Sandra Tayler

Making Time for Emotional Processing

“There is a difference between claiming a calm space and defending it from encroachment vs happening upon an open space where you can rest.” I said these words to a friend this morning as part of a conversation about how my week was going. Now the words are sitting in my brain, because I long for an open space, free from urgency. I (kind of) have that scheduled for Saturday, but today is Wednesday and this week has already had a lot in it.

In the past I’ve given advice to others (and to myself) about building a life you’re happy to dwell inside rather than one you need to escape from. I’m sitting with that advice today and wondering if I’m a hypocrite as I feel harried by tasks without pause. Tasks I want to run away from. I find myself wishing I could shoehorn some bonus time into the middle of my week that I would just use for watching lots of brainless television. Or sleeping. It was just last night that Howard mentioned a task and I answered “I’d better write that down in my Book of Too Many Things.” He laughed and thought the name was appropriate. I laughed too. And wrote the thing down. I might actually write that title on the cover of my current journal / To Do book. Then I’ll laugh/cry at the truth of it any time I look at the cover.

The fact that I want to laugh/cry over my lists tells me that I need to find a way to be joyful while doing the things instead of weary.

So I remember other advice that I gave out while teaching Creativity in All Things. Often our challenge isn’t with the tasks of our lives. It is with the grief or emotional processing that accompanies those tasks. This is my problem right now. Not that I’ve taken on too many things, but that the incessant stream of urgent tasks has left me with very little space to process the emotional loads of those tasks. Some of the the emotional loads have been fairly epic in scope. Some of the griefs are persistent and pervasive. I’m storing them in my mind, tucked as far out of the way as they can be, while I try to work in the space that is left over. Struggling to accomplish things in tight quarters creates additional frustration, which I also pack up and stow, tucking it in between and around the other bundles. Except most of the room is taken and I’ve reached the point where sometimes things come loose and land on my head when I’m trying to focus. Emotional clean up in the middle of my work space is kind of a daily occurrence this week.

On Saturday I need to sit down with myself and list out my griefs. Name them. Describe them without judgement. Let them be as petty, or unfair, or deep, or wide as they are when I pull them out of storage. It is likely to be messy work. Organizing always creates additional mess before it can create order. When I’ve looked at all the bundles, then I decide on action items for each grief. Who can I talk to about the experience of having your life partner become disabled? What actions can I take to set right a hurt I helped cause? When can I sit and feel sad about an experience I wanted to have, but which the time for has passed? Those action items get space on my upcoming To Do lists. My one defended emotional processing space will spawn a dozen more, which I’ll also have to defend. I may feel more busy for a while rather than less. But this is the heart of self care. Claiming space to tend to yourself.

Experience has taught me that if I claim and defend spaces for deliberate emotional processing, the result is that my mind and life begin to feel less embattled. Slowly the stowed emotions become integrated, which is when I begin to discover those surprise open spaces in which I can just be calm and happy.

Musing While Walking

The morning light is soft and quiet as I step outside for my walk. The walk I resent having to take, but which has become necessary to manage a medical condition that is currently incipient, and which I can prevent by getting more exercise. So I walk. For a few minutes I feel alone with the world even though surrounded by my neighbor’s houses.

I pull out my phone to make a note of the feeling. Perhaps I’ll write a blog post when I get home. It has been a long while since my last one. I write memos sometimes when I’m out in the world and have a thought I don’t want to lose. My phone is new in my hand. Only two days old. I didn’t particularly want a new phone, but my old one died dramatically between one finger flick and the next while I was scrolling and reading. It froze and went black never to wake again. With modern phones there are many ways to transfer data from an old phone to a new one. Few of them work when the old phone won’t turn on. So I spent time discovering what things I had backed up in places I could still access and what things were gone. Phone settings retrievable. Photos in the cloud. Contacts…the only back up was at least a decade old. So I spent hours finding phone lists and manually entering numbers, emailing friends and asking them to text me their names, deleting contacts which are no longer relevant but which were now sitting on my phone.

All of this weighs in my mind as the new phone sits lightly in my hand while I walk. The familiar memo button is gone. My memos are gone. All of those thoughts I captured so that I would not lose them, are now lost. Perhaps they weren’t important, perhaps I should trust that the important ones will come back around to me at a different time and place. Yet when I discover that a new version of my memo app has the ability to retrieve my old memos from a cloud I hadn’t realized they were saved to, I am relieved. My thoughts are safely in my pocket again. I add a new memo to the stack and keep walking.

