Sandra Tayler

Holidays and the Contraction of Time

Despite its problematic historical roots (I live on lands that were taken from the Goshute, Paiute, and Ute peoples), Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love that people gather around shared food and a deliberate intention to be grateful. I love that the holiday invites people into the idea of practicing gratitude. I even love the fact that its problematic roots gives people the opportunity to contend with a deep and complicated history, to salvage the good from the harm. To recognize that those of us who have benefited from past harm have a responsibility to try to move through the world in ways that repair harm. It is on all of us to help create a world that is better and kinder than the one we were born into.

This year I get to have all of my children gathered into my house rather than dropping a box of food on my daughter’s porch and waving to her on Zoom. I am grateful for the vaccinations which make my small gathering possible again. I am VERY grateful to not be in 2020 anymore with it’s perfect storm of November stresses. I just re-read this post where I named each of the contributing factors. As I read through, I was completely shocked to realize that the US presidential election was only a year ago. Time has gone so wobbly, that feels like several years ago at least. It feels as if the things which happened before the pandemic belong to a different lifetime, things which happened during the pandemic are a pocket universe that is both one long yesterday and a long time ago, and then there is now, where pandemic is sort-of done, but not really. Today is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, but somehow feels like the Saturday after.

Last night on the drive home from work, my son said “Oh. We’re going to have to put up the Christmas tree.” with an air of deep resignation. I teased him lightly about his tone of voice while also checking in to see if he really experiences the Christmas tree as an unwelcome burden in his life. He doesn’t. I likes having the tree up, but putting it up is a several-hours-long project where we haul branches and poles from the basement and assemble nine feet of tree. This lead to a discussion of how Holidays celebrations are consciously constructed, often with a lot of extra work. We create them for each other when we do things like put up the Christmas tree. The grumbling about effort becomes part of the tradition.

But before we can start making Christmas, there is a lot of food preparation to do. And that starts with grocery shopping that I need to go do right now.

A Post in Three Quick Topics

I spent a portion of today writing letters. Sending written messages is a regular part of my life as I sent emails, texts, and DMs in the course of getting work done, scheduling appointments, or catching up with friends. But there is something special about handwriting a letter on paper. As I’m putting the words down I feel how I will cast this message out into the vagaries of the US postal service. It will physically transit over the course of a week or two. Then on the other end I can only hope that the words I picked conveyed the emotion and stories I wanted to share with the person on the other end. In a way this is true of every message I send in any format, but it feels more real and more precarious with a written letter. I like the magic of that. The weight of my words being counted in ounces of paper.

….

I took myself to a fitness class. It was the first since pandemic times began, but really it is the first since a long time before that as well. I picked one at the city fitness center with a focus on families. I figured it would have a wider variety of body types and capabilities, I might blend a bit better as I displayed all my awkwardness while learning how to move in the modes the class taught. Comparison is the thief of joy. I know this. It is one of the tasks of attending class, to learn how to see myself in the mirror without being embarrassed, to feel the joy of movement without concern for how my movements compare. To focus on myself and my body without concern for how my body and movements might be seen by others. I haven’t succeeded in this practice yet, because I couldn’t help but notice that while I was the fattest and probably the oldest person in the room, I was not always the most awkward in motion. So I kept moving and existing and tried to turn my mind away from considering the opinions and bodies of the other people in the room. After class, as I walked to my car, I could feel my body being glad that we did something active. So I’ll go again.

….

It will be Thanksgiving in a week. The thing I am most grateful for this year is how this November I can make choices from a place of joy rather than as a reaction to anxiety. Last November was one long low-level panic attack as I tried to figure out how to navigate a pandemic holiday with one of my kids married and living in a different household. The pressure to do our part against the spread of Covid 19 warred with the heart-longing to gather with my child I hadn’t seen or hugged in months. In fact, just go read my Weirdsgiving post from last year. I read it and I am SO GLAD that I don’t have any of that to deal with this year. This year we’re all vaccinated. This year I can have my daughter and son-in-law in my house. This year I have a road map for how to manage the holidays. This year I can be glad for other people when they gather. This year is already so much better than last year and I haven’t even pinged the kids to say “what food shall we have for Thanksgiving.”

