Sandra Tayler

Becoming Infrastructure

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

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

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

Small Updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental Health, Car Crashes, and Navigating Medical Care

Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the best,

Sandra

Memories Because of Muffins

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

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

Planning Events for 2022

At the beginning of 2021 the only thing that felt right to do was to opt out of all large-scale public events. Standing in January 2022, the pandemic landscape has changed and for the first time in two years we’ve got big events on the calendar: Gen Con in August and the WXR workshop/retreat in September. It is very interesting to me how having those on the calendar changes my internal landscape. I was content to stay home, but now I find myself actively anticipating seeing friends in person. In groups. My horizons have been so small for such a long time.

Of course the pandemic could intervene and cancel everything again. As things look right now it seems like Omicron will subside and then we’ll have lower cases heading into spring. Late summer / early fall will likely be a pandemic lull when events are relatively safe. Particularly events that are requiring both masks and proof of vaccination. My event plans have contingencies for cancellation, but I might get to go. I’m planning for going instead of planning for staying home, which is a huge shift in life focus. Naturally I have an entire swirl of anxiety around the ethics of choosing to participate in public events. Those are met with the economic realities of the fact that our business needs the re-invigoration that public events supply. I have to do something to reverse the omnipresent tightening of our finances. I’m hoping we can get some new projects rolling in time to fund important things like reprinting a Schlock book and replacing our fridge before it fails catastrophically. Another consideration is that the events themselves are no longer allowing people to roll forward to a future year. This year it is “show up or lose your spot.” Which is fair. They’re a business too.

I’m excited and nervous about the events to come. I’m watching Covid charts and hoping fervently that Omicron is Covid’s last big hurrah before subsiding into something that we only need to worry about when we get our annual shot and wear masks at events. I’m girding myself up to defend my event decisions because no matter what I choose, there is a possibility that people will be angry with me for it. This year is already different from 2020/2021 and I’m anxious to see how it unfolds.

Nearing the End of January

I turn forty-nine in less than a week. At one point last year I was looking ahead to my birthday and thinking how I could claim it. I wondered if there were a way to turn the day toward some lovely and celebratory purpose. I have a long habit of being uncomfortable stepping up into spotlights, of not fully claiming my accomplishments and expertise. I thought to use my birthday as a way to practice celebrating myself. Unfortunately I did not take the time back then to build any structure around the idea. There is no chute to funnel me inexorably into it rather than shying away. Also, I am full up on creative efforts just now. All of my days are filled with projects in process. Creating a celebration around my birthday sounds like another project and, in order to pull it off, one of my other projects would have to sit idle. So I’m likely to let the birthday pass quietly. Perhaps I’ll build structure around celebrating when I turn 50 next year.

January has been a month of heads-down work. I’ve made progress on House in the Hollow, I’ve crafted, I’ve put in time as a driving instructor for young adults, and I’ve spent large portions of most days on XDM2e. All of which seems like a good use for January. In the past week I’ve started laying ground work for events happening in late summer and fall. These are plans built on returning to events in person, which I am both excited and nervous about doing. But I don’t have to make those decisions today. Today I get to continue focusing tightly on the work in front of me to see how much I can get done before the end of February.

The Return of Crafting

For more than six months now I’ve had crafting efforts on the back burner. I had no intention of moving them off that burner in January because I intended to focus on re-drafting my middle grade novel, House in the Hollow and on house projects like preparing to move the kitchen door. To my surprise, crafting showed back up anyway these past couple of weeks. I’m not at all sure why. Particularly since I spent the first ten days of January feeling very defeated. Even without understanding why, I can celebrate the return of small projects that have no purpose other than personal joy. So I’m going to celebrate progress, even though none of these projects is finished.

Me wearing a long crocheted blue tunic/cardigan that reaches my knees. It is open at the front and the sides clearly don’t meet in the middle.

I started this cardigan project sometime last year. I feel like it may have been last January, so most of what you’re looking at is last year’s work. But in the past couple of weeks I finished the back panel and joined everything together. The pattern I’m working from has sleeves, but I’m feeling discouraged about my first attempt at making a sleeve. Also I think I like how it looks and feels sleeveless. So I’ve switched to working on the ribbed collar that runs down the entire front of the cardigan. One problem with it is that it feels too tight/constrained below my waist. I may either disconnect the sides from the hips down so that it has slits, or might crochet triangle sections to make it more swooshy. But first I want to get the collar on and see how that looks.

