Organization

On Memories, Objects, and Letting Go

I held the plastic horse in my hands, felt the solid weight of it. The touch of it’s smooth and shiny paint brought memory. The horse came to me as a gift from my Grandpa when I was ten or twelve years old. I don’t know if he knew about the collection of Breyer horses that I’d been spending all my money on for the prior few years. I just know that he saw the horse at some flea market or yard sale and thought of me. The horse had a missing leg and would not stand, so Grandpa solved the problem in his practical use-the-tools-you-have-on-hand way. He squirted silicone gel all over the leg, let it dry and then carved a vaguely-horse-leg-shaped leg out of the rubbery lump. My grandpa loved me enough to spend hours on a gift for me. That meant the world to me at the time he gave me the gift and in all the years since.

Holding the horse, I also remember that even while thanking Grandpa and hugging him, I knew that the horse did not fit in my collection. It was the wrong size. Its paint was shiny, not matte like the other horses. Most important to me, the horse had a static pose rather than the dynamic running, prancing, or rearing poses I found so lovely on the other models. It was not a horse I would have chosen for myself. Nor was the repaired leg how I would have chosen to make it. Even carved, the leg was lumpy, oversized, and pocked with the spaces where air bubbles had been trapped in the gel. It wobbled when I flicked it gently with a finger, sproinging like the doorstops found behind bedroom doors in my childhood home. So I carried this horse in my life that was simultaneously not something I wanted and also a representation of love so important to me that I clung to it.

I once saw the title to a novel that has stuck in my mind ever since: The Hidden Memory of Objects. It is a Mystery novel that I never took time to pick up or read, but the concept contained in the title stayed with me; the idea that objects have memories hidden within them. That is how I feel when I pick up a long untouched item like a book or a plastic horse. It is as if the memory was there inside the object and I access that memory by touching, smelling, or sometimes just looking at the object. “I’d forgotten about this” is a frequent thought when I am sorting through old things. The memory would have remained forgotten had I never seen the object again. The storing of memory in objects is the fundamental drive behind the purchase of souvenirs and the acquisition of memorabilia. When we are in a moment that we want to keep, we sometimes seek out an object to store it inside. Our effort does not always work, of course. Another frequent thought as I sort through old things is “where did I get this thing and why did I spend money on it?” Objects which are deliberately acquired with the intent of them being memorabilia are often poorly matched to the task.

I’ve had hours of opportunity to consider objects and their memories as I’ve been participating in the recent zeitgeist of clearing out clutter and minimizing possessions. It is as if people of my generation (and the one just older than mine) have shaken ourselves awake to look around and think “why on earth am I keeping all this stuff? It is just clutter that complicates my life.” Since I’m a willing participant of this Konmari/clutter reduction/minimalist effort, I obviously feel that the decluttering is a good process, but I also feel wary about taking it too far. I remember my Grandma’s last years and how she depended on familiar surroundings and familiar objects as anchors in her slipping mind. The memories in stored in the objects and photographs were far more stable than the fog and lights in her brain that sometimes showed clearly, but more often obscured, her ability to know who and where she was, or who we all were.

Forty-six year old me can look at a plastic horse and say “I do not need to keep this horse in order to remember that my Grandpa loved me.” and she will be right to say so. But what of eighty year old me? What will she need? Of course holding onto objects because we might need them later is the source of much of the clutter in the first place. It is exactly the behavior that the zeitgeist rails against, the desperate clinging to things in the belief that by holding things we can prevent future pain. Which is, of course, false. We have no way to control the future, not with objects, not with actions. All we can do is try to arrange our possessions and ourselves in a way most aligned with the people we want to be and the future we want to have.

I want to carry the memory of Grandpa’s love forward with me, but not a plastic horse that I never loved for itself. So I look around me for other objects which could hold that memory. Grandpa loved me my whole life until the day he died and probably after. That horse is far from the only thing he gave me. In fact, on the shelf next to the not-beloved horse, stands a beloved horse that was also repaired by my Grandpa at my request. The only difference is that one was a spontaneous gift of time and love vs the other being a requested gift of time and love. The beloved, repaired horse is as suitable a receptacle for the memory as the not-beloved one.

So much thought and so many words spent on a simple plastic horse. Most of the things I have let go did not require this much consideration. Not even close. I can feel the impatient observer in my brain huffing and saying “This is ridiculous, just take a picture of it and give it away.” I put the horse in the donation box with a pile of other less-than-beloved horses which are also destined to leave my life. They took up space in my life for thirty years because of the memory of me treasuring them. Now I am ready to honor the treasure of my twelve year old self by keeping only a few extra-special horses rather than keeping them all. With only nine horses, each horse carries a larger portion of memory than when there were thirty of them. I kept the nine whose names I remember.

The other twenty-one were so important to me once, and letting them go would feel easier if I could be certain that they would be treasured again by someone new. But that is me not wanting to fully relinquish. I have a lingering desire to control the fate of these objects. It is a trap. If I seek to control their disposition, then I am continuing to carry responsibility attached to them. If I give them to someone I know, I’ve retained the ability to ask after them, to fret over them. These are the strings that must be cut in order to do the emotional uncluttering work which is even more vital that the simple act of giving away stuff. I’m also ironically aware that in writing more than 1500 words about letting go of plastic horses, I am, in a way, keeping them. I transfer their memory from physical objects into digital words, far easier to store. Also easier to lose track of if I don’t take effort to curate and manage the storage of those words. If, on the other hand, I’m willing to treat words written as a live music performance which is expressed without expectation that it will be retained, then even in writing words, I am letting go.

