Month: July 2020

Efficiency and Stress

Yesterday and today I was completely booked. Task followed appointment followed task with very little time to reset in between. That used to be normal, but it hasn’t been my experience for months. It did not take long for me to feel a bit frazzled. I wasn’t overwhelmed, but I could feel the stress in my body as extra resources went into keeping track of what came next and making sure I completed each thing before task switching. Yet I remember having far busier days. I remember the adrenaline feeling of having dozens of things to do and getting them all done. The key words here are “stress” and “adrenaline.” They are hugely important ways that the body shifts to manage whatever life throws at us, but they’re designed for short sprints, not long haul marathons. The low level of stress I felt in my body today was constant in my pre-pandemic life. It was the reason I kept talking about needing to slow my life down, find spaces.

I don’t want to keep the pandemic, nor the barrier it places between people and many of the things we want/need to do. Yet I feel like I gained something from having long empty days. Those long days often were full of anxiety, fear, and thinking. I frequently felt overwhelmed with adapting and the state of the world in general. Yet those stresses felt different in my mind and heart than this thing-after-thing stress. I’ve just now realized that efficiency is a high-energy state. In order to run anything efficiently, energy needs to be spent on maintaining optimization. If I always try to organize my life efficiently, I will run myself ragged, and I will miss out on the serendipitous benefits that come from natural flow. Those long pandemic days let me experience life sans efficiency. I moved through my days mostly without task lists or schedules. I learned that motivation can exist without deadline pressure.

Life is shifting here at Chez Tayler. With Howard’s schedule no longer driven by the daily comic, I’m able to step back and let Howard handle more of his own admin tasks. Perhaps some of the house admin tasks will also shift to him. We don’t know yet. We are both trying to be conscious about what patterns we settle into. As we launch on new creative projects, there are going to be times when I need to be in full project manager mode. I’m going to have days like the past two, where I need to task switch and move efficiently. However I also want to make sure that not all of my days are run that way. I like high energy creative work and I need to have unstructured contemplative time. Having that framework in mind is good as we’re establishing life post-Schlock Mercenary, mid-pandemic, and pre-whatever comes next.

Learning to Rest

A thing that I am slowly learning how to do is recognize how fatigue feels in my body and my heart. Physical fatigue after a physical exertion is fairly easy to identify, but most of us are trained to ignore emotional/psychological fatigue. This is the natural result of a society which admires and praises productivity. There are constant rewards for getting things done, so it is easy to just push and push and push without rest. Because the rewards do give us a surge of endorphins, which grants us additional energy to do more things. However no amount of endorphins can do the fully restorative work of actually resting.

This morning I had a day stretching out ahead of me and nothing on the calendar. I could have looked at my long to-do list and filled the day with tasks. Sometimes that is exactly what I like do when I encounter empty time. This morning I was having trouble wanting to tackle any of the things. This is a subtle sign of fatigue, because I like my projects, I want to work on my projects and complete them. If I’m instead avoiding picking them up, then that tells me something is off in my mind and heart. Sometimes fear is throwing me off and preventing me from engaging with a project. This is frequently the case with my fiction writing. Today it was simply fatigue. I’d had a week full of things and I need some time resting from the things so that I can be glad to do them again on Monday. This is the purpose of having weekends, to take time off from working.

So I’m having a Saturday. I’ve done a few tasks because they landed in front of me and I had desire/energy to do them. The rest I’ve set aside. On Monday I’ll be back to focusing and getting things done. Starting with shipping packages. The end of the comic prompted many people to buy things in the store. (Thank you!)

A Snapshot of Day

Rain is falling and preventing me from going out to lay in my hammock. Laying on wet while being dripped on would not be the experience I was looking for. Also, I like taking paper books and notebooks with me. They would suffer from the wet. Interesting the damp barrier to stepping outside makes me feel cooped up. It probably explains my push to get a patio made. A patio could host a comfy chair with an umbrella to keep the rain off my pages. Also a patio can have a gas powered fire pit table to extend the outdoor season past the point where outside becomes chilly.