Thinking About the US Worker Shortage

In the past decade I’ve occasionally employed my children to work for my business. I got assistant work done, they got some job experience and spending money. Everybody won. My pay rate was $10 per hour because I’ve felt strongly that the minimum wage was ridiculously low. But sometimes I worried that I was spoiling my kids for real entry level jobs. I couldn’t have anticipated the current job market. My son has a fast food job and is currently earning almost $16 per hour. That is entry level right now. Because my brain wants to understand these sorts of shifts, I’ve done a bunch of digging into what is causing everyone to be short staffed. Note: this includes package delivery services who have been accustomed to hiring seasonal staff. Place your online holiday orders early!

Obviously the shift is caused in large part by the pandemic. As of today the US has lost 750,000 people to Covid-19. That is 3/4 of a million people dead. (Source) All of those people who died had roles they filled in life and the workforce. That is 750,000 holes that other people have to cover. It is 750,000ish families who are now grieving and thus not working as efficiently as they did before. It is children who need new caretakers. Jobs that are seeking new employees. The impact of this alone is significant.

But on top of that, 3 million US women left the workforce in 2020. (Source) Each of these women did a cost-benefit analysis based on their situation and decided that their situation was better off if they stopped working. Many of them shifted to unpaid work in childcare.

Then there are the 2 million people who decided to retire early. (Source) Again, people are deciding that their lives are better if they just bow out of the workforce. In an interesting trend, many of them have stopped working but have not yet started taking their social security benefits. Much analysis is trying to figure out what is going on there.

Harder to calculate are the effects of long covid on employment. Studies have shown that anywhere from 25% to 75% of people who get Covid-19 have symptoms that last six months or more. (Source)(Source) Some long haulers have been struggling for a year or more and may be permanently disabled. This has long term implications for the US disability system. (Source) Long Covid is already recognized as a valid disability under ADA guidelines. (Source) If 1% of covid cases result in permanent disability, that’s half a million people no longer able to work. If 5% then that is 2 million people. And we’re still collecting them because the disease is still actively making new people sick. Though vaccination does seem to reduce the incidence of long covid by a lot. (Source) However for every household dealing with long covid, you have workers who are distracted by care of a loved one and, depending on how bad the disability is, might need to leave the workforce to concentrate on care.

EDIT: New article landed today that estimates between 1.3million and 6million people out of work because of Long Covid. (Source)

All of this leads to today where we have 2.1 million people collecting unemployment (Source) and around 10.4 million job openings. (Source) This ratio is not what we usually see. (Source) Over the summer some employers thought it was the result of increased unemployment benefits, but the benefits ended and the job market stayed skewed. (Source) (Source)

The result for my family is that my 18yo lucked into a very good time to join the workforce. He is stashing money away for college at a much higher rate than he ever expected. My other two young adults will also be able to enter the workforce in ways that are advantageous for them when they’re ready to do so. It also means that every where I go the quality of service is down because all of the stores and restaurants are under staffed. I worry about the compounding effects of all these small delays. I watch store shelves have empty sections because of shortages caused by production or transportation. Most products return the next week or two, but then something else is missing. All of it makes the world feel unstable to me. Like I should be cautious with my resources and careful in my purchasing.

Ultimately this shortage of workers isn’t likely to last more than a couple of years, however I fear that the rebalancing will happen, not by an increase of available workers, but by a decrease in ongoing businesses. Sort staffing will cause some businesses to fail, releasing their workers to go take jobs with their competitors. I don’t know how it will shake out. And that is the part that scares me.

Focusing on Picture Books

My final event at SIWC was a panel discussing picture books. I loved having the chance to talk about the business of picture books with other people who had published them as well. In preparation for the panel, I brought out some of my favorites and put them up as a display in my zoom corner. We didn’t end up discussing any of them, but I liked having them there.

Two photo shelves with an assortment of picture books arrayed on them. The picture books overlap each other.