I’m learning that I don’t have to keep all the things for fear of future need, and I don’t have to keep all the memories either. At forty-six years old I have over 24,177,600 minutes of memory. It would drive one mad to try to retain each of those minutes as a separate, always-accessible memory unit. Instead we have to consolidate, categorize, and blend. Brains are wired from birth to do exactly this. I lose memories all the time. It is a necessary conservation of mental resources, not a tragedy. When I pick up an object and am filled with memory, that same memory could likely be accessed in a different way with a different object, location, or smell. Even if that one plastic horse had vanished from my life years ago, I would not have forgotten that Grandpa loves me. In fact I am certain that I have forgotten hundreds of other events that were evidence of the same fact.

Objects come and go, memories come and go also, whether or not they are attached to objects. For right now I’m in a period of time where what I need is to clear away the accumulated detritus of who I used to be so that I have space enough to grow into who I want to become. This means bidding farewell to less-than-beloved objects and their associated memory clutter.

Edited 2/8/2019 to add: So after spending more than 1500 words talking about how it is okay, important even, to let things go, I kept the horse my Grandpa repaired for me. It stands in a solo space not with the rest of the collection, which feels better as it never really fit the collection. The deciding factor was my daughter poking through the box full of horses and asking to see the one Grandpa repaired. Then she mentioned that she’s always liked seeing the herd of horses on my shelves, a reminder that childhood is a thing to be proud of rather than shuffled away and forgotten. So now I have another series of thoughts on how objects can mean different things to different people and why, in a shared household, it is important to communicate about which things are important to us and why. Two boxes of horses got donated. I have my shelf of named horses. I have the one that Grandpa fixed. And I have about five more in an undecided box. They may be donated, they may go back on the shelves. I’m still thinking.

Edited 5/2/2019 to add: I also have a series of thoughts on how treasures become junk when they are separated from their stories. The grandpa horse currently has a story that makes me treasure it. If I share that story with my children, perhaps someday that horse will become a treasure to them as well. This is how heirlooms happen. But if I donate the horse, it is forever separated from the grandpa story. It just becomes a plastic horse with a wonky leg. The difference between treasure and junk is the story.

Remodeling and Responsibility

We’re having an expensive week here at Chez Tayler. We finally called in a plumber because we got tired of an ever-filling bucket of garbage disposal water accumulating under the sink. While the plumber was here, he corrected a faulty tub drain, which has leaked at random intervals since we bought this house twenty years ago. Later this week we have someone coming to examine our garage door, which has begun making an alrming clanging noise each time it opens or closes. Howard has a dental appointment for a crown, and two kids had doctor appointments. The financial squirrel in my brain has been making distressed noises, she wants to hide away all the money into safe reserves against impending need. Sometimes it is hard for her to accept that ‘need’ is now.

Even as I’m paying out all of these bills, I’ve been contemplating a minimalism documentary I watched, and that new tidying up series from Marie Kondo. First let me say that Ms. Kondo is adorable, I just want to put her in my pocket and keep her. She radiates happiness and optimism. I like her approach to objects and to adjusting our relationships with them. I’m less enamored of the minimalist philosophy from the documentary which pares down living spaces to echoing rooms and dependence on the infrastructure of others to maintain comfort. Living out of two suitcases means that you’re dependent on someone else to own and manage a laundromat for your use, also you require hotels, rentable furnished apartments, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. A life of extreme minimalism (without being impoverished) is a life of extreme privilege. And yet, the minimalists have reasonable points to make about the fact that most modern Americans acquire far more stuff than will make them happy. The acquisition of stuff becomes a financial, physical, and emotional burden. I just prefer Ms. Kondo’s approach for readjusting that burden.

The thought floats through my mind, all the spending I’m doing this week is to maintain things that we already have. I would not have to spend five hundred dollars (my guess at the cost) repairing the garage door if I decided not to have an automatic garage door. This thought leads my inner financial squirrel to pipe up and say “Do we really need a garage door?” She makes this sort of noise at any expenditure, which is sometimes useful in helping me be conscious about how I’m spending resources. Other times it contributes to anxiety-related decision paralysis.

In the next few months our family plans to do even more spending. We’re going to be buying materials and assistance to reconfigure our kitchen. I spin in mental circles as I contemplate this. I believe that re-configuring our space to match how we want to be living is a good thing. However spending money to replace cupboards when we already have functioning cupboards is kind of wasteful. But I plan to offset that waste by salvaging the existing cupboards and donating them to Habitat for Humanity. Yet the project will require money and time both of which could be spent on other projects, perhaps projects that cost less and would do more to make the world a better place. Also, if we spend money improving our kitchen, we’re committing to spending money in the future to maintain that kitchen. But I believe in the power of Place and doing the work in order to create a place with a particular spirit and beauty about it. Putting in the time and effort to make my home into such a place seems worthwhile. Particularly if I also enjoy the process of creating that place.

Around and around I go contemplating in small scale (my kitchen remodel) issues of resource management and the value of personal fulfillment vs public good; