Sandra Tayler

My Office Home

I have an office, a room in my house that I can arrange however I wish. Sometimes I tend the arrangement of my office space, making plans, moving things around, trying to balance the necessary things with the beautiful things and with the items which have drifted into my space because they don’t have anywhere else to belong yet. My office ends up being an eddy in the household. A place where random things come to rest. These things accumulate until the space is so cluttered as to be almost unusable. I sometimes tell myself that this is why I don’t use my office much. It is too cluttered.

I have a secondary office in the front room. It is a chair sitting next to a TV table piled with my laptop, my phone charging station, stacks of books I intend to read, notebooks I grab for writing thoughts down, and loose papers where I wrote notes when I couldn’t get to a notebook fast enough. This space is unlovely, but contained. I sit in it every day, seamlessly moving from household administration to creative work. All the other people in the household walk into this space and talk to me. They don’t intend to interrupt my work, but the space is public. It is where they come to eat and be social. On the third time I’m interrupted mid-written-sentence, I wonder why I don’t retreat to my office, to a space that is more private where they’ll think before intruding. But it feels dark down there in the basement, despite the cheerful yellow paint on the walls. Despite the art I selected and arranged. Despite the leaf trim I hand painted which adorns the top edge of the room. Lack of windows and natural light is another reason I give for not using my office.

I have a plan about my windowless office. I heard of a means to make a faux window. I bought the supplies from the light board to the curtains. All the pieces are sitting there among the other clutter. Waiting for me to move the dresser, so I can remove and re-space the shelves, which will let me reorganize the books, which will let me install the faux window, and create a cozy space that I will surely start using. I can put the cozy faux-fireplace space heater right under the window. That would be the same heater I bought to make the space feel cozy so that I would start using the space more. I keep trying to lure myself down there. It keeps not quite succeeding.

My desktop computer resides in my office. I sit at it to print postage, to do the weekly accounting, to work on layout and graphic design. I sit there several hours per week, sometimes as many as twenty or thirty hours per week depending on the shape and urgency of projects. I sit at the desk covered with stacks of paper intended to remind me of coming tasks, next to my arrangement of small artworks on the wall. Most of the art is small prints or originals purchased directly from artists at conventions. They make me happy when I remember to look at them instead of focusing on the work in front of me.

In the other corner is the rocking chair which used to live in my baby’s room. All four babies in turn were rocked in that chair, and then it was shuffled from corner to corner of the house after children no longer needed to be rocked. I supposed it makes sense that it ended up in my office when I wasn’t willing to let the chair go, even though all the babies had become adults. I sit in that chair every week for two hours while I attend an online writer’s date. My writer friends see this little corner with its library of books and the wooden carved mask which we bought on our trip to South Africa in 1999, another object that ended up in my office because it carried to much emotional freight for us to let it go, but for which we couldn’t find any other place in the house for it to belong.

So I guess I do use my office. I use it for specific tasks and to store specific things. Yet it feels like I don’t. It feels like I sit in the front room, in the sunshine, and in different clutter than my office clutter, trying to write where people will walk through and talk to me. And when they do, I wonder to myself why I don’t go sit in my office. I wonder, but I don’t get up and move.

I have a tertiary office. It is my bedroom, one corner of which I’ve turned into a Zoom space. I painted that corner of the room a different color from the rest and put up decorative shelves where they can be seen on camera. Carefully placed beautiful objects adorn the space. That little corner makes me happy to see when I look at it from my bed. It isn’t comfortable for working (hence sitting downstairs for my weekly writer dates), but it is perfect for attending Zoom meetings and virtual parties. I love my Zoom corner.

Sometimes I sit on my bed to write. I prop up all the pillows and open the blinds so that I can see out into my back garden with its trees. From that spot I can stare out the window, or look at my Zoom corner. It is a quiet space where people won’t interrupt me as easily. My use of this tertiary space lends credence to the theory that the problem with my office might actually be the lack of windows. I crave natural light, particularly in the winter months.

I imagine a hypothetical office someday. Perhaps when I can claim a bedroom back from one of my children after they leave home. I imagine an office which combines all the best parts of my current offices. With a designated shelf for books I intend to read, a desk specifically for letter writing and crafting, comfortable lounging spaces for writing, natural light streaming in the window, and art I selected for myself.

If I had this hypothetical office, would I use it all the time? Or is it something else that draws me to do so much work while sitting exactly where everyone can easily interrupt me? Perhaps I have a habit of always being available because I spent so many years being the on-call parent when my kids were small. Perhaps it is in response to the fact that Howard and I have a collaborative process made up of a dozen small creative meetings throughout the day where we round up the thoughts from the just-finished task and open up the thoughts for what comes next. Perhaps it is knowing that I have to catch my people in the moments when they are in between if I want to talk to them at all. So I lurk in the place they pass through.

I don’t actually have answers, I don’t need answers, but I find the behavioral observation of myself interesting. I have three office spaces, but all of them are some level of shared. I could retreat more often than I do, but I tend not to. I could claim spaces and set boundaries around them more firmly, but I don’t. Mostly it works. I’m able to create and think and administer. So my process may be scattered and strange, but It isn’t actually a problem. I guess I’ll keep flowing with it until the need for something else emerges.

Post-Kickstarter Seeking Normal

The Kickstarter closed at a number where we get some money to pay for living expenses the next few months (rather than a number where we scramble for living expenses while paying for new inventory.) I aggressively rested for most of the weekend, watching lots of Netflix, taking naps, and eating more ice cream than was good for me. Now it is Monday morning and I feel like I’m trying to wake up. It is that hazy part where I know I have things planned for the week, but I can quite remember what they are or why they’re important. I look at my lists and think “Oh right. That was my plan.” Then I close the list and within ten minutes I’ve forgotten what the plan was. This is a sign that my executive function is still tired and that I should take tasks slowly and one at a time.

My process for today: Look at list. Pick one thing from list. Start doing the thing. Hopefully finish the thing. Maybe get distracted by some other thing. Eventually find myself uncertain what I should be working on. Check list again. Repeat.

I’ll get some stuff done, but I won’t be particularly efficient about it. Which is fine. If I repeat this mode of functioning for a few days and be kind to myself, eventually I’ll find myself in a day where my brain starts holding the lists again. Executive function will have come back online. That’s when I’ll be excited to tackle new projects, read new books, have new thoughts. Until then I’m bumbling my way through.

Final Days for XDM2e Kickstarter

As of this writing there are only three days left on the X-treme Dungeon Mastery Second Edition Kickstarter.

Tracy and Curtis Hickman’s XDM X-treme Dungeon Mastery Illustrated by Howard Tayler

This final run of days on a Kickstarter is always exciting and exhausting. On Friday at 10am Mountain Time I will know exactly how much budget we have to work with and I’ll know exactly what we’ve promised to deliver. Then we can settle into working on all of that. I will be able to reassign the energy I’ve been spending on promotional work to other tasks.

But for today, I’m still in promotional mode, so I’m making sure that my blog readers know about this project in its final days. I love what we’re creating. I’m excited that we reached the stretch goal for the audiobook. I’m hopeful we’ll reach the goal where Howard livestreams the creation of the illustrations for the book. I’d also love for us to be able to add spot gloss to the cover, though that is a real stretch. $20 gets you a PDF of the book, a PDF of the Quest for the Tavern adventure module, some desktop backgrounds, the option to also buy the audiobook, and possibly the PDF for the Attack on Santa’s Workshop adventure module. Or you can get yourself a hardback book and all those other things as well.

New Normal, Old Normal

A year ago any discussion about the future included speculation about what the “new normal” would look like. Those discussions have changed shape around the question “Is this it? Is what we’re living the new normal?” The answer to that question is yes because normal has always been a mirage, a fantasy, an illusion that life is in any way predictable. We try to make it predictable for our own comfort, because constantly paying attention to and emotionally managing a shifting world is exhausting. If we can find a routine for schooling or work or chores, then at least that small portion of our lives can just happen without us having to think to much about it. I now carry a mask with me and put in on in public places without thinking about it. I give people more distance. I spread out social contacts so that I can tell if I caught something before I have the chance to spread it unawares. I’m accustomed to random shortages, for some reason there are no pickles for three weeks, then they are back. I’m shifting my own book printing stateside so that none of my products have to traverse the snarled mess of global container shipping. All of these things do require a small modicum of attention, but I’ve become accustomed to giving that attention. It is normal for me to adapt on the fly to regular shifts in product availability, Covid numbers, and local mandates. All sorts of little things are less predictable than they used to be, but that lack of predictability has become predictable, and therefore normal.