We need the rain. Utah’s annual allotment of wildfires have been blazing away, turning the daylight amber. Rain is rarely enough to extinguish a fire, but it helps. In my gardens the rain will revive dry patches of lawn that are missed by the sprinklers. It also enlivens the snails who are all out and about on the wet sidewalks. My flower beds and grape vines house a large and thriving colony of these snails. They mostly leave my flowers alone and they make my kid happy, so we co-exist.

Indoors the house feels quiet despite the occasional outburst from the two young adults playing games together. Howard is meandering through his day, finally free from the schedule pressure of the daily comic update. I’m sitting on my couch, looking out the window at the rain, grass, and snails. Writing thoughts about all of the above in a notebook for lack of sufficient focused attention to dive into working on my novel. Later this evening I’ll drive to go pick up a bag of farm share vegetables.

My afternoons and evenings are far slower than they were pre-pandemic. My mornings contrive to be efficient and productive. Sometimes I work to make afternoons productive too, but for today I’m just going to keep the rain company and know that not every day needs to be driven by checklists.

Approaching The End

In 2004 it became clear to both Howard and I that he had to leave his corporate employment and try to make a go of cartooning full time. The span of time between our decision and his final day of work was only a few days because his employer said there was no point in holding him to two week’s notice. I felt so calm during those days, Howard was pretty scared and stressed. Then he came home with boxes of personal belongings from his office space and we switched who was stressed. I remember laying on the couch, staring at the ceiling, and feeling the responsibility for house and kids as if it were a physical weight on my body.

Obviously the switch to cartooning worked out, because we’ve spent the intervening sixteen years fully supporting that house and the four kids. About four years ago, we started knowing that Schlock Mercenary needed an end rather than letting it continue endlessly. By last year we knew that 2020 would be the year it ended. I spent a lot of last year actively afraid for what ending the comic would mean for our finances. We turned the corner into this year and I felt calm. It was time, and I was excited to see what new things we would do. When Howard got sick, I started actively looking forward to the end of the comic because he could barely keep up with the pressure of the daily update. I arrived at this week feeling anticipation that the end is so close.

Today Howard scripted the final comics and began to draw them. He tweeted about it, and his replies were flooded with people for whom reading the comic has been a daily ritual for 5, 10, 20 years of their lives. Today my emotions are all over the place instead of calm. I feel badly that this tiny piece of enjoyment in their lives is coming to an end. I feel glad that Howard will have space to figure out his health. I’m excited to see what new patterns my family gets when we don’t have to bend everything around a daily update. I’m nervous about our finances in the next few years. I’m happy about Howard’s scripts for the final comics. I’m looking forward to the other Schlock Mercenary stories we’ll get to create in a format other than a daily update. I feel sad that fans won’t have the daily laugh anymore. Yet all of it feels more like a beginning than an ending to me. We’ll see if all of those feelings shift when the final comic is done and posted.

It has been such a privilege and a joy to be part of the 20-year-long project Schlock Mercenary. I love the characters. I love the stories. I love the books we got to make. I love that it is a vast universe with so much room in it for more stories. I’ll carry that privilege, joy, and love with me into whatever comes next.

Waiting for Normal

Normality is a moving target. Figuring out what is normal is like trying to catch fog in my hands. I look out across the distance and the fog obviously exists, but up close I can’t see it. I’ve seen lots of talk about “the new normal” but nothing is settled yet, everything is still shifting. We’re still having community arguments about masks and kids in school. The fact that we’re arguing means none of this is normal to us yet. Communities don’t argue about things that are actually normal. Things that are normal are so accepted that they are as unconsidered as air. This can be good or bad depending on where normal lands.

In the Before Times I would be in the church building at 10am on Sunday morning. Instead I’m sitting in my kitchen with scriptures and a study manual trying to have insights without anyone else to bounce ideas with me. Later I’ll have a short meeting with Howard and my one child who still connects with my religion. I treasure those small meetings. They are sacred and special in a way that I could not have had before the pandemic. Yet I miss larger spiritual community connection. I’ve considered starting an online discussion / study group, but part of me resists the idea of creating that commitment. Not sure why I have that resistance. Today is a normal pandemic Sunday, with patterns that have become familiar over the past several months.

In the coming week my family has decisions to make about my son’s senior year of high school. Those decisions have a huge effect on where normal will land for us. What patterns do we want to establish that we think we can sustain over the next nine months. I expect to have several false starts as we discover which aspects of our plan are working and which are not. Deciding about school is only the beginning. Holidays are coming. They carry a heavy weight of tradition and emotional resonance. We’re going to have community arguments about what pandemic Halloween looks like. Are class parties allowed for elementary school? Do the kids get to have their costume parade? Do people go door to door for trick or treating? Then there are Thanksgiving and Christmas where families have to decide whether to gather, whether to distance, whether to wear masks. The internal longing for familiar traditions will be strong. We’ll have to fight ourselves and that will manifest as fighting with others. I’m already tired thinking about each of these community discussions to come. Yet we can’t reach a true New Normal until we’ve cycled through all of them.

For my part I’m trying to settle my mind and heart into gratitude and a lack of expectation. I’m grateful for the things I get to have: Sunday with family in my house, visits with my married kids (the only non-household people allowed in my house,) online visits with others. And I’m trying to let go of expecting anything to look like it did before. All of my events must be re-imagined. It is grieving to let go of traditions that grounded me, but exciting to be able to re-envision so many parts of my life. I have so little control over how the next months will play out beyond the walls of my house. I suppose it isn’t surprising that I’ve been focused on house projects as a concrete thing I can control.

Eventually pandemic normal or post-pandemic normal will arrive. It will do so quietly, we’ll only notice we have it after it has been surrounding us for quite a while. It will not look like what we imagined when we tried to declare “this is what the new normal will look like.” Until then, everything is in flux.

A Tour of House Projects in Progress

After last summer’s detour into flood damage repair, this year I’m back to working on the house projects I want to get done. Because of financial and time constraints, the projects move slowly, however the life shifts around pandemic have me needing hands-busy-not-too-thinky tasks. Home improvement fills that need nicely. Progress has been made.

The largest and most ongoing project is our Long Slow Remodel of our kitchen. The current goal is to get rid of that wall in the middle before November launches the holiday season.

The next step is to waiting on flooring to arrive. I have to tear out flooring in front of this wall, lay new flooring, and then we can install a pantry wall with a secondary sink. (The plumbing for the sink was installed spring of 2019.) We’ll live with a patch of mis-matched flooring while we take a bunch of other steps like new counter tops, wall removal, re-wiring the location of the fridge, etc.

I already have the cabinets which will go on the pantry wall. They’re waiting out in my garage.

We had paused the kitchen remodel because purchasing flooring is a big spend and I was worried about finances. But we think that re-configuring our kitchen to match the way that our brains work will help Howard in his quest to improve his health. So we’re moving forward. During the pause I was in need of projects, and my son was also in need of things to do, so we decided to put a patio in the dirt patch that used to be under our deck that we had to demolish because it had rotted. (Deck demolishing Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) Here is what the patch looked like in 2014 after we removed the deck:

This is how the dirt patch spent most of the intervening years: Covered in leaf piles and various other detritus.

This is the current state of the dirt patch, which is well on its way to becoming a patio. We used the wheelbarrow to haul excavated dirt to a large (and growing larger) pile of dirt in the corner of the yard. I’m thinking we’ll use some of it to fill raised garden beds. Hopefully we’ll do that faster than the six years it took us to move from dirt patch to patio. The pile of sand on the tarp was salvaged from an old sandbox which we disassembled in early spring of 2019. We’re using it in the laying of pavers, but the size of the pile suggests that we’ll have some left over for other projects later. Process is dig, remove tree roots, level dirt, lay landscape cloth, layer gravel, layer sand, place each paver carefully using a level. At the end I’ll use polymeric sand to seal everything into place.

While hauling dirt to our big pile, I noticed that one of our pine trees had been so overtaken by wisteria vines that it was in danger of dying. I cut the vines to give the tree a chance. Unfortunately that created this situation:

Instead of having a wall of green, there is a wall of dead. Dried, crispy dead just waiting for a spark to turn the whole mess into a massive torch. Particularly since the underside of all that dead wisteria looks like this:

So in between digging and laying pavers, I’m taking time to cut back and remove all of the dead from this tree. I’m also raking up a decade of dead pine needles and wisteria leaves from the ground. I’ll probably need a young, nimble person to get on a ladder or climb the tree to help me get some of the dead vines removed. Bit by bit it is getting less hazardous.

Not a hazard, but definitely an eyesore is this weedy patch which flanks the other side of my small deck. It used to be raised garden beds framed by railroad ties. Then we realized that all the terrible chemicals from the railroad ties would leach into the soil, and be taken into the food plants. We pulled the railroad ties, which left a couple of mounds. Then life got busy and the mounds went to weeds. Since there were mounds, we couldn’t just mow them. So in order to get this spot under control we need to clear the weeds and level the ground, or reinstall garden beds. I’m considering making this spot into a patio too or we could return it to being lawn, which is what it was before very-young me decided to make it raised garden beds. This project is on the list, but I doubt we’ll get to it this year.

Last, but not least urgent, are the front flower beds which have reached their usual state of July disarray. Weeds need to be pulled, plants need to be cut back. I need to fertilize to give all of it a chance of being pretty again in the fall and next spring.

Owning a house is a lot of work if you want to keep the house in good condition. I’ve lived in this house and tended to it for over twenty years now. Some of my current projects are me correcting my own past errors (railroad garden beds,) some are me fighting the natural entropy of living things trying to take over (tree rescue, weeds,) and some are me correcting long-standing problems (removing that wall in the kitchen.) It is a good thing I like having projects.

Things I Miss and Gifts I’m Grateful For

Things I miss:

  • My son being able to attend school in person
  • My child being able to volunteer at the aquarium
  • Singing as part of a congregation
  • The random small conversations that happened with my neighbors at church
  • Howard having so much energy that I have to run to keep up with him, both literally and figuratively
  • Meeting with writer’s groups in person
  • Hugging friends
  • Having people over to the house without calculating infection risk
  • Interacting with people without wearing a mask

Gifts I’m glad to have:

  • A new awareness of how many hours each day has because they aren’t chopped into pieces by appointments
  • The intimacy of doing sacrament worship at home with just immediate family
  • An increased awareness of my responsibility to the communities of people who surround me, which includes a better understanding of community power dynamics and racism.
  • The new patio which became my “must have something solid to do” project
  • The time spent in a car with my son while he learns how to drive
  • Seeing how my married kids are growing together and leaning on each other rather than on parents

Getting Priorities the Right Way Round

Things I would like to do with the next few hours of my day:

  • Clean my kitchen
  • Start a batch of sourdough bread
  • write a scene for my novel
  • wander in my garden planning what I’ll do when the weather cools down
  • Read a book
  • watch a show
  • Write my newsletter

Things I feel like I should be doing:

  • Anything directly related to bringing income so that I can continue doing the things on the list up above when I feel like doing them.

Sometimes I forget that focusing my life around maintaining the flow of income is backwards since the point of having the income is so that I can do the things I want to do without feeling anxious about survival.

Anti-Racism Accountability Update

I have mixed thoughts about making this post. There has been a lot of discussion going around about performative allyship or performative anti-racism, and I believe it is important to define and discuss that so that people can self-analyze whether they are motivated by helping those affected by racism or whether they are motivated by attention for their declarative posts. While sometimes performative behavior is obvious from the outside, very often it isn’t because the difference is internal. There is no way for me to make a public post about the steps I’ve taken to be anti-racist without calling attention to myself. Making the post is an inherent ask for attention, even if I’ve emotionally detached from the approval (or lack thereof) which results.

