Month: February 2022

Catching Some Consolation

Twitter is yelling today. So is the News. Everyone has opinions on how I should be spending my attention / energy / money to help with various crises. The crises are real. People are hurting and afraid, which makes them highly reactive and less able to feel empathy for approaches which are different than theirs. These crises have been brewing for years, a fact which has some yelling “I’ve been trying to warn you, why didn’t you listen?” But the past few days have had tipping points where everything went from “brewing” to “boiling over”. Now everything is hissing, smoking, making a mess, and we have literal fires to put out. And yet for someone like me who isn’t standing in the kitchen, who is out of reach to control the pot, the ways I can help are limited. My work is mostly unchanged. I still have to do laundry today even though missiles are flying over cities. I still need to write my representatives, precisely because other states have passed bad laws. I need to spend time writing, even though it feels like words are inadequate. I must tend to people near to me, because the mundane ways that we lift each other up don’t go away just because the crises boiled over. Today I’ve just added a new task called “Do not let the shouting and anxiety consume me.” When I was picking a title for this post I started with the word “comfort” but I don’t think I should be comfortable with world events today. However I do think I can be consoled. Consolation acknowledges the grief and allows it to continue to exist even while moving forward to do what is necessary.

I gathered the following two quotes from twitter. They helped me find some consolation today. Perhaps they’ll also help you.

With the world locked into a spiral of destruction, what point is there in making art? How can a song or a story or a picture make a difference? But every act of creation is also an act of defiance. And something as small as a butterfly’s wing can sometimes summon the hurricane. –Joanne Harris From @joannechocolat on Twitter.

It can be overwhelming to witness/experience/take in all the injustices of the moment; the good news is that *they’re all connected.* So if your little corner of work involves pulling at one of the threads, you’re helping to unravel the whole damn cloth. Let’s keep working our corners. Solidarity. –Ursula Wolfe-Rocca From @LadyOfSardines on Twitter

Butterfly Wings in Interesting Times

Does every generation feel what I feel when watching history unfold all around them? Lately I feel caught up in an unstoppable flood of events, like videos I’ve seen of mudslides which scrape entire houses into the sea. The word “unprecedented” has been tossed around frequently in the past two years since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic to the point where I think longingly of the boredom of predictability. Through the pandemic and the global climate shift and unresolved economic shifts I’ve gained a sense of the vastness of historical events. Events are so big and I have so little control over them that it is tempting to just try to hunker down and survive.

Yet one thing I learned in the wake of the Black Lives Matter / George Floyd protests of 2020 is that I am responsible for the power and privilege that I have. My lever to change the world may be tiny, but I am accountable for my use or non-use of that lever.

I can’t make it so that the Russian invasion of Ukraine didn’t launch yesterday. I can’t repeal the order from Governor Abbott of Texas where he classified transgender healthcare for minors as illegal abuse and commanded Child Protective Services to prosecute parents for it. I can’t change the big climate-change-driven storms across my entire country. But there are things I can be doing. The effect of them is small in the immediate realm, but I take courage from the idea that the flap of a butterfly’s wing in one place can affect the weather six months later on the opposite side of the planet.

So I’m flapping my wings today. I’m posting information and action items about anti-transgender legislation in my state. I’m monitoring those posts to make sure that whatever conversations spring up around them are managed and shepherded by me instead of left to become toxic. The existence of these posts volunteers me for emotional labor to educate people who may have not thought much about these issues before. I’ve allocated mental resources to manage this for the next few days. Other things in my life may take a small hit.

Other tiny wing flaps that are in progress: Ongoing attention to anti-racist efforts. Today I’m focusing on anti-trans legislation, but I also have my eye on local book-banning and government over reach into teacher’s jobs. I’m thinking about installing a Little Free Library in my front yard that I would stock with diverse literature for both kids and adults. I’m also occasionally nudging city politics because we need more middle and low income housing. Currently every city in my county believes that the apartment complexes should go into neighboring cities instead of their city. And I’m slowly changing the landscaping around my house toward being desert friendly instead of water hungry because water is going to be increasingly scarce in the next decade. Then there is all the community building work to help shape my church communities, and to help the individuals in my writer communities thrive.