The day after SIWC was over, I sat on my bed and looked over at my Zoom corner. I realized that seeing the picture books makes me happy, and it reminds me that writing picture books is a thing I want to be doing. I like having that sort of a reminder so I’ll be keeping the picture books in place for November while I focus some of my writing time on completing picture books drafts. I’m also reading Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

Cover of Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul. On the cover a young girl rides a black fox through a forest with manuscript pages flying out of her backpack and scattering behind her.

I started reading this book over the summer, but the effort was disrupted when I had to do fulfillment for one Kickstarter and then prep and launch another one. I’m going to play with picture books this month, both writing them and reading them. We’ll see how much I can delve into that. Then I’ll probably shift gears again in December.

Listening to Trees

Most years in my neighborhood, fall is something of an anticlimax, trees go from green to yellow to bare. This year has been a spectacular display of reds and oranges slowly overtaking tree after tree. One of the benefits of carpooling again is that I drive past the same trees on a near daily basis. I’ve watched the trees transform day to day. None of the trees in my own garden are the type to go fire red, but they are blushing this year in a way I’ve not seen for a while.

Apricot tree with leaves fading from pale green to yellow to a pale blushing orange-red

All this beauty on display because the trees are drawing energy to their core, dropping the leaves which would be too burdensome to sustain over the cold months to come. The trees are wise and know when to pull back and rest, when to hibernate until conditions change again. This is a lesson I could learn if I listened to trees. I could learn that I don’t always need to be pushing and growing, that there is beauty to be found in pulling back and letting some things fall away.

It is nice to be reveling in fall, in the leaves and their colors, instead of merely mourning the inevitable onset of winter darkness and cold. Perhaps this year I can find beauty in the cold as well.

A close up of apricot leaves that fade from pale green through yellow to an orange red. One of the leaves has holes where an insect has nibbled on it.

Paying Attention to Money

I was talking to my artist daughter the other day. She described a thing she was working on and I turned the conversation to its salability. I’ve done this to her before, and it is not good because the salability conversation takes her to an anxiety place. So I caught myself and returned the conversation back to joy-in-project, which was a much happier conversation for both of us. As I thought about the conversation later, (because I always overthink conversations later) I considered how different my daughter’s creative life is from mine. She has a spouse with a day job that pays their family bills. She doesn’t have to make creative decisions with bills in mind. I do.

My entire ability to pay bills is based in the combined creative output of both Howard and I. This has been the status quo of our lives since Howard quit Novell back in 2004. I’ve had nearly twenty years of training that means the minute I see a creative thing, my brain starts considering salability and marketing strategy. The impulse to market is less when I’m at the front end of project money rather than the dwindling tail, but it is still there and it affects everything. It shapes my every day, where I spend my efforts, and what I commit to do. I would like to put out some books via traditional publishers. It would help us diversify our income streams, it would reach new readers, it would be personally satisfying and reassuring. But traditional publishing is a spec project that is very slow and ties up IP that I could turn into money faster using another means. It also uses up time and energy that I could be using on more immediately lucrative tasks. This is a huge reason why I keep de-prioritizing writing my novel or my picture books.

I am constantly looking past the point when funds run out, to think how to make the next batch of funds arrive before I can’t pay bills anymore. It is an ongoing stress and a distraction, yet even while worrying about money, I am aware of how fortunate I am to have resources that let me buffer the highs and lows. Long-established home ownership is a huge buffer even while being a money pit. That buffer got bigger with the huge increase in home values in the past year. Which just highlights to me yet another way my daughter’s life experience is different than mine. In the last year my buffer got cushier, while her possibility of ever owning a home got further out of reach.

I can’t afford to undo twenty years of training in thinking about marketing. I mean that both literally in the financial sense and more figuratively in that the energy to put into that work would be even more energy not going into paying my bills. For years I moved forward, half aware of the constant financial calculation in the back of my brain, but hoping that if I could just bring in enough money, get far enough ahead on the bills, I could buy some space for me to create work that doesn’t have to prove its value with dollars.

Then I had a conversation with Howard. It was one of our regular kitchen meetings where we talk about the work he has in front of him and I have in front of me. In this particular conversation I talked about accounting, giving him a summary of our financial state; enough so that he knows how close we are to needing to run another Kickstarter without tangling him in so much anxiety that his ability to work is crippled for the day. During the conversation I realized that I am monitoring the world situation, the labor shortages, the supply chain issues, and panicking a bit because if we do have a big recession I don’t feel financially prepared for it. I have plenty of resources to manage bills for the next several months, but I don’t have the resources to solve long term problems for a couple of my children who are currently disabled to the point that they can’t support themselves. I am panicked, not because we’re in trouble, but because I am borrowing trouble and trying to defend against every branch in the future possibility tree. It is a huge waste of emotional resources.

So while the world at large is living the consequences of Just In Time manufacturing, I’m trying to learn how to spend my stockpiles of time and effort (and therefore money) on things that are not immediately poised to bring in money. I’m also highly aware that despite the noble-ish sound of letting creative work be what it wants to be regardless of salability, I’m also playing a long game here. Because if I ever do manage to sell something into commercial publishing it will be because of work I did on spec.

The thoughts are still all tangled, and perhaps I’m circling the same realizations I’ve made before and lost track of. (This is one of the hazards of keeping a blog for nearly two decades, delving the archive and realizing that I had a very similar epiphany seven years ago.) Yet this morning I started my day with writing a tweet-sized spooky story and then this blog post before doing any work that is tied more immediately to income. For today I trusted that my future self will figure out the money stuff and let my today self find joy in writing.

In the Wake of SIWC

I remember water skiing and how much attention I paid to the wake of the boat that was pulling me along. That churned up portion of water that was so full of energy and potential for me to lose my balance. I felt so brave the first time I dared to cross the wake, riding the waves instead of fearing them. I spent all last week giving every spare ounce of energy to the Surrey International Writer’s Conference. I taught three presentations and was a panelist. I reconnected with friends and met new people. I spent so much time on Zoom that my back and shoulders ache with exciting new tension knots. But just like those long ago skiing days, I’m discovering that while being in the wake requires every ounce of my attention, as I exit the wake, I get a boost of momentum imparted by the water-carried energy of the boat. I want to make good use of this energy, my first use of it is writing this retrospective post.

Of my three presentations I had timing issues with two of them. I’d like to think I’m a more practiced presenter than that, but my presentation on Worldbuilding Communities was entirely new and the time slot was three hours which is a less familiar length for me. I had to rush the end of the presentation. I planned to be better for my Networking and Social Anxiety class, but the timer I set was on my phone. When I rejected a phone call mid presentation it stopped my timer and I didn’t realize the timer had stopped until suddenly I had two pages of material left, 7 questions in the queue, and only 20 minutes to get through it all. I had to skip an entire section and promise to put it up in written format for people to download from the SIWC website. I still feel like I delivered good content in both cases. I made myself available in during the social spaces for people to ask questions. I have some solid ideas for improving the flow of information in both of these presentations to help them better fit their time slots. I’m exceedingly pleased with the work I did to punch up the beginnings and endings of all my presentations. One bit of momentum I’m carrying away from the conference is a renewed excitement for teaching. I’ll fix up these presentations and run them as classes in Jan, Feb, March of next year.

In two of my presentations I reference Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I couldn’t help but notice the esteem level of the pyramid and recognize how very filling teaching at SIWC is for me. I was gifted a presenter role, which meant people showed up to listen to me and treat me like an expert. That happened in social spaces as well as the class times. That level of visibility is very validating, but over time it can also become exhausting. Higher profile increases my ability to accidentally do harm and I was very conscious of that as I moved through the conference. I loved the gatherings where I got to talk a lot and be an expert. Then I loved the gatherings where I got to step down a level on that pyramid and just belong to the group, a writer among other writers. It was a delight to be part of silly conversations about the poetic qualities of refrigerator contents, two sentence spooky stories, and the way that humans pack bond with inanimate objects. It was an honor to be in conversations where people spoke about their challenges and heartaches. All of it combines to impart some momentum to me as I exit the wake of the conference.

