Sandra Tayler

Trees in Bubbles

I had a thing to do. It was a simple thing, and yet I kept not doing it. So yesterday my oldest also had a thing to do and we joined forces. I went over to her house and helped her photograph these:

Keliana has been making them for the past several months, and hadn’t managed to get them into her etsy store. So we made a little assembly line to get individual photographs of each bubble tree. They’re in her store now. Then we also took photographs of a pile of necklaces that I’ve been gifted and will be gifting onward via Twitter later this month. The whole photography session took less than an hour, yet neither of us had been able to make ourselves do it prior to making the appointment. Brains are weird that way.

It has me thinking about inter-dependence and the value of community. We’ve all been running experiments in isolation during the pandemic to varying degrees. Old systems for getting things done broke down and we’ve had to build things new. As I looked at each little tree with its own bubble, I thought about how they are perfect pandemic art. Each tree both constrained by and protected by the bubble that surrounds it. Hopefully this batch will sell well so that Keliana will have the resources to make more.

Spring is Beginning

It is sixty degrees outside today and the sun is warm enough for my to sit on the steps in a short sleeve shirt. We’re finally on the front edge of spring. In only a few weeks more my spring bulbs will bloom with all their joyous color. Spring is an escape from the cold and dark of winter. Life feels full of potential in more ways than one. Howard is scheduled for his first vaccine appointment on Wednesday. The person we’ve most been worried about catching the illness will soon have the start of an immunological shield. I expect my vaccinations are only a month or so out with the kids to follow. Utah keeps opening up to new groups faster than expected. On a personal level I am glad. Though the reason for speed of offering vaccines is because people who were eligible didn’t sign up. Herd immunity is going to require convincing reluctant people to get their shot. Now we have a whole new set of questions in our lives. Which things that we’d ruled out of our lives are safe to bring back? Once my household has vaccines, what comes next? Going back to church in person? Jobs for my young adults? Having friends over for outdoor visits again? We’d grown familiar with the pandemic boundaries. Now we’ll need to define new ones.

The emotionally complex decisions that will be necessary in the coming months do not take away from today’s joy in spring. I feel like the plants, just starting to wake up and rejoice in the sunlight. I spent winter, and the pandemic, growing some strong roots. Now I’m ready to put out leaves and bask in the sun.

Networking for People with Social Anxiety

In two weeks I’ll be teaching this class. I’m very excited about it and have been happily collecting notes and reference material. Next week I get to start organizing that material and putting together the lecture notes. I’ll be drawing from my personal experiences as a person with social anxiety, neuroscience, TED talks, and other source material. The focus will be on helping each class member be able to recognize when and where anxiety may be driving their behavior and how to deliberately counteract that anxiety so that they can connect with others. There will be a focus on professional networking situations, but friendship and professional networks often blend together, so building friendships is also a big part of the class.

I’m still working to fill seats in the class, maybe you’d like to join me?

Long Slow Remodel: Progress Today

It doesn’t look like we did much when you compare to the before picture, but it was a significant amount of drywall to tear out and the pantry ceiling was a sandwich of drywall and plywood.

So now we have a new pile of drywall to fit into our garbage can over the next week or two. Next stage is pulling down some of those 2x4s. I need to use some of them for the grape arbor I need to construct before the vines leaf out, so I have a deadline there. I’m increasingly of the opinion that we need to move the door into the garage. Which means learning how to cut a door hole, install a door, and move a set of concrete steps. Gonna be a lot of work, but I think if I don’t do it, I’ll be annoyed by it for a long time. And since the door is currently where I want the fridge. I think I have to figure out moving a door before I hire an electrician. Unless I hire a handyman to do all of it, which has some appeal. I’ll have to see what the tax return looks like so I know what budget I have available. I’ll also have to see if my go to renovation guy has any space in his schedule. I suspect he’s booked solid for months. We’ll probably end up doing it ourselves and just hiring out the electrical work.