None of my actions can move the needle in the short term, but I’ve come to be a firm believer in the slow and steady turtle who eventually wins the race. I can’t focus on all of these things every day, but I can cycle through them as I have time or attention to spare. Small actions accumulate. And with every small action to exercise the power I have, I do a tiny bit to make the world better.

World events are giant, but I can do better than “nothing” in response.

Becoming Infrastructure

It is not a new experience for me to encounter a gap and then to bridge it with my own efforts. I’ve been doing this sort of work for decades. I’ve done it for my young children, creating learning activities and enrichment when the school wasn’t quite meeting their needs. I’ve done it for our business when I solved fulfillment challenges by hand sorting file boxes of invoices to match them to postage in the era before all the click-and-go shipping software was available. I’ve done it at church where I run the Sunday streams for people who need to stay at home. I’ve done it for conferences and events. I’ve done it for friends and family. In fact it is hard for me to stop myself from bridging a gap once I know it is there and can see how my skills can make crossing possible.

It is one thing to throw myself across a gap which only needs to be crossed once or for a limited time. It is an entirely different experience to become a bridge which gets constant traffic and needs regular effort or maintenance. I’ve done both. In fact the job of parent is to turn oneself into infrastructure to support the growth and development of immature human beings. This is why it takes a village to raise a child, because being infrastructure is exhausting work and we have to lean on each other to accomplish it. I’m now at the far end of parenting where most of my parental duty is to stand off to the side out of their way, but still available as a resource. I’m still infrastructure for my non-driving children, but even that era is coming to an end as we’re close to getting a couple of driver’s licenses. I’m also infrastructure for my household as I handle a large portion of the resource management and grocery shopping.

One of the things that I have learned from being the support structure for others so often is to be cautious about the support roles I volunteer for and to immediately set out to make it so that the support role can be handed off to another person if I need to step out of the job. Yes I’ll take on church streaming, but once I’ve problem solved the stream itself I will set about creating a set of instructions and training several people on how to do the job. If bridging the gap is important enough that I’m willing to turn myself into a bridge, then I want to make sure that I’m not a single point of failure. Instead I want to participate in the construction of a solid bridge that will last long after I’ve stepped away.

Small Updates

Got the letter from the Primary Care doctor. It is a strong letter that does exactly what we need. Submitted it to the surgeon who will submit it to the insurance. And now we do more waiting.

Car that was in the crash ended up being totaled, so my daughter and son-in-law get to go vehicle shopping in this terrible used car market. Whee.

Son who was struggling has had a good week so far. So that’s a relief.

Son who promised to be as boring as possible was, in fact, very boring. He had a quiet, pleasant weekend with no crises in it.

I’ve managed to re-set and yesterday was a pretty good work day. Today hasn’t been, but it is within the normal range of “didn’t get enough done” instead of me being complete mush.

So that is where all the things are. Now I need to go find some work focus.

Mental Health, Car Crashes, and Navigating Medical Care

Dear Readers,

This letter is a little bit different than normal because I’m in a very different headspace than normal. In the large scheme of my life, the setbacks of this past week are small, but the emotional impact of them is large. I use the word “impact” deliberately because I’ve experienced many of these things as body blows after which I have to stop and catch my breath. The disruption is real and made worse by the lack of space between them. Without space to recover in between, my anxiety engine gets revved up and everything feels dire. So, in an effort to process all of this, I’ve written this letter. In case you’re also standing in an emotionally complex place and need to opt out, some things mentioned in this letter are: mental health struggles with anxiety & depression, wrangling with the healthcare system for transgender care, surgery, and a car crash in which no one was seriously injured.

Additional note: It took a lot of work to distill the essence of what you’re reading. I could write another 5-10k words with additional supporting information about all of the emotional, physical, and medical decisions that have landed us where we are. If, after reading this, you feel compelled to help somehow you can post pet pictures or happy things on social media or send them as replies to this newsletter. At this time distraction is needed, not brainstorming or additional advice. (Also totally fine if you just want to read without responding in any way.)

My head was very noisy this past week. It was busy with:

  • Fragments of contentious (but important) discourse inside my faith community
  • Thoughts about my role as a parent for my adult son who was struggling hard with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and sensory over-stimulation for several days in a row.
  • My married daughter who had a car accident (no physical injuries to either driver, just smashed cars) and we were her support network for picking her up from the crash site, helping calm her distressed emotional state on crash day, and post-crash emotional processing on the day after.
  • Thoughts from larger world discourse on the topics of reproductive rights, healthcare, transgender rights, climate crises, and economic uncertainty.