My anxiety would like to rob me of that momentum if it could. I’m hopeful that my success at anxiety management over the past week is indicative of personal growth and the stability of the coping strategies I’ve put into place. So that when anxiety reminds me that I taught an entire class on networking, but then failed to invite anyone to join my Patreon or my monthly Creative Check-In events, I can answer it with the fact (from my presentation) that networking is about personal connections rather than marketing opportunities. I made correct decisions to prioritize paying forward instead of paying bills. When my anxiety throws a social moment into the front of my attention along with a jolt of adrenaline to tell me that I was foolish/overbearing/hurtful/an embarrassment, I answer with “maybe I was, but that moment is over and not worth spending energy on.” It is, in a strange way, very cathartic to teach a presentation on social anxiety because it allows me to be very open about the ways anxiety has sabotaged my life in the past and the things I do on a daily basis to stop it from continuing to sabotage my future.

In preparing for my presentations I did piles of research, reading, watching videos, collecting resources for the people who want to learn more about my chosen topic. Right now I am looking at a row of tabs in my browser which are articles, videos, threads, and posts that people suggested to me during the conference. I’m excited by those tabs. I love learning new things. Yet they are homework. Each one will require mental and emotional processing. Since I’m mentally and emotionally spent from the past week, I’m not certain I should use today’s little push of momentum on them. I might be better served by turning the momentum toward creation rather than more information processing. On the other hand, information processing is where the ideas for creation come from. I have a similar problem in that I have thirty days to watch recordings of presentations from the conference. There are so many good ones, but I have to balance learning new things and taking time to do the creative work that I’m newly excited about. I’ll need to space out the tabs and the videos from conference. If I’m careful perhaps I can extend the wake, the momentum push from the conference, all the way through the end of the year. I would like that. Borrowed momentum is a huge gift.

This was the second year of SIWC being online only. The pandemic which drove us all into Zoom connections was a frequent topic of discussion. It was also a frequent topic to speculate what will happen next year. Not even the conference organizers can answer that question yet. Not fully. The world is still in flux and the pandemic continues to impact all the decisions. I know I want to see online conferences continue because I see huge benefits in accessibility and connection. I also really want to attend some in person writer events because some things are lost when the conference is online only. I’m starting to look forward to 2022 and think about how I will venture forth, what I will participate in, what I might like to host, and how to make sure that the people who were suddenly included with the move online don’t get excluded again as we move forward.

I have further thoughts about the conferences and my experiences inside it, but I’ve been sitting here looking at the blinking cursor for several minutes without being able to catch any of them. That means it is time to hit post on this set of thoughts and pay attention to non-conference things. I have a business and a house that have been neglected for the past week. As much as I’d like to just pay attention to post-conference writer momentum, my life will fall apart if I don’t tend to the other portions of my world.

Resting from Tending to Others

I spent the week feeling jumbled and harried and stressed. It was the sort of list where I make a list titled: Ways My Life is Suddenly More Expensive. Having the list didn’t make the expenses go away, but I felt a little better for having complained about them in a word document which I stowed into a computer folder. The list was concrete, evidence that my elevated anxiety is not unfounded. If I hurry and do all the things, I accelerate the income which will let me cover those expenses, so my hurry makes sense too. It all makes sense. It is all important. Even the friendship and community building efforts which occupy portions of my days and bring me no income at all. I was at one of those community-building, supportive events when I spoke about being tired and busy, swarmed with small tasks. I said I was, oddly, not feeling depleted because so many of the task were the kind of tasks that fill me up.

And I was right. They do fill me up.

But I was also wrong because they simultaneously deplete me.

I am a multitude of wellsprings and sometimes filling one depletes another, but the depletion is hidden even from me, until I take a step back and wonder why I’m being so earnest in insisting that I don’t feel depleted. It is because I don’t want, at a community event which I planned, and which I love, and which invigorates me, to also admit that my introvert self is ready to crawl in a hole and hide from everyone she loves.

So I gave myself permission to do that over the weekend. I gave myself permission to participate in a religious celebration without wondering what others would feel about my choices. I watched shows and asked myself what I thought of them without trying to figure out how they would fit into a larger cultural conversation. I left emails unanswered until Monday, I only responded to messages that were actual emergencies (of which there were none). For two days I tended and made space for my own emotions in exactly the same way that I try to hold space for others. It was restful.