I have reached the corner of the busy street. My walk is no longer quiet and solitary. Cars drive past. A helicopter chops over head. A young family is walking on the sidewalk opposite mine, taking a skipping child to school. It is the same elementary school I used to take my children to. In fact, my entire walking path is that familiar route I used to walk twice daily during the years when saving on gas expense was critical to our finances. My life is so different now. I’d forgotten how small a child can be while still being old enough to attend school. My days are not bounded by drop offs and pick ups. Yet I walk this same loop with different purpose, and I walk here in the familiar because I am choosing not to spend gas to drive and walk somewhere more scenic. Repetition and variation in my own existence.

I pull out my phone and catch those thoughts too. Typing while I walk, I feel vaguely guilty for not being more present in the moment. For allowing a screen to draw my eyes away from the slight seasonal variations in my neighbor’s yards. The thoughts I’m capturing aren’t truly important. They’re musings. I could just as easily let them go. But the musings are more pleasant than the alternative, which is to let my mind churn on the To Do items of the day. The biggest of which is making a final decision on which of the people I interviewed I’m going to offer employment. There are rejection notices in my future, for people I would like to get to know better and be friends with. I wish I had the resources to hire everyone. To give opportunity and funding to all of the amazing people. Instead there are decisions. So perhaps noting musings on my phone is not so bad a focus while I’m walking.

When my loop is complete and I re-enter my cul de sac, it is no longer quiet. My neighbors are on the move. Cars coming and going as their lives run in parallel to mine. Inside my house I kick off my walking shoes and pick up my book of lists. Time to do all the things.

Arriving at Quiet

After a week of near constant urgency, I’ve finally landed in an open space. It is the open space that all of my urgent preparations were designed to create. I spent most of last week preparing to leave for this conference trip, worrying that some last minute Covid disaster would prevent my going, and also trying to set things up for a smooth return. Then when I got to Houston, all my days were occupied with the organizational tasks of helping shepherd nearly two hundred people from a hotel onto buses then onto a cruise ship where we immediately had to run an orientation session and multiple classes. It was all joyful, but busy.

Today is the first day in a port. No classes are planned. I didn’t book any excursions. It is just me with hours available. I just cleared the small admin tasks that chase after me via email. I finally have a moment to pause and decide exactly what I want to spend time on next. And I get to do it while looking at this view:

View of blue ocean and clouds from a cruise ship balcony

The next three days are as empty as this one. I’m interested to see what emerges in the space.

Packing Possibilities

I’m going on a trip later this week and I am packing for it now. Other people who are also going on this trip were making jokes about packing along books that they never read while on the trip. I do this too, and I have in the past felt bad about it. As if I somehow failed at a trip goal by failing to read the book I brought with me. This time I’m seeing it differently. I’m packing along these books and water color paints as possibilities for how I might spend time while I’m away from my usual pursuits. I won’t know until I get there whether these possibilities will speak to me during the trip. If I spend my time entirely differently, nothing was harmed by bringing along these possibilities.

I will do the same thing with clothes, make up, and jewelry. Each thing I pack is an opportunity to explore who I am when I’m removed from my usual context. The Sandra of vacation who has different paths for her days than the one who walks the familiar patterns of being at home. I will get to dwell in aspects of myself that are usually tucked away. I’m looking forward to that.

Appreciating My Walks

I had an annual physical this past week. After lab work and conversation with my doctor, I now have a renewed commitment to go for walks more often. One of the challenges that I face in taking walks is that my neighborhood does not have much to offer in the way of natural spaces to walk in. Wide roads, concrete sidewalks, and tiny fiefdoms where each neighbor makes their own decisions about the small plot of land around their houses. Most of them pick lawns. I do live near some truly epic wild spaces if I just get in my car and drive for twenty minutes or more. But the “get in my car and drive for twenty minutes” adds 40 minutes to going for a walk. It also adds a gas expense. Both of which become hurdles that I have to clear in order to get myself walking. Of course the walk being boring is also a hurdle. So I’m trying to find ways to engage my brain with the available scenery.