But for today, we’re at a stopping place.

Early Spring

It is not yet warm enough for gardening to be pleasant, and yet the signs of early spring are starting. In my patio garden bed I can see the hardy little pansies already beginning to bloom and the spring bulbs have begun putting forth foliage. In only a few short weeks I’ll have many flowers. I’ll also get to see which of the plants I shoved in the ground last fall have failed to survive the cold. Sometime between now and then I need to make time to go and clean up the leaves and detritus from winter. The first gardening chores are often in the cold. In fact some of these garden chores are cold-dependent. I need to prune the grape vines and fruit trees before they put their stored energy into growth that I chop off. So I need it to be cold long enough to get these chores done, but I am so ready for the world to be warm again.

Attempting a Restful Weekend

I have been much distracted this past week with preparing for the class I taught on Friday. I was teaching a newer presentation, one I’d only given a couple of times, instead of one I’ve given dozens of times over many years. The fact that it was about finding a good creative balance with Social Media (a nebulous topic with an ever-changing landscape) added difficulty to the endeavor. Which is how I found myself feeling some social media and promotional burnout while trying to drum up enough interest that I’d have more than a single registrant in the class. In the end most of the people who attended fell into the “friends and family” category, which was nicely illustrative when I had to answer the question “How do you get the word out?” Answer: start with the network you have and be patient when it feels like your efforts aren’t expanding beyond that. Because even the friends and family who showed up did so not because of relational obligation, they showed up because I had something to teach which was useful to them. I have to say that last bit out loud to push back against the social anxiety in my head which would have me disbelieve my own value.

This weekend I am supposed to relax. Rest my mind from preparing for class, promoting the class, and anything else related to the class. My mind does not rest easily. Ever. It constantly gathers information, evaluates, makes connections with other information, and then moves onward to gather even more. This is one of the reasons that social media like Twitter are woven into my life. It is a constant flow of information, and most of the tidbits are markers to deep wells of science, theology, history, etc. I dive down so many rabbit holes. But I was supposed to be resting, not collecting new information and processing it for the next time I teach about social media, nor gathering pieces for the presentation on networking and social anxiety next month. I’m supposed to be resting. One of the only ways I can get my brain to hold still and shut up is to feed it a flow of story. But it can’t be a new story because there are things to react to and process in a new story. Instead I pick a show I’ve watched before and turn it on to keep my brain occupied while my hands and body are doing something like crochet or dishes. This is not what most people picture when they think of taking a rest day.

One of the problems I’m having with resting right now is that I’m not physically active enough. With the exception of driving for a few necessary errands, my life is bounded by the walls of my house. In the winter I barely even step outside into the yard. I need to change that for all sorts of mental and physical health reasons, yet somehow the addition of cold amplifies all the other small obstacles to going out. In the winter I have to put on a coat and brace for cold instead of just stepping outside the door. The obstacle exists even if it feels stupid. When I can get myself outside and involved in a physical project, my brain will shut up some. This is why I’m looking to next week and hoping that the weather will cooperate enough for me to attack some vines with pruning shears. I have friends who want grape cuttings. And I have gardening plans around building better structures for my vines to climb. I look out my windows and think “I really ought to get started on that” but then fail to put on shoes or coat.

In my preparations for talking about social media, I looked through resources on ADHD. Any time I do, some of the behaviors and issues sound so familiar to me. I’ve just spent three paragraphs describing my brain as a noisy place that won’t rest and seeks constant input. Yet I don’t have ADHD. I live with people who do. I have many friends who do. I resonate with their energy and some of their adaptive solutions also work really well for me, yet the list of ADHD traits I don’t have is longer than the list I do. Some other descriptor is a better fit for how my brain works. Even though I was supposed to be resting, I ended up in a rabbit hole of TED talks. I listened to Jessica McCabe talk about what it is like to live with ADHD. It is a good talk and at the end of it I thought “I’m so glad that exists as a reference.” Then I clicked to another talk and listened to Jordan Raskopoulos talk about living with high functioning anxiety and thought “Everything she says is about me.” So I guess I found a better descriptor for how my brain works. Another click led me to Dawn Heubner talking about facing fear which had me making all sorts of notes for next months presentation. All those rabbit holes are full of really amazing stuff, they just aren’t restful.

Sometimes a thing that helps my brain to slow down and rest is if I let it dump all the thoughts into words. Pin all the loose ideas down into sentences and paragraphs. Something about that process makes my mind able to let go of the thoughts. They’ve been saved and won’t be lost. Which is why you’ve just read this exceedingly rambly post about all the things in my head while I’m trying to have a restful weekend.

Moving Forward

A year ago I wrote a post about Befriending Slowness. When I wrote it, I did not know that the whole world was only a month away from slamming on the brakes. I knew that 2020 was going to be transformative for my family because I knew that we were going to end the daily comic around which all our lives had been shaped for twenty years. The eight months preceding my post on slowness were ones of frantic home disaster recovery and wedding planning. It was already a sharp contrast. Then the pandemic slowed everyone down. Then the end of the comic changed the core premises of our household.

I remember a moment last spring, I think it was in April or May, when I was sitting outside in my hammock and feeling as if the constraints imposed by the pandemic were like a cocoon, and important constriction which made transformation possible. Part of me wanted the constraints to stay in place long enough to teach me how to move through the world differently. At the same time I was mourning the opportunities snatched away from my young adults. They had just begun to climb out of their pits of depression when pandemic snatched away their ladders and slapped a lid on top of us all. It was the work of months to shift that pit trap into a greenhouse where we could all grow in new ways.

In December I had no interest in doing year-in-review activities. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that they’re starting to tug at me now as we approach the anniversary of when pandemic changed everything. The onset of the pandemic has a much bigger footprint on my life in the past year than the shift from one calendar year to the next. Which brings me back to where I started this post. My life no longer feels slow. My kids no longer feel trapped in pits of depression. We move through our lives at a slower, more deliberate pace, than the frantic energy we felt before, but we are moving. It feels good to be moving forward.

Pandemic in February

“I really miss travel.” Howard said. We were watching a show set in Australia where the protagonist lives on his sailboat. There were lots of long shots of ocean and countryside. We then had a conversation about the trips we would like to take, places we would go, people we’d like to see. It was a happy sad conversation. February frequently triggers wanderlust for me. This year more than ever.

Tis the season of Zoom meetings where people are trying to decide what is reasonable to expect from this year. Conference staff trying to decide whether vaccination rates will allow for an in-person event in the Fall. My family wondering if we can gather for a family reunion in June. These conversations are fraught. I doubt any of these events will be able to occur this year, and yet I know that sometimes people need to cling to the hope that by September things will be better. One person needs the be reassured that people are acting safely, another desperately needs to believe that “safe” includes seeing people in person this year. It can be hard to respectfully navigate the feelings while making choices about how to proceed.

I find myself in a strange place. I’ve found a pocket of creativity and peace inside my current restrictions. My home is a greenhouse where the people inside are growing in a sheltered environment. I’m so glad to see the growth (after years of withering and stagnation) that part of me is content to keep the greenhouse locked down tight for a while longer. Staying contained will get easier when the weather warms up enough to allow us to use the outdoor spaces that are attached to our home. At times I’m glad that all of the outside events where scraped off the schedule since we’ve grown in ways that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.

Yet then I find myself quietly wiping away a couple of tears during a conversation about taking trips.

Just because I’m keeping my eye on what is right in front of me, doesn’t mean I don’t feel the loss of the far horizon. The loss of connections with people who are not of my household. That sense of community which comes from random small conversations. Sometimes we don’t notice what is missing in our lives until we trip over the gap, or until it comes back. My life right now is good, and I’m focused on dwelling in that good. Yet it will be lovely when the pandemic releases it’s stranglehold and more things become possible again.

