. Today was cheerful. Also he gave me one of the pieces I needed to finish RAM.

We got a big shelf unit moved from my house where it was in the way to the warehouse where it is the exact right solution to a problem I’ve been having. Sure the contents of Howard and Kiki’s studio are still exploded all across the family room, but it is a sign of moving forward and settling in. These are good things.

After carefully navigating the first week of away-from-home where my son kept refusing my advice (No mom, I don’t want any food in my fridge, I don’t need dishes. I don’t need silverware) my son had a day where he was outright cheerful and full of stories about things that happened during his day. Also, he realized that he wants snacks, cups, and a spoon. We haven’t reached bowls or forks yet, but slowly he’s beginning to recognize what things he’ll actually need in his adult life. So nice to see him moving forward.

High school girl rocked her online classes today, plowing through a bunch of work that was stalled. Then she spent the afternoon playing Overwatch with her brother, which led to “where did my day go?” frustration. But that frustration is entirely normal and a good life experience in time management.

Home school English went very smoothly. I doubt it will always go smoothly. We’re more likely to hit emotional tangles over an opinion essay than over the current grammar unit, but it is an auspicious start, and if we can plow through grammar quickly, that buys us extra time to stew when we get to the more difficult stuff.

As I said, an entirely ordinary day, untroubled with emotional crises or depths of despair. I’ll take it.

The Work of Clearing Out

The first stages of clearing out are easy. That is when I find all the things which fall into the “why do I even still have this thing” category. The early stages are satisfying, I quickly create large piles of things to throw out or give away. The result is easily visible space created in my life. Then there are the things which still carry a whisper of the importance they used to have, or are attached to a memory. Most of those go as well. Or they are kept and put in a place where the memory can be kept safe. After that it gets complicated and/or inconvenient. In order to unload chemicals, paint, oil for a car we no longer own, I have to look up proper disposal locations and costs. We want to replace some large and heavy hardwood furniture, which means figuring out how to transport the old furniture to either a consignment shop or donation location. (And it means going through a mental process that makes it okay to let the furniture go.) Then there are the papers/photos/mementos. These things must be sorted for personal value and historical value. That sorting is mentally exhausting work.

And yet, I’m beginning to see space open up. This space is going to be crucial in the coming months when I begin tearing apart portions of our house to make them better. The space is also crucial in allowing us to grow forward without being buried in who we used to be. Bit by bit. Corner by corner. Category by category, I am making our lives better.