I examine the landscaping of my neighbors as I walk past. I try to identify plants. lately I’m looking at lawns to notice how many of my neighbors have a variety of “weeds” growing in their lawns that aren’t grass. I’m looking for encouragement and attractive options for my own lawn. Which I’d like to be not grass. Looking at landscaping does help, but if I keep walking the same loops, I keep passing the same houses. The potential for boredom exists again.

This latest walk I decided to approach the walk like I was a young child. If I saw an interesting small object, I collected it. Then I arranged my finds for photography.

A pinecone, stick, and small leaf

Seeking out small reasons for photography feels nice. It is an excuse to find tiny beautiful things.

A feather against a fern-like plant

So for now my walks are not just exercise for my body, but they are also an exercise in finding beauty and joy inside the neighborhood I already have. Learning to appreciate what is here instead of wish for it to be different. Building contentment one step at a time as I walk the blocks I’ve walked before.

A Late Summer Garden Walk

After weeks of being too busy to pay any attention to my garden spaces, this morning I did a tour of my outdoor plants to re-orient myself to the state of things and to the work that I want to get done. I’ve mostly ignored anything garden-y for two months. This means I’ve failed to deadhead and weed during the time when conditions are ideal for rampant weed growth. I always get garden neglectful in July and August. Some of it is the heat limiting how many hours per day I can be outdoors, but also the run up to Gen Con and recovery from it always seems to occupy July and August. I usually find myself feeling like a gardening failure in late August and early September. I have to remind myself that July and August show me which plants can thrive in my garden conditions without constant care.

The first stop on the garden tour is the daisies that were so lovely a couple months back. They are less lovely now. If I cut them back as soon as they finish blooming (late June), they sometimes put on a second show in September. Not going to get a second show of daisies this year. Instead I spent all of July thinking “I should really take some time to cut those back.” Then I didn’t do it.

Green plants with dried up husks of brown petals at the top of the stalks.

So I spent a couple of hours this morning chopping back all of the daisies and most of the lavender plants. I dropped the chopped lavender into a spot behind my house where I would be delighted if some of the seed too root. Now the flower bed looks less overgrown, but still messy.

Messy bed full of greenery and dirt

I also pulled out an assortment of four foot tall spiny weeds. Some of the weeds have pretty flowers up close.

Tiny yellow flowers on a tall weedy spikey stalk

Too bad they grow 5 feet tall with itchy spines and are invasive. They’re also unlikely to be native and I’d like to shift my landscaping toward Utah native plantings as much as I can. In fact while we were on our cross country road trip, I paid close attention to what sorts of plants grew wild along the road sides. I’ve purchased some seeds for Utah native plants that I’m going to attempt to get planted in the fall. I may also go for a hike up the canyon just to see what sorts of things grow there. I would like to have green things that thrive without constant attention.

Speaking of things that don’t thrive without constant care, this is my lawn after one summer of not paying a company to throw chemicals all over it at regular intervals.

Brown grass in the small spaces between dandelions and other weed plants

Lawns may be easy in other areas of the world, here they are expensive in money, labor, water, and chemicals. Mine was additionally stressed this year because I was trying to cut back on water usage. I knew that the lawn would deteriorate once I stopped paying $600 per year on lawn services, but having it happen so quickly only drives home the fact that Utah is just not good lawn country. We need better solutions.

Lawn behind my house has suffered as well. One guess which area used to be shaded by the walnut tree we had to remove last fall.

A large section of lawn that is yellow and dead.

Keeping my trees alive and healthy is a high priority. The shade makes a world of difference in the experience of my garden spaces. In an effort to try to encourage clover to overgrow the lawn, I scattered clover seed in June. So far I have one clover plant.

One small clover patch surrounded by dead grass.

I’ll buy more seed and try again in the fall when cooler, wetter weather might give the seeds a better chance at sprouting. For a brief moment I thought about maybe letting bindweed grow across my lawn spaces.

Green patch of Field Bind Weed with white flowers.

It is incredibly drought hardy, stays green in August, makes pretty white flowers, and would be soft to walk on. Then I remember that bindweed is a foreign invasive plant that will do its best to kill every other plant that exists anywhere near it. And probably succeed.

Speaking of plants where I don’t want them, this is not a good place for a trio of mimosa trees. Got to pull those out.