More than restful, it was important. Because in my effort to tend my own feelings, I realized how very often I interrupt myself to ask how someone is doing simply because they walked into the room where I was sitting or popped up on a social media app I was scrolling through. Over and over again I had to stop myself from volunteering to do emotional labor for others out of my habit, not from their need. It was the emotional equivalent of spending all my cash on vending machine snacks instead of holding on to that resource to buy a full meal. I suspect that not everyone has this constant tending-to-the-emotions-of-others compulsion, but I definitely do. Resting from that was educational.

Today the cloud of entangled tasks cleared almost by magic. Much of that is because of the muddled work I pushed through last week, but the feeling of calmness is a direct result of letting myself actually rest. It has me thinking how to find the balance of being a person who shows up for others and being a person who lets people do their own growing by managing their own emotions. Someday I want to catch more of these thoughts in a focused way rather than this ramble. Not this week though. This week I need to use my rested mind to push forward on the task that will pay those very real bills.

New Spaces

I have friends who are traveling this week. So many of them chose the same week to escape their regular lives and go to other places. As near as I can tell they did not consult together in advance, and this week is not a holiday. I wonder what confluence brought them all to decide on this week for their trips. Perhaps this is when it finally felt safe, after the summer vacation surge, before the weather turned cold. I like seeing their photos and recognizing how each of them is navigating the interactions of their wanderlust and the ongoing pandemic. Not surprising that seeing their various photos and locations has me wishing for a trip of my own. I would like to go somewhere, be in a new place, see new sights. Instead I reserve the funds I would use on travel for other purposes. One kid needs a medical therapy which isn’t covered by insurance, another has a surgery sometime in the early part of next year, a third is talking about giving college a try next fall. And then there is the kitchen remodel. So I will continue to enjoy the photos of my friends and try to schedule some day trips where the only cost is gas money and some time. Though time can be expensive for a self-employed person with deadlines.

I can’t afford to travel to new places, not without giving up things which matter to me more, but I can make my existing places be new. At least a little bit. One thing we’ve done was removing a thirty year old walnut tree from its spot beside the patio. The tree was afflicted with thousand cankers disease and has been slowly dying for the past several years.

Back of a house with a small wooden deck and a patio. Tree in the foreground with 3/4 of its branches dead.

It is a little hard to see, but most of the green at the top of the frame are branches from a neighboring honey locust tree. The walnut tree’s branches were mostly dead. This spring it sprouted new branches directly from its trunk in a burst of survival panic. By August, most of those leaves had started yellowing and falling.

Before giving the okay for my neighbor to cut it down, I put my hand against the cool bark of the trunk and apologized to the tree that we couldn’t save it. I planted this tree myself twenty years ago and it was a glorious shade tree for most of those years. Our patio looks different now. I’m still getting used to the newly open vista and I will miss the enclosed feeling that the tree gave to the patio even though it was mostly bare trunks and bare branches. We’re talking about how to re-frame the space. Perhaps we’ll put in raised beds for herbs, tomatoes, and strawberries now that we have a spot with full sun from noon onward.

And we did end up with a serendipitous patio end table. We’ve ordered some end sealant to help it dry out without splitting, so over time we should get to have a heavy-duty ornament for our patio. The other logs may also be turned into various projects. Walnut is good wood, and we’d like to be able to remember the tree with something.

Another space I’ve begun renewing is my downstairs office. After my meandering post of the other day, I started making small changes, cleaning up piles, removing accumulated empty boxes. This is the spot with the dresser I plan to remove where I intend to install my faux window.

Couch divides the middle of a jumbled office space with a reading nook to one side and a working desk on the other.

Perhaps if I post a photo of the “before” state of my office that will help me stay motivated to change things enough to create a satisfying “after” photo. It is a valid hypothesis. We’ll see if it works.

Honestly, my life is full of good things. I have a nice house. I have a green space around my house that lets me feel the breeze, sit with trees, and look at mountains. Even if it is a long time before I can afford to travel anywhere, I will not be lacking.

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.