The key commonality in all of these things is that topic is very important to me, often affecting my life directly, but my power over the outcome is limited. I do not like powerlessness. It makes me afraid and my learned response to that fear is contingency planning. Lots of it. I rehearse conversations that will probably never happen. I think through if/then decision trees to preplan my possible actions, even though I know from long experience that when I come up to an action moment most (if not all) of those contingency branches will be irrelevant to the choice that is actually offered. If my anxiety is particularly wound up, I’ll find myself in catastrophization spirals where I imagine the worst possible outcome, feel panic as if that outcome is inevitable, then play it over and over in my head in the same way that people replay a car accident, trying to understand what happened and to re-write the ending. Only I’m making up the terrible ending and then spending time trying to re-write it or contingency plan to avoid it.

The amount of creative energy sucked up and wasted on these brain activities is significant. So I try my best to prune them off as soon as I recognize them. But even pruning takes energy. I was managing, hoping for a calmer few days. Instead I got a notification from a surgeon’s office that we had two weeks to get a second surgery clearance from a doctor so my 21yo can have surgery in April.

My children’s lives and stories are theirs to tell, so I haven’t said much about my non-binary child and their choice to have gender affirming surgery. It has been an honor and privilege to watch my child grow into themself, to claim a new name and new pronouns. It has been heartbreaking to realize that their progress is stalled by a constant awareness that their body is wrong for them. If you can empathize with all of the exhaustion I feel from the anxiety noise in my head that I described up above, I hope you can then turn that same empathy to imagining if your every movement, your own voice, felt wrong to you. The amount of sheer will it takes to keep pushing forward against that constant headwind of dysphoria is awe inspiring. For my kid, surgery is the gateway into a life with less headwind. Life is still life. Adulting is still complicated. But the constant noise will quiet down.

It took years for my kid to realize that surgery was what they needed to move forward.  Then we had to collect a pile of supporting medical evidence that they ought to be allowed access to this form of medical care. Then we waited six months to even get an appointment for a surgical consult.  Then we waited while insurance evaluated our paperwork offerings. We don’t get to pick our surgery date, we wait to be told when it will happen. It has now been nearly eighteen months in various waiting stages. During all of this waiting my kid couldn’t get a job or start college because we don’t know when surgery will land. I arranged my calendar for the first half of this year so that I could easily shuffle all obligations to manage post-surgical care. Finally we were told “sometime in April” which is good.

But then came the message that if we couldn’t come up with more paperwork (specifically a second Letter of Readiness for Surgery even though I’d previously been told that one was sufficient) by the end of February, we lose the April slot and go to the back of the line, which would put the surgery into August or September and in direct conflict with only events of my year that I can’t rearrange (Gen Con, the WXR retreat) Not to mention putting life on hold for nearly another six months.  It’s another piece of paper, should be easy. Theoretically. If I can get a doctor to see us on short notice, if that doctor isn’t transphobic in some way that hasn’t previously come to light, if the insurance company actually accepts the letter and doesn’t come up with some reason to reject it. 

We have been so very lucky in that every person, every doctor, every neighbor, every family member has been kind and accepting of my kid’s identity, even the ones who didn’t comprehend it. We got lucky again, despite the fact that kid’s long-term therapist is on maternity leave, despite our GP retiring last week, so we had to meet with an entirely new doctor. New doctor was 100% professional and her only questions were clarification requests to make sure that the letter she gives us meets all of the listed requirements. I did not have to cold call forty different doctors on the gender clinic’s list of gender-affirming doctors and beg, but I was prepared to.

So, all is well. Probably. Hopefully. There are still people and organizations who have power to deny us the surgery in April and my anxiety wants to plan for all the contingencies. We have done everything that is in our power to do at this time. Every time my brain wants to build a contingency tree, I instead focus it on the fact that currently all is well. My son who was struggling has bounced back and is doing much better. My daughter has re-established her emotional balance leaving only the annoyance of post-crash-paperwork. All the other world and community stuff is still out there, but I’m actively tuning it out because my circuits are overloaded.