Three shrub sized mimosa trees growing in the narrow strip of dirt between a wood fence and a driveway with a car parked on it.

This is also not a good place for a mimosa tree.

A 5 foot baby mimosa tree growing up through the handle of a bbq grill.

In fact, I’ve been meaning to get that mimosa tree away from the grill for a couple of years now, and I keep doing other things instead. These volunteer trees are merely following the example of their parent tree, who was itself a volunteer that I decided to replant and nurture in a spot where I wanted it. Now it is gorgeous.

Mimosa tree covered in flowers.

Every single one of those flowers will put out a seed pod with 5-10 seeds in it. Those pods scatter themselves everywhere across my yard. Which is why the garden bed project I was working on is now completely covered with mimosa seedlings. All of which want to be thirty foot tall trees.

Dirt covered in small fern-like plants.

After taking this photo I pulled out most of these seedlings because I have other plans for that garden bed. The light rain turned into real rain, so I stopped gardening for the day after that. Gardening is mostly brown and weedy right now. But tending garden is often about problems, drought, and weeds.

Brown lawn next to a flower bed overgrown with weedy grasses.

At least I was able to fill up my green waste bin. Ideally I do enough gardening each week to completely fill it. In reality it sat empty for more than a month because I wasn’t gardening at all.

I’ll end this garden tour with the one thing that is currently blooming, this trumpet vine.

Orange trumpet vine flowers.

Years ago when we first bought the house, my neighbor asked me if the vine was ours, I said no, it wasn’t growing on our side. We discovered that the vine had somehow sprouted in the gap between the two sides of a double-sided fence we shared. It has been thriving there for 20 years now with no attention from any people. I find that deeply encouraging. Despite the climate change which requires my landscaping to change, if I can find the right plants, they will thrive and my garden will still be beautiful.

Also, Lurk says hello.

Blue Scrub Jay sitting on a deck railing looking at the camera with a peanut in her beak.

Thoughts on Community Building

I spent some time today writing up my August newsletter. (You can read the letter here. You can sign up for future newsletters here.) As part of that email I have a section where I list my projects in progress and try to summarize what I’ve done on them in the past month. I try to keep the summaries short and focused. But I’m discovering that one of the projects wants more space for my thoughts on it to expand, and that is my project of Community Building. It has only been the past six-ish months that I’ve listed Community Building as one of my projects at all. I’ve been building community for far longer than that, but I finally recognized it as a creative project rather than just a life thing. I began giving it space in my list of creative projects, which in turn has helped me value and make time for the work I put into communities.

Part of what helped me recognize community building as one of my creative projects was reading The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. That book has done much to shape how I approach community work and event planning. Add to that the organizational work that I’ve done with Writing Excuses for both of the retreats we’re running this year. The amount of learning I do about being a good host while attending those staff meetings is significant. I also spent nine months being the streaming coordinator for my church congregation. And I picked up a job as director of operations for a non-profit that runs literacy events for teens and tweens. All of this meant that I had a new set of eyes with which I viewed Gen Con and the symposium attached to it. I now move through the world with an eye toward event planning and community building, which was not how I saw things before the pandemic. That was an interesting shift.

Because of that shift, I made time to visit with a friend who was also at Gen Con, the kind of friend who lists “community builder” right on his web page. I took him out to dinner because I wanted as much information as I could get about how I can serve underprivileged and marginalized teenagers without screwing up. The conversation was varied and I came home with lots of things to consider. More than that, I came home with a sense of him as community builder. He would talk about the Saturday mornings he spends with “the elders” in his neighborhood. He casually mentions the arts center he participates in. He split his time between Gen Con and at least three other arts, church, and city based events. He’s on a first name basis with the mayor and other power players in his city. I got this sense of overlapping and intertwined community that fills up his life. I wanted several more hours to ask him questions and unpack what each of these connections are and how he builds a life where he is so thoroughly enmeshed but not trapped or entangled. Because mostly I manage my multitude of communities (family, church, writer, city, etc) by keeping them separated and not necessarily bring my whole self to any of them. But perhaps there is a more integrated way of living. And perhaps I am making them all a little bit poorer by not serving as a connector to foster cooperative efforts. I have a lot to think about with this, particularly related to safety issues and what level of connective service I can maintain without burning myself out.