My son was not diagnosed with autism until he was 18 years old. We went through all the emotions, regrets, relief, and fears which attend upon such a late adjustment in comprehension of what was affecting my son’s interactions with the world. I was baffled by how a kid could have full psychological/behavioral assessments seven times as he was growing up and not one of the supposed experts recognized the autism. He was screened for autism on multiple occasions and the result was “probably not.” The flaw was that those screening tests depended on me, the parent, stating the severity of behaviors and how disrupting the behaviors were to our life. The thing was, we’d already adapted to those behaviors, they were normal and manageable for us. That came across in the screening test. They were absolutely indicative of my son having autism AND they were entirely normal for us so that we thought nothing of them. Our household normal looked very different from the normal in other households. This continues to be true as my three fledgling adults are just beginning to flap their wings while depending on the security of the nest for survival.

I think about normal as learn and collect information for the accessibility appendix in XDM2e. I exchanged messages with a Game Master who has been blind since birth and was wondering how to deploy maps that they can’t see in their games to help their sighted players. In this person’s world being sighted is the oddity and blindness is completely normal. The same holds true for wheelchair users and deaf people. They know exactly how to navigate the world using their capabilities. Their normal is different from mine, but it is still normal. Just as my parenting normal has been very different from other parents I know. And my current normal is different from the normal of the pre-pandemic times. In fact the ability to create normal might be a survival trait for humans. In order to not be overwhelmed, we start classifying things as “normal” so that we can not be exhausted paying attention to them all the time.

I wish I had a grand conclusion to make of these meandering thoughts, but all I have to offer is that normality, whether new or old, is a strange and illusory thing.

Musing on the Past Week

The week began smoky as storm systems and air flow carried smoke from fires in California and Oregon into my valley to sit. Some days it was inadvisable to spend much time outside and the asthma sufferers in my house had to use their inhalers more often. I tried to capture a photo of the way the smoke turned the moon red. I only sort-of succeeded.

Grainy photo of red half moon in a dark sky with some trees silhouetted below it.

When the rains blew in, we were so glad to have relief from the smoke, and we were happy to have brief monsoon bursts where water poured down in sheets. Not typical desert weather. My pandemic patio turned into a wading pool for a couple of hours.

Three red plastic chairs standing in an inch of water on a paver-stone patio. Raindrops are making rings in the water.

The rain also showed me that I need to get up on a ladder and unclog my rain gutters since they still seem to be full of water days later (and reflecting sunlight onto the side of my house) instead of funneling that water to the down spouts.

The week also included a trip to the vet for my old lady kitty to talk about what to feed her to keep her kidneys in good working order, followed by changing the feeding patterns for all three cats to accommodate old lady kitty’s needs. I softened the stress of feeding changes by also acquiring some interesting new toys which the younger cats both love.

My Saturday was consumed by the acquisition of a large china cabinet that is eventually destined for my front room.

Large dark wood china cabinet with two glass doors, two glass sides, a mirrored back, and glass shelves. Five foot wide, six foot tall, 2 foot deep.

It is big. Several times during the process of extricating it from my neighbor’s downstairs and trundling it down the street to my house I pondered the wisdom of my impulse acquisition. But I’ve wanted a way to display some of my grandmother’s antique glass while still protecting it from the cats and my neighbor was only asking $100, so I grabbed the opportunity. It will have to sit in the garage until after some of the work that needs to be done on the kitchen is complete. And possibly I’ll discover that this is not the right furniture for the space, in which case I’ll have acquired a task instead of a solution, but wise or not, that’s how I spent my Saturday.

It is now Sunday afternoon, which means I’m in the middle of twenty four hours when I try to step away from work to rest from my labors. I’m better at this than I used to be when so much of my work behavior was anxiety driven. My weekends are still frequently busy, but they tend to be differently busy. I switch gears into house or family instead of business and internet. Thus I am writing a post about my week instead of clicking over to XDM2e files. The files can wait until tomorrow.

The Shores of Saturday

I have landed on the shores of Saturday like a beached jellyfish. At least I think it is Saturday. Time has gone wobbly and slippery for me. Perhaps in a while the tide will return and I’ll be able to move again, but for this morning I’ve had little energy for anything except laying in a limp puddle.

The XDM2e Kickstarter funded. I’m so glad it funded. Next week I will be excited for and pour energy into talking to the world about the stretch goals we have planned. Extra things we get to do if the project over funds. Funding means we can afford to do the project. Over funding means we can afford to pay for the time we’ve poured into making this project happen and for bills and living expenses in the coming months. We are really well positioned to meet those stretchy goals. Four more weeks of excitement and promotional push lay ahead of me. Which is why it is so important to spend the rest of this weekend doing very little at all.