Being Shiny

It was an interesting conjunction. I’d posted a tweet about the character Chrisjen Avasarala on The Expanse and statement necklaces. This one:

I’ve never been one for big necklaces, but the combination of using Zoom for more interactions and watching Chrisjen Avasarala on The Expanse has me browsing through statement necklaces that I don’t have the budget for and I’m not sure I’m brave enough to wear.

https://twitter.com/SandraTayler/status/1357005498059350016

It was getting some interaction with twitter friends. At the same time I was in a Zoom writer date and during one of the pauses a fellow writer asked me what I was working on. I started talking about the work I’ve been doing to prep for the next class I’m teaching online. She then said something like “Wow you’re so amazing” with a tone that also suggested that she felt out of place and insecure. I was immediately hit with a desire to shrink. I felt like I was being too shiny, too impressive and I needed to tone myself down so that I wouldn’t make my friend uncomfortable.

So here I am sitting and looking squarely at that desire to not outshine others, and my own words about not feeling brave enough to wear a statement necklace. I think both are things I need to get over. I’m consciously trying to claim my own competence and to not apologize for having it. Even when that competence is based in acquired experience and study rather than an official degree or certification. This is part of granting myself permission as I wrote about a few weeks ago. Shrinking myself to fit in doesn’t actually make anyone else feel more secure in themselves, while me stepping forward to own my abilities might show them a path where they claim theirs. If I’m standing tall, I’m in a better position to help others and make space for them to grow too.

I think again about the character of Chrisjen Avasarala. She owns the screen every time she is on it, dressed gorgeously, making hard choices, willing to apologize for mistakes, but never apologizing for being herself. I can try to be a bit more like that, with or without necklaces.

Long Slow Remodel: Pantry Removal

After pausing for several months, we’re inching our way toward having a remodeled kitchen. We finished our new pantry wall, so now it is time to remove the old pantry.

The first step was to take out the shelves. These were 3/4 inch particle board shelves that were nailed into place. They were very heavy to lift and maneuver, but I got them out.

Tearing out drywall was next. I also had to saw free a couple of 2×4 posts. We cut a hole into the next room so that we could start visualizing how this space will look with the wall gone.

You can see that I found where the electrical wire was. That’s why I didn’t remove the dry wall all the way to the floor. I could see us trying to walk through open studs and tripping over that electrical wire. The goal is to remove enough drywall so that we can decide how the electrical pieces need to be moved and then we’ll hire a certified electrician to make the wiring changes. Here is a view of the new window from the other side.

This was our stopping place on Saturday. I cleaned up the drywall mess and put Howard’s fridge back into place so that we could continue to function in the kitchen while the project is paused. Over the next week we’ll get the pile of drywall debris broken down and hauled off. We’ll also examine the lumber we removed to see how much of it can be reclaimed. Some will go toward future projects here at the house. Some will get donated to habitat for humanity. No point in wasting good lumber. Our resting configuration:

Or at least so I thought. The next day my son was looking for work to do, so we had him remove the cabinets over the fridge. They joined the donation pile in the garage. There was so much dirt and grunge accumulated on and behind those cabinets.

My son-in-law who works construction came over for a visit the day after the work was done. It is super nice to have someone with experience to admire my work and to help me talk through the next steps. That’s one of the advantages of the slow tear-down. I have plenty of time to think through what comes next, pre-purchase materials, and make plans. He asked what my expected timeline is. I don’t have a set timeline. I’m hoping that tax return money can fund paying for electrical and plumbing work. (Moving the fridge requires both.) Then there is another pause waiting for funding. The next Schlock book Kickstarter will hopefully allow me to buy all the cabinets we’ll need. Then I can spend the summer staining and finishing the cabinets.

We’re getting there piece by piece.