Month: June 2019

Small Brave Things

Two days ago I did a brave thing. It was small-scale brave, not heroic brave, the kind of bravery that is all but invisible to those who aren’t living it. I’d had a really long day after a really exhausting week. I had a writing social event on my calendar, but what I really wanted to do was curl up with my people and watch Stranger Things on Netflix. After dithering and delaying, I finally got up and went to be social. The thought which got me off the couch was remember that this is the year I plan to be courageous. I will do the small brave things that inch me closer to who I want to be and the life I want to have.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a young friend of mine who will be heading off to college in the fall. She has a long list of scary adulting tasks in front of her and has been struggling to make herself do them. They are the kind of tasks that once done, you wonder why on earth it was so hard to make yourself do it. Life is full of tasks like that, small but daunting. It is much easier to just sit still and not do them. The only way I can get myself moving on these sorts of tasks is to remember that the only way to get to the future I want is through the forest of small but daunting tasks.

I failed at a writer task this week. I had five months to write a short story. It took several of those months to come up with a concept that matched the anthology theme. Then for the past month I put that story on the top of my to do list. For days I sat on the couch feeling completely stopped, because I couldn’t make the top priority task move forward. Most times I couldn’t make myself open up the file. When I did open the file, writing words felt like trying to push a brick wall up a hill. I’ll grant that during those exact weeks I was also surrounded by a swirl of large-scale distractions: Howard was in the process of switching meds, we had a house problem that required a jackhammer to solve, a baby bird showed up and required care then died before we were able to get it to a rehabilitation facility, and then there was the usual amount of mental noise around running a house. All of that might help explain why I couldn’t get the story unstuck, but it didn’t make it any less of a failure. That sense of failure leaked out into everything else and I began to doubt my capabilities on several fronts.

Then yesterday I opened up a different story file, not the one I was supposed to be working on. That story was easy to tweak and fix. The words flowed and I liked the results. It showed me that I couldn’t move the story because the story was stuck rather than because I was a failure. So I did the small scary thing. I emailed the editor and told them I would not have a story for them after all. It is a sad outcome for my first invitation anthology. And yet, the process taught me skills which will be valuable. It required me to practice small bravery, and with each small bravery I get better at it. And I get a tiny step closer to who I want to be.

Today, for the first time in weeks, I was focused and productive. I blew through a dozen tasks which had felt daunting. That’s the trick with doing small brave things, they make the next thing feel a little less daunting. I ran out of steam by mid afternoon, but that is okay too. Tomorrow is Sunday and I will rest. Perhaps on Monday I can have another day where I move forward with energy and purpose, without fear. Or perhaps I’ll have a day where I need to be brave. I’ll manage whichever comes.

My To Do List

Things I am supposed to be doing today:
Finishing a short story draft so I can submit it to a writer’s group
Launching the process of designing Gen Con banners
Evaluating what needs to be done so we can run Planet Mercenary demos at Gen Con then making an enumerated list of things to do.
Pre-planning to pack up and run a booth at Spikecon/NASFIC next week.
Sewing a cushion for the chair we’ll use at Spikecon next week.
Observing and assisting the construction crew who are doing house repairs
Writing up some missing pieces of text for Big Dumb Objects
Locating some final margin art for Big Dumb Objects
Communicating with the bonus story artist and cover artist for Big Dumb Objects
pre-planning for the Big Dumb Objects Kickstarter
Going into my online store and readjusting pricing for a summer sale.
Sending out an announcement of the summer sale
Creating/planning new merchandise so that we have fresh items to draw people into the store.
Practicing running the Planet Mercenary Demo
Evaluating the status of Escape from the Friggen Jungle and the Precision Mayhem Deck so that decisions can be made about whether to scramble for completion pre-Gen Con.
Writing missing pieces of Escape from the Friggen Jungle.

Things I want to do:
Curl up, watch Netflix, and hide from all of the above.

Pants, Holes, Salvage, and Faith

“Are my church pants clean?” Howard called to me from the bedroom. At his words I remembered him asking me last Sunday to make sure that the pants went through the laundry. This was immediately followed by remembrance of the over-flowing laundry hamper which I’d thought of doing but hadn’t gotten around to. I bounced up from my seat to go double check.
“I don’t think so.” I said, “because this week…”
Howard interrupted me. “Yes. This week.”
It was a shared moment of commiseration for a week that had not gone at all according to plan. What we thought was a simple clogged toilet transformed into a massive home renovation project requiring a jackhammer, a pending home insurance claim, and two specialized restoration companies. Most of the actual work is still pending except for the hole that has already been dug through a concrete floor and the hole in my financial plans for the year.