One of the joys from last week was that a friend came to stay with us for two days. We got to have a fellow writer in the house, like having our own little mini convention/retreat. We shared food and visited and then retreated to our computers where she worked on a script and I frantically drafted information to explain international shipping costs to a potential backer who was quite certain that my price point meant I was running a scam to overcharge on shipping and thus get rich on ill-gained proceeds. Or I wrote tweets to draw eyeballs to the project. Or I coordinated things behind the scenes to arrange for meetings or make decisions or give copy to copy editors.

At one point Howard sent friend and me on a scenic drive up the Alpine Loop road. I hadn’t realized how much I needed the silence of aspen forest until I was standing there in the company of trees.

And then on the return drive we had the delight of discovering that someone had deposited a recliner chair at a scenic overlook. When life presents you with a roadside recliner with a view, one simply has to take a minute to sit in the chair.

Just beyond the sagebrush was a drop into a canyon where we could look down on a campsite below. And of course we could also look out over the mountains.

Just looking at these pictures helps me feel less like a beached jellyfish and more like something that can pick myself up and move under my own power again. Perhaps I need to schedule another trip to the mountains for next week. A chance for me to see new things and remember that the world is larger than my house. Also to step away from the constant urgency of funding a Kickstarter project.

Mountain vistas are good.

Kickstarter Launch Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning we launch the Kickstarter for X-treme Dungeon Mastery Second Edition. All day I’ve been carrying a feeling about it. I really want this Kickstarter to fund well so that we can finish pouring our energy and creativity into this book. I’ve had so much fun doing the work and I want to get to finish it. I also want to be able to pay our bills. A well funded Kickstarter enables both.

We’ve prepared everything. Now we just have to wait until morning. And then I have to spend energy pushing the launch. Then I have to wait and see. Until morning, I’ll be quietly jittering over here in my chair.

I Surfaced and then Dove Back In

After writing a lovely post about being called back to my writer self, I dove head first into X-treme Dungeon Mastery Second Edition. This is the book that completely took over my life in April/May of 2009. I remember the crazy scramble to get it all done. We are once again having a crazy scramble to get it rearranged and new sections written. I’m very excited about the project and tremendously proud of what we did the first time around and what we’re doing now. We’ve even set up the Kickstarter Prelaunch page.

However the long hours and fatigue have also woken sleeping demons of self doubt. They’ve been loud the past couple of days to the point where it is sometimes hard to focus on the project at hand. It is also hard to find spare brain space for blogging. I’m either actively working on XDM2e, or I’m actively trying to make my brain rest from working/fretting, or I’m trying to catch up on family administration tasks which aren’t politely waiting for me to be done with my project. Laundry is so rude that way. (Also I can’t make my son wait to get his first job just because I don’t want to drive him to the interview. He aced it and starts next week. It’s nice that his forward momentum is happening despite me instead of because of me.)

I’m loving the work on XDM2e and I’m terrified that I’m doing it wrong. I’m thrilled with what we have planned and I’m afraid we’re ruining the book. So that is my current status. Hopefully I’ll emerge a bit when we launch the Kickstarter in August. Though blogging might remain slow until September when the Kickstarter is currently scheduled to close.

Being Called Back to My Writer Self

I keep a notebook where I write down my tasks sorted by days. I don’t write down every single thing. For house tasks like laundry or dishes, I rely on physical reminders to prompt me to do the thing (laundry basket is full, sink is full) so I don’t write those down. But appointments, phone calls I need to make, emails I need to send; these all end up on my lists. Life has been feeling a lot busier since about mid-May. I wondered if that was actually true, or if all the thinking involved with shipping just made my brain tireder. I pulled out a notebook from six months ago, back then my lists were 3-5 tasks per day. Now I’m averaging 8-10. Demands on my time and attention have definitely increased, and the increase seems unlikely to subside on its own. The pandemic gifted me with uninterrupted hours and very few expectations. Now I’ve returned to a world where I must defend the space in my schedule.

This week I was visiting with a writer friend during a weekly Zoom date to get writing done. She asked after my creative projects. All the things I’d been working on were business or shipping related. She nodded and understood the urgency of my tasks, understood that over the next six months tasks directly linked to earning money were going to absorb much of my time and attention because my family needs income. She was kind and accepting, but the mere asking of the question was a tether which tugged me into remembering that, for my own long term emotional health, I can’t always prioritize the endless list of tasks. Sometimes I need to stake out a space for the work which will help me grow, or which will make the world better, or which just brings me joy. I have to defend that space from all the excuses I have to use that time for something “more productive.” I have to defend it from the impulse to just knock a few more tasks off the list. On Wednesday mornings, for two hours, I need to be a writer first.