On the other hand, humans are social creatures and we learn many of our behaviors by watching the example of others. In an aerobics class, the instructor stands up front and does the steps so that other people can watch and learn what the steps should be. If everyone who is doing anti-racist work is quiet about it, then those who would follow an example are left to shuffle around making things up. Also, if we all go quiet about our anti-racist work, then many people who were partially ready to make changes will settle back into their old habits. Systems that preference some people over others will stay in place. The major media has moved on to the next story, which means the conversation only continues if people are willing to continue speaking up.

On the whole, I’ve decided to risk performance and post about what I’ve done in the past month and what I intend to do for the next months. It forces me to examine whether I’ve gotten complaisant.

  1. Read at least one non-fiction book that specifically addresses understanding racism or anti-racism (Many people had a similar goal and the books sold out. I’m still waiting for mine to arrive. However I did do a lot of online reading. I watched Just Mercy and Malcom X. I’ve watched Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.)
  2. Seek out books of fiction written by marginalized writers. The books themselves do not have to be about marginalization. I’m just expanding the range of perspectives in the storytellers I give attention to. (Did this one. I have more books arriving from a local bookstore as well.)
  3. I’ll celebrate the 4th of July by spending a week posting on social media to promote the work and businesses of POC or LGBTQ creators. BUT the focus is on promoting the work not on their marginalization. This means I need to do the homework and find brilliant works that fit my criteria. They’re already out there, I’m just ignorant of them. (This was fun. I liked the challenge of seeking out new sources for things I liked. I found some amazing things.)
  4. Take steps to expand my professional networks beyond my currently existing network of mostly white, middle-class, American people. I am missing out on amazing talent because I haven’t taken the time to become familiar with their work. I’ll start by following some new people on twitter. (I followed new people on twitter. I’ve started learning where I can reach out to make sure that when I do a project I’m actually finding the best person, not just grabbing who is closest/ familiar.)

Going forward:

  1. Read the Anti-Racist non-fiction book as soon as I can get my hands on them.
  2. Continue to read books written by marginalized authors, people who have different perspectives than I usually read.
  3. When I need to purchase things, don’t just default to the nearest big box store. Instead do some research to find small businesses I can support, particularly small businesses that serve communities which struggle more.
  4. Continue to expand my professional networks. Work to connect with and understand the new people I’ve followed on twitter. Listen to them.
  5. Examine the power I have in my communities and be willing to use that power to make space for voices which the community norms tend to sideline or exclude.

WXR Summer Reunion

Yesterday was the Writing Excuses Retreat Summer Reunion. It was an event run on Zoom where more than a hundred writers entered the same space and circulated through breakout rooms just like circulating through conversations at a party. One room had a bartender to talk people through making their own cocktails and mocktails, another room had a book bartender to help people triage their TBR pile. There was a room with a dance party and a room with Karaoke. Mostly I set myself up in one of the quiet rooms and enjoyed conversations with small groups of people. There were so many friendly faces that I was glad to see. I came away after six hours of being on Zoom, truly exhausted, but feeling happy and more balanced than I’ve felt in a while.

I think as a socially anxious introvert, it is really tempting for me to opt out of social interactions. I’m pretty content hanging out by myself watching a show, reading, or thinking my own thoughts. The pandemic has made it even easier for me to go nowhere and talk to no one. Then I hit an event like the one yesterday and I realize (again) that just because withdrawal into solitude is my natural inclination, it is not necessarily the best thing for me to be doing. Like eating healthy exercising, I should probably be putting effort and attention into making sure I spend time being social. I’m not sure yet how to accomplish this during the pandemic. My preference would be to show up at online social things that other people host, because then I could lurk and duck out at will when anxiety built up. However I suspect that many of my friends feel the same way and would appreciate coming to an event where they didn’t have to host. More thought required.

In the meantime, I’m really looking forward to October when WXR is teaming up with Surrey International Writer’s Conference to hold an online event. There will be parties like the one I attended last night, writing dates, and (of course) classes. I even get to teach some classes, which I’m excited about. You can register here if you’d like to join me. For today, I’m going to rest and remember the fun conversations I had. Then tomorrow I’m going to get back to writing, because talking with all my writer friends got me motivated again.