I fished the pants out from the bottom of the laundry hamper. They were wrinkled and musty. Not something he could just put on and feel good about. I eyed the clock, ninety minutes before church. It might be possible to rush a single pair of pants through two machines into a state of clean wearability. I ran them down to the laundry room and dumped them in with soap. It was a last minute salvage operation that echoed many of my efforts in the past few days: Can we save this flooring that I love? Can I save my budget? Can I pull myself out of the hole of mourning that I fell into which seems as big as the hole in my floor?

It seems strange to mourn a solvable problem. We have the resources to cover the costs. We have contacts at the companies who will accomplish the work. The house will be better after everything is done. The only real impact is some schedule disruption and financial cost. Yet I mourned for days. I’m still not done, not really. I think what I mourn is the as-yet-unknown opportunity costs. We were making a push to pay down debts so that we would have the financial flexibility to help out our fledgling adult children with pending expenses. We were trying to do a kitchen remodel. I was trying to create more stability in our lives so that our creative choices were less constrained by financial needs. I can’t know yet which of these things are impacted or how badly. (Though thankfully I do know that we are at no risk of going hungry or without shelter. I’m aware I’m mourning a loss of luxuries, not living in fear of loss of necessities.)

In the middle of the mourning and uncertainty I also find myself besieged with self-doubt. Surely I could have planned better or made better choices in the past so that I’d have a better financial position to manage this sort of unexpected event. We could have spent less on eating out or on impulse purchasing. My mind seems happy to scroll through memories of recent purchases while making snarky comments (or disappointed noises) about past choices. And when I sit down to write, I find myself mired in thoughts about how the effort spent will likely never be rewarded financially. I know that life is full of things that are worth spending time and money on without expectation of financial return. Yet this week it feels like everything has dollar signs slapped on it, including my time. And then there are the parenting tasks which I’m supposed to accomplish this summer to help my kids prepare to launch, which aren’t getting done.

Naturally, I respond to all this mental noise by hiding in distractions. I’ve watched a lot of Netflix this week. If the show is compelling enough it drowns out all the noise except a thin thread of “surely you have better things to do with your time.”

Holding still and hiding are normal, instinctive responses to a wound. This is as true of emotional/mental wounds as physical ones. It is an adaptive response to help us survive. We have to hold still so the pain can die down and so that the natural regenerative capabilities of the body have a chance to begin the process of healing. I actually think this is one of the functions of a depressed mind state (which I’ve had since last Tuesday.) It exists to get us to hold still long enough to heal. Of course like any other process, it can malfunction and linger far longer than is useful, particularly if we don’t recognize it as a response to a wounding and don’t do the things necessary to find and tend the wound. And of course there are some people where the response goes haywire, constantly triggering even though there has not been a wound. That is a whole different can of worms.

The salvage operations of this coming week begin with me forgiving myself for the hide-and-collapse of the past days. I need to extend to myself the same compassion that I would to others and remind my harrying thoughts that it doesn’t matter whether purchases I made in the past were wise or not. I can’t change them. All I can do is pick up from where we are now and move forward. I also need to reign in the catastrophizing lines of thought which would have me making contingency plans for all the ways that the events of last week (obviously) spell our permanent financial downfall.

The pants were clean in time for church, and for once there were enough of us there to fill an entire row. I sat there with my people and had a moment of peace. For a moment I was overcome with a feeling that everything would be okay. This is what church gives me, quiet space and a framework in which I can talk to God and get answers. I sat inside that calmness and peace as the meeting continued. Eventually it faded and my worried thoughts returned, but they weren’t as loud. And I have the memory of reassurance. Sometimes I think that is the core of faith: remembering those moments of clarity in the midst of all the other moments.

We’ll make it through, mend the holes, and continue building from there.


Things fixed:
2 toilets

Things broken:
Some plumbing
My budget plan for the year
Flooring and cabinets with damage from water seepage
My schedule for the next month or so as contractors are in and out

Things joyful:
Getting to be on TypeCast RPG where I played a halfling cannibal ranger named Toki’Pobo
Coming home to discover that there was a spontaneous LAN party in my absence
This week eggs hatch twice as quickly in Pokemon Go
Finally hanging family portraits on the wall
Expected guests

Things tired:

On Breakfast Outings, Pokemon, and Writing

The morning began with a quest. I’d only been up for a few minutes when Howard wandered into the room and said “you want to go get crepes for breakfast?” The crepe place is down in the Riverwoods shopping area, which is full of Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms. This fact is relevant since our entire family has taken up Pokemon Go in the past month. So we gathered everyone who felt like questing and off we went.