I do think that my shift into administrative work has the potential to make me feel disconnected from the community purposes that the administration is supposed to serve. This is one of the reasons I look forward to actually being on the Writing Excuses retreat in a few weeks. Because suddenly the work isn’t about answering email and checking on tickets and ordering supplies. Instead it is faces and people, it is connection and time. That was one of the things that attending Gen Con gave back to me, a realization that while writing and drawing the Schlock Mercenary comic ended two years ago, that project is still out in the world making a difference in people’s lives. That ongoing work we do to support it and bring it to new people is still adding good to the world, not just us trying to leverage old material for income.

So I bring all of those thoughts with me to the online community building work that I do. It is a different kind of effort to build community in text based, asynchronous mediums. And different again in zoom based meetings. Yet these mediums can answer needs which aren’t answered in other ways. Today I ran the full church stream for the first time in months and I felt joy in being the connecting piece which allowed a dozen people to gather and participate even though they could not attend in person. Next week I’ll hand that job back to the person whose assignment it now is. But I’ll remember as I reach out on Discord, or writing this blog, or sending my newsletter, or scheduling my Creative Check-Ins that community can use many different mediums and connection takes many forms.

Building connections between people, helping people see each other and love each other, is how we begin to solve many of the problems of the world. It is a work that is worth doing and worth learning how to do well. I still have so much learning to do.

Posts I want to Write

Encapsulating all of the anxiety we felt before and during Gen Con. How strange it is at this stage of pandemic to find myself on the “going to a massive event” side of the equation when I spent so much time in the “mask up and stay home” brigade. I’m still waiting to see what our physical consequences may be. We are still in the window where we might get sick.

Being caught between familiarity and strangeness. The convention hall is as I remembered, but the carpet colors have changed. We see long-familiar friends, but instead of going out to dinner and playing games, we retreat to the room with our food; both to manage fatigue and to avoid possible contagion. Having my adult kids as booth crew, which was both comforting, but also an additional thing for me to worry over. Are they okay? Do they need rest? Mother tending thoughts which weren’t triggered by past booth crews.

The realization that while Gen Con is not a financial tent pole in regards of show sales, it is absolutely a creative pillar in our lives. Part of the reason we felt lost and drifting this past year was that we didn’t have this pillar to build around. We need it. We need the community that forms up around it. We need the connections which spring up as a result. Because we need all of those things we have to take exactly the sorts of pandemic risks that we were unwilling to take last year.

How grateful I am to Gen Con for holding firm to their vaccination and masking policies. I greatly appreciated that they did not change what they stated they would require when I agreed to do the show.

Looking at everything through the twin lenses of Community Builder and Event Manager. I’ve owned those roles in the past year or more and it changes how I see what is going on around me. I think about how events are framed from invitation to execution. I think about how furniture placement, lighting, announcements, introductions all shape the ways that people interact with each other. I can tell when an event is lacking a guiding purpose that shapes all the organizing decisions made around that event.

Once again being filled with wonder at the way that Gen Con is a mutual creation requiring participating effort from tens of thousands of people. Everyone from the full time staff to the single day attendee are part of the creation. It reminds me yet again how empowered we all are to just re-make the world and invite others to re-make it with us.

A post titled: There and Back Again, a Gen Con journey in which I chronicle our road trip with photos and all the little stories about the jokes we told in the car, the miniature adventures in hotel selection, my wonder at green rolling hills, and the tiny sparkles of roadside fireflies in Illinois.

Other hopes, stray thoughts, insights, and musings which are currently escaping my brain. But I am still busy putting my convention-and-travel-tired brain to use catching up on all the emails and tasks that I boomeranged to think about after the convention, all of which have avalanched back into my inbox and task list. I spent the entire 12 days triaging to make sure nothing caught fire. Now I need to methodically clear up the backlogs.

The Value of Respite

I’m now three weeks in on my new job as Director of Operations for Writers Cubed Inc. Those weeks have been full of admin tasks, relationship building, and organizational learning. Not surprisingly, my brain feels very mushy by the end of the week. My executive function simply runs out of gas and I fade to a halt. Mostly I’ve been able to keep moving and allow myself to collapse on Saturday and Sunday. The weekend collapse is a critical component of my work process for several years now. I try to keep work off of the weekends so that my life has built in breaks. The overwork of my executive function these past weeks has only reinforced the knowledge that we all need respite.

This week I wasn’t able to make it to Saturday. I ran out of steam early on Friday. One of the interesting discoveries of turning to mush yesterday was that, once I realized that I’d run out of focus for admin tasks and let myself drift, I found myself opening up some of my writing files and making small amounts of progress. Using my writer brain was like jumping in a pool on a hot day. I didn’t have much energy to do any vigorous swimming, but being in the water was hugely refreshing. And in fact I was able to finish out my list of “must do today” things later in the afternoon. I don’t remember previously experiencing writing as respite in quite this way before, though earlier this summer I definitely experienced diving into admin tasks as respite from writerly push.

All of this has me thinking about respite and how it is not the same as rest. Perhaps rest is a form of respite? I see rest as a lack of doing while respite is a shift toward activities that refill and re-energize, one of which could be resting. I just know that for me when I’ve been living by lists, I need a respite of ignoring all lists. If I’ve been playing things by ear and holding things in my brain, then lists enter my life as a relief. If I’ve been pushing on writing, sometimes the thing I need most is to stop writing for a while. If I’ve gone a while without writing, it is a joy to return to it.

I don’t know if other people rotate through their life activities in quite this same way. Often the list of Things to Do and Things Done doesn’t change, but my approach to accomplishing them does. I wonder if this life pattern is the result of my two decades of project-based freelancing work, or if I found a comfortable home in project-based freelancing work because this preference for work & respite was always there. Ultimately I suppose the chicken-egg question doesn’t matter. What matters is paying attention to my mind and heart, noticing when I’m over strained, and finding the right respite to re-energize myself.

Pacing Myself

I’ve been a bit absent from blogging because I’m in the midst of crunch time on multiple fronts. Here are the things I’ve got going on:

Gen Con is in just two weeks. The convention doesn’t start for two and a half weeks, but Howard and I will be road tripping to the convention, so we’re leaving early. This will be our first big event since the pandemic began. I am nervous about it on multiple fronts. Gen Con has strict masking and vaccination policies, which is the only reason we considered it. We’re quarantining before we go to make sure we don’t bring contagion with us. We’ll be careful while we’re there, but we might end up being sick afterward. Before I leave there is some training I need to do in order to make sure that routine house tasks get done by the young adults who will be managing the house while I’m gone. All of this is taking up a lot of space in my brain.

We’re in the midst of XDM2e shipping. I’ve got the last 50 non-sketched packages to put into the mail tomorrow. After that there are 330 orders with sketches. This means that the shipping will slow down for a bit, which is nice. But it also means that I’ll still be managing the shipping of books after I get back from Gen Con. It will be nice to finish out the remaining pieces of this project so that I have space in my schedule for new projects.

I’ve been doing some administrative work for the Writing Excuses Retreat. Mostly it is helping the ops team keep track of tasks and managing the customer support email. This month has had more customer support needed as people were making adjustments to their bookings and we had to get people signed up for their breakout sessions. August will also be busy as we get closer to the departure date.

The new big thing in my life is that I took a part time job for Writer Cubed Inc., where I’m the Director of Operations over Teen Author Boot Camp, Tween Author Boot Camp, the Teen Reader Choice Awards (and associated gala dinner), and TABC Classroom. I’ve spent the first half of this month just coming up to speed on all of these events and projects. Fortunately all of these programs are already staffed with people who are very good at their jobs. My job is to interface and help with high level organization, not to do all the things. I don’t expect a lull in tasks related to this job any time soon. Maybe in November? But the work is a good one, as all the efforts are aimed at teen and tween literacy programs.

And of course I still have all of the writing projects, house projects, and community building projects that I’ve assigned to myself. The list of things that I put in the project updates section of my monthly newsletter.

It’s a lot. And I can tell I’m at risk of burn out. So I’m paying attention and trying to establish a sustainable pace. In some ways it is easier on me to be busy. If have ten things to do and three hours to do them, I will tetris them all in. If I have one thing to do and all day to do it, the thing might not get done. Having so much to do is invigorating. But I need to make sure that I’m building recovery time into my daily and weekly schedule. I have to find a pace that works for the long haul and doesn’t sacrifice long term goals for short term productivity. I believe I can. It just means that some things (like blogging) will be laying idle while I find my sustainable pace.