Everything is fine, but my body has not exited fight or flight mode. I’m moving through the world as if surrounded by tigers that could pounce on me at any moment. I can feel something clenched up in my chest and I’m not sure it will unclench until we’ve reached post-surgical recovery.

I’m taking this weekend slow, not doing anything that isn’t essential, and being kind when I recognize how far under my usual capacity I’m operating. Yet I can’t stay in this mode for the next two months. I have to find ways to do creative work despite the noise in my head and the omnipresent anxiety spikes which I have to keep pruning lest they turn into full-blown catastrophization spirals.

In order to do that, I think back to the hours right after my daughter’s crash, how we brought her to our house and stopped her from obsessing over the if/only thoughts. We distracted her with a Tetris game. (Did you know that science suggest that playing Tetris in the hours right after a traumatic event reduces the severity of PTSD related to that event? Giving the adrenaline-soaked brain something rhythmic to hyperfocus on really helps.)  So I’ve picked up a new pattern matching game which I’m playing a lot of this weekend. Starting Monday I’ll follow the script we used on the day after the accident, where my daughter still hung out with us and we prevented obsessing, but she decided to repair my purse for me. It was a small, concrete project which made the world better. I notice that when I do focus on small concrete tasks the anxiety doesn’t have space to ping around as much. So I’ll be keeping busy, trying to experience as much normal as possible.

Will my creative output be reduced in the next month? I can’t tell yet, and that is the wrong question. Measuring output is the wrong focus for me right now. Instead I need to slice my work into small portions and acknowledge each tiny moment of completion. Small task after small task will carry me forward until I have enough balance to look up from what is right in front of me and think longer thoughts again.

Though I would really like for next week to be boring. In fact, on Thursday evening as I was driving my other son (the fourth child who has not featured in this letter prior to this paragraph) home from work, I told him he was under orders to have a very boring weekend. It could be as interesting and pleasant as possible for him, it just needed to be boring for ME. He laughed and agreed that he would do his very best to be boring. So far so good.

Readers, thank you for spending time with this letter even though it verged more into the personal and familial than I usually do. I suspect writing it all out in this way is one of my ways to process it. I hope that your week has been far less eventful than my past week has been. And if you are wresting with events of your own, I hope you are able to be kind and patient with yourself as you find your way through them.

All the best,


Memories Because of Muffins

I fell down a rabbit hole of memory because I went searching for the word “muffin.” It began when my son remembered aloud that I used to bake muffins that were the color of the mushrooms in the Mario games on our Nintendo system. I remembered the existence of the muffins. I remembered being pleased at how much like the mushrooms I was able to make them look, complete with white spots. Yet I could not remember how I did it. So I searched for the word “muffin” here on One Cobble at a Time to see if I blogged about my mushroom muffin process. I did not, but an array of other entries came up which included the word muffin. It was a sampling of the life of my family across years. I loved reading about events that I no longer remember, getting glimpses of the people my children used to be. I captured moments so beautifully with my words, and felt a twinge of sadness that I don’t do that in the same way anymore. I don’t tell the small stories of the lives of the people in my household, mostly because their stories are no longer mine to tell. Young children and their stories are in the care of their parents. I had to capture the day of my four year old because if I did not the memory would be lost to him as well as me. Teenagers and adults must choose their own remembering and forgetting.

But I think I could catch more moments than I have been. Like the quietness of my house on a Sunday afternoon, the sounds of Howard playing online with some friends. Similar sounds come muffled from the basement where my 24yo is doing the same. The 21yo and the 18yo are both sprawled in chairs reading fanfic on their phones. The younger cats have posted up next to windows to watch for the blue jays who come to scream at them sometimes. Old lady kitty has found a sunbeam to warm her dark fur. All is calm and content. I suppose there are houses where this sort of “everyone doing their own thing” looks like withdrawal, but the readers are in public spaces rather than hidden away in their rooms. The office door is open. And if one of us wanders into the kitchen, the smell of cooking food is likely to summon others. Then we will talk. It is comfortable to co-exist in a house full of adults. The contrast to the life revealed by my muffin search is significant. I remember that life fondly, I’m glad to be in this one now. In part because the transition from Family with Small Children to Family of Adults required crossing a dark and rocky terrain of Family of Teens Who Are All Melting Down with Mental Health Issues Simultaneously. So I gaze fondly across the gap at the memories I caught in words. Then I be glad I am in today.