Side by side comparison photos of me wearing a red knit dress. The second photo has a waist piece added so that the skirt ends up longer.

I have several of these dresses and I love them. They are super comfortable and are excellent for dressing up with accessories. My only complaints about them are that I feel like the waistline hits too high on me, and I wish the skirts were a few inches longer. (I prefer tea length in dresses.) So I decided to deconstruct one of the dresses and add in a panel to elongate and emphasize my waist. In this side-by-side picture (if you squint) you can see that four hours of work turned a perfectly wearable dress with a few irritations into a slightly longer wearable dress with different irritations. I’m not completely happy with what I’ve got yet. The waist panel needs to start higher up on the dress. Also I discovered that I couldn’t put the bottom of the waist panel as low as I had intended without emphasizing some body shape that I would prefer to de-emphasize. So I’ve got lots of unpicking and resewing in my future. But first I want to wear the dress as it is to see if the added length of skirt is as happy as I hope it will be. The length doesn’t look that much different in the photos, but it feels different.

Shape of a phoenix bird in pencil, but the bird is made up of words that are taken from Amanda Gorman’s excellent poem A New Day’s Lyric.

Several years ago I played with the idea of creating images out of words. That idea has been calling to me again and seems like an excellent thing to combine with poetry. Eventually I want to get to the place where I am writing original poems and executing the shapes with calligraphy. I decided to practice concepts using Amanda Gorman’s poem A New Day’s Lyric. This process lets me really delve into the beauty of that poem and internalize the words and ideas in a way that I’m really enjoying. Using excerpts from the poem, I now have the rough shape of a phoenix. I need to re-pencil on a larger piece of paper. Then I can break out my calligraphy markers and start shaping the lines of words. Ideally I’ll render the final piece in reds, oranges, yellows, and browns. So I’ll have to figure out which colors add to the clarity and message of the words. I suspect I’ll have to re-draft and re-draw this a dozen times before I am happy with it. All of which appeals to me, because the point of the piece is practice, not the end result.

The thing I can’t easily post a picture of is my progress on House in the Hollow. I’m about 8500 words into my re-drafting process. All of those words have happened since January first. That is slower than I wanted. I was hoping to do a thousand words a day, but it is more progress than I’ve had in the past two years combined, so I’m feeling triumphant about it anyway. I’m aiming for 60,000 words, so I’m barely started. Slow and steady moves me forward.

Some Loose Thoughts

Somehow the beginning of the new year has become the middle of January. Logically I know that this particular transformation only takes about two weeks, but this time the newness only lasted about three days, which feels like an unfairly short lifespan for new year’s optimism. The good news is that I seem to be emerging from the week-long discouragement. Better news is that I was still able to inch some necessary work forward even while feeling discouraged about it all. Always good to remember that the discouragement/optimistic energy pole doesn’t have as much effect on getting work done, nor on the quality of the work done, as it feels like it does in the moment.

This week we successfully accomplished the medical appointment which has been looming on the calendar for five months and for which I carried a fear that Covid would cause it to be postponed or canceled. So that is a huge relief and I can ride out the rest of the current Covid surge with less anxiety. Less anxiety, not no anxiety, because this surge is very surgey indeed. I keep thinking the rates can’t keep going up, and then they do. Last winter’s mountain has started looking hill-ish by comparison. I don’t like that. I also don’t like witnessing the societal Great Surrender, where 18 schools in Utah reach the threshold where “Test To Stay” is required, but because there are only three Test To Stay teams, the state just shrugs and tells everyone to use their own judgement. All of the language and information isn’t saying “help us flatten the curve” it is saying “Don’t worry, this will be over soon.” Which isn’t the same thing at all. I keep hearing that the Omicron Covid variant is more mild. I wonder if it will still seem mild when the deaths happen in three to four weeks.

I can’t control the world. I can’t stop Omicron. My ability to influence legislation is minimal. So for now I’m focused on things where I do have significant influence. I’m finally working my way through re-drafting House in the Hollow. I’m working through XDM2e copy edits. I’m teaching kids to drive. I’m practicing a homebrew yoga in the mornings. I’m making sure we don’t run out of groceries. And I’m trying to stay on top of dishes and laundry. If I keep doing these things, eventually I’ll find myself in spring.

Moving Forward in the New Year

On January 3rd my New Year optimism met my To Do list. This was an expected collision, but I don’t like that it dropped me into a low-level discouraged state. So I wrote a little Twitter Fiction that captures my current state of mind:

The discouragement sat like a lump in the middle of the path she needed to take, so she hefted it to her shoulder and lugged it along with her as she trudged forward toward her goal. Sometimes she gave it a pat when it whimpered as she walked. #TwitFic

@SandraTayler 2:09 PM · Jan 5, 2022·Twitter Web App

That is me right now, trudging along shoving my daily tasks along the road in front of me, carrying a load of discouragement, but still shuffling my way forward. The good news is that I’ve (so far) managed to integrate my new goals and focus into the pre-existing To Do list. My cocoon realizations have helped me alter the trajectory of the path I’m shuffling along. I wish I could trundle along that path with the same joy and optimism that filled me on New Year’s Day. But since that joy and optimism has declined to show up for work, I’ll keep inching my way forward because the best way to get somewhere else is to keep moving.

Exiting the Cocoon

I woke up and the world feels new. The year feels full of potential. I want to pause and really center those feelings as I mark the change from one calendar year to the next. It is nice to have this feeling on New Year’s Day when so many of my recent years have featured some flavor of dread about the year to come. (2020 2019 2018 2017) Some years I wanted to hide from the coming year, others I was girding up to meet it as a battle. So to receive this one as a gift is an unexpected blessing that I want to hold in reverence for a while, before the inevitable challenges of living have a chance to wear at me.

As I mentioned yesterday, one of the words I grabbed when describing 2021 (and also 2020, they were the same year really) was cocoon. I’m thinking about those tiny containers of metamorphosis today. The protective shell contains so much transformative work which can’t be observed from the outside. From the outside nothing is happening until one day the butterfly or moth bursts free. The phrasing of “burst free” downplays how much work there is in extricating oneself from a cocoon. I’ve seen videos of butterflies working themselves free, slowly unfurling their wings, and orienting themselves to being something new. Exiting a cocoon is work, and is as much a part of the transformation as what happens inside that cocoon.

If 2020-21 were a cocoon and today is the day it cracks open, I have work to do in order to finally be free. This image makes sense to me, because the worst pandemic surge is about to hit. I’m going to need to hunker down. I’ve still got the XDM2e project to steer to completion. There are family and friendship tending tasks which continue. Yet mixed in with these continuations, I’m also glimpsing what this year could be. For the first time in decades, my morning schedule isn’t dictated by the needs or schedules of others. I’m experimenting with claiming that time for me to lay in bed and let my mind wander. Then climb from bed and wake up my body with a yoga practice. Then flop back into bed to write. All before emerging from my room to where other priorities start claiming pieces of me.

The yoga practice has been a particularly useful addition. For the few in-person classes I attended (before Omicron necessitated staying home again), I found a teacher who constantly emphasized accepting our bodies for where they are at. Reach for your toes. It is okay if you can’t grab them, because the reaching is what matters. I discovered that sitting in that reach, breathing in and out, slowly the reach extends farther. By repeating this practice gently day after day, in an unexpectedly short amount of time I can touch the toes I’ve been reaching for. Patience, breath, and acceptance has led to far more progress than I thought possible. Yet I’m not reaching for progress, I’m reaching for the sake of reaching, progress is just the inevitable result. There are so many lessons in this physical practice that I can use in all the other aspects of my life.

Casting my thoughts on the year ahead, January through March are “exiting the cocoon” months. During them I will work, breathe, and reach. I will finish things off to release into the world. I will focus on inward growth and writing rather than on outward expenditures of energy in community efforts. When I get to March things will shift again. I’m not sure how or in what direction I’ll launch, but at some point between now and then my next direction will become clear.

Happy New Year everybody. I hope that you have been gifted with hope in the year to come. If you carry some other emotion today, that is okay too. Let your emotions be what they are. Sit with them and pick some small reach you can do in the direction you’d like to travel. Reach and breathe and accept. Progress and hope will come to you.