The weather was lovely, the food was good, and most of the stores didn’t open for another hour or two. We wandered along the paths collecting Pokemon and spinning stops. Almost everything about Pokemon Go is designed to get people to leave their houses and walk to different locations. It has certainly worked that way for our family. We now have people randomly deciding to go for short walks, even though we’re walking the same paths over and over, it feels new because we never know what surprises the game will throw our way. Going outside to stare at our phones and play a game is healthier for us than staying at home to sit in a chair and play a game.

I posted the above picture on twitter, and multiple people commented on the snow-capped mountain in the corner of the frame. It is so easy for me to forget that not everyone has vertical landscape looming over them at all times. I so often fail to notice how beautiful Utah is. I need to pause and admire the mountains more.

On the return home, I still had almost a full day ahead of me. For once, the most pressing deadline was on a writing task. I have a short story due at the end of the month and it isn’t fully drafted yet. I’d so enjoyed being outdoors in the pleasant weather, that I decided to sit on my back porch in my red bistro chairs to find the right words to tell the story I had outlined. Milo saw me outside and was so forlorn that I put on his harness and brought him outside with me.

Writing is a strange process. After forming a scene in my head and then writing sentences to convey that scene, I hit a point where I don’t know what sentence comes next. That’s when I pause and open up twitter or do a quick stretch. I have to pull my brain away from the task at hand so that I can circle back around to it with renewed vigor. It is rather like getting a muscle cramp in my hand and taking a moment to shake it out and stretch.

During one of my twitter breaks, I had a series of thoughts about writing, happiness, and goals:

A thing I’m trying to make a habit: instead of focusing on the thing I want and can’t reach yet, focus on the thing I get to do today which may eventually help me to that goal.

My writing career may never make significant money nor have much audience, even though I’d like it to have both. But neither of those goals will ever happen unless I put in the work.

And doing the work is much easier when I learn to love the work for itself rather than treating it like a chore to get me someplace else.

Today I get to sit on my porch with green things all around (and a cat) while I write a short story. That is a beautiful thing to get to do, even if the story never sells and is never read.

I wish I could always cultivate that mindset instead of getting tangled up in grief and worry. Of course the realities of money and bills mean that many days I have to set aside my personal writing in order to do the tasks which actually earn money. Some day those two things may come into more alignment, which would be nice, but I’m also aware that it would change my relationship to the words and the process of making them. Having a dream job often means turning something you enjoy into work, and it isn’t always the best way to balance life. But all of that is in the future. For today I sneak time to do writing which I love and which pays for nothing. And I try to pause and recognize when I get to have a beautiful day full of breakfast quests, pokemon, and writing. No matter what comes next, it can’t take away that lovely day I had.

Trying to Bring Summer into Focus

We’re on day two of our summer schedule and I’m still trying to find my footing in the schedule shift. This is strange because the shift isn’t as big as it was in past years. My recent high school graduate actually finished her credits early and thus hasn’t been to school in more than a month. My other high school student was partially home schooled and so he was at home half the time anyway. On top of that, the home schooling portion of his education continues into the summer. So the lines between school-in-session and school-is-out are really fuzzy. Yet I still feel like catching my balance is necessary. Two and a half months stretch out in front of us before school schedule imposes again. I feel the pressure to make good use of the time.

In organizing my business focus, I’m struggling with project conflict. There is a long list of things I should do and I’m having trouble clearing my head to focus on just one of them. If I attempt to focus on one, the others tug at my attention whispering “but I’m important too!” The trouble is that some of them are important emotionally and creatively while others are important financially and stability-wise. Therefore the weight I should give each project varies depending on whether I’m in a moment where I’m focused on immediate finances or if I’m in a moment where I’m trying to work toward long held aspirations. All the values and importances shift from hour to hour and minute to minute, until I feel lost in a swirl of thoughts.

I keep thinking that if I can establish a predictible schedule of daily/weekly events, that might quiet some of the noise. Of course establishing such a schedule requires me to decide which things get scheduled time and which should fill in the gaps, which lands me back in the evaluation/value mess of thoughts.

I did get some good news on the college financial aid front, so there’s one clear bright spot for the day. Tomorrow I take my newly-minted college freshman off for their orientation day. Hope that goes well.