Also this week I hosted one of my monthly online Creative Check-Ins with a small group of fellow creative people where we talk about our projects, how they progressed in the past month (or didn’t.) It is really helpful for each of us to talk about how our projects interact with our lives. Life affecting projects, projects affecting life. We’d almost reached the end of our time when one of my friends reminded me that in all the discussion, I hadn’t talked about my projects. Again I talked about shipping, and tasks, and business. I talked about why I allow these things to overrun my creative spaces, shoving to the edges anything that doesn’t bring income. Again I received nods and acceptance. Again, saying the things out loud prompted me to reach behind all the logic of how I arrange my days. To reach past the ways that the endless tide of tasks is important to support my long term life goals. I was surprised to find myself talking about a minor creative rejection which had a larger emotional footprint in my creative life than I’d realized. Because my friends were there, I was able to process that emotion in ways that help me clear the way for me to create again. Once per month for two hours I have a window of time to commiserate and rejoice with others about the creative projects in our lives.

A third thing which happened this week was an email from a writer friend with whom I’ve begun swapping critiques. She had a new manuscript for me to look at and re-iterated that she’d love to look at something I have ready. I have nothing ready. I meant to, but I got swept up in the tide of shipping, barely able to keep my head above water. That tide has ebbed, but it is so easy for me to dive into more tasks. To become accustomed to living by lists. In many ways lists are easier. They are far less emotionally risky that putting my heart into a creative work which might be rejected or ignored. Tasks are also satisfying. I check them off and they’re done. Each tiny completion has endorphins, which means that even while I complain about feeling busy, there is an attraction to accomplishing things and being productive. There is also the illusion that if I can complete this weeks set of lists, that will somehow reduce the number of tasks for next week. As if most of my life tasks weren’t repetitive and cyclical. Yet now there is this email, like a thin line cutting through the water, tugging me back to a place where I can get my feet under me and remember the writing work I want to be doing. For this critique I will read a book, and engage my writer brain. Periodically an email will nudge me toward the projects I want to send to my friend because I am reminded how much I want to hear what she has to say about the stories I’ve written.

Three times this week I’ve been gently tugged back to my writer self. Each time I was pulled by a connection I have to a writer community. Those connections are ones I have carefully acquired and maintained in during the past several years. For me the key has been finding people who ask how I’m doing and give me the space to ramble past the surface response into the deeper concerns. It was also in learning to trust that people actually wanted to hear my answer rather than them just being nice to me because they are nice people. I have a tendency to hide in plain sight, to turn conversations away from myself. I am far more comfortable talking about the concerns of others rather than my own. So this week is evidence of personal growth. At this point in my life, I’ve managed to build community connections that truly support me and call me back to myself when I get a little lost. This is a joy to discover in my life. It is a joy I want to share with others so they can have it too. Fortunately, that is exactly how mutually-supportive community connections work.

Now I need to heed the calls and get back to the writing I’m meant to be doing. Conveniently, this blog post is part of that work. 🙂

Looking Back Two Years

Yesterday I was standing in the kitchen while he talked through the things he plans to do this week. He was talking fast and the list was long, but he was energetic and optimistic about the work ahead. This is a version of Howard I haven’t seen for more than two years, one I wasn’t certain we would ever get back. I spent twenty-five years running to keep up with Howard, then the last two waiting while he moved much more slowly. During those two years I had to face the possibility that this was our new normal. That we simply had to adapt to a different set of capabilities than what we had before. Two years ago Howard switched his mental health meds, then we had a house disaster that disrupted our work spaces for six months, then our daughter got married, then Howard got sick for eight months, and while he was being sick the world threw a pandemic. Then we ended the daily comic around which our lives had been structured for twenty years and we had to figure out what comes next. All of that lingered physically, financially, and emotionally until about two months ago.

Two months ago we got vaccinated, and we finally got the last pieces to deliver packages to our Kickstarter backers. Then Howard streamed all his sketches and life schedule clicked into place. Somewhere in the last month, Howard started popping awake before I do. He started being excited to get up and face the challenges of the day.

On Monday I shipped out the last of the packages for Big Dumb Objects. It feels like closing the book on the past two years. Time to launch ourselves into what comes next. I’m glad we get to launch with Howard back up to speed. I’m glad we had some time where we were forced to live slower. The enforced slowness taught us different ways to be. It gave us space to build a different structure around ourselves, one that values process equally with product. We have many projects we plan to work on in the next six months, but for today I want to pause and be glad for the past two years, and to be grateful that we now get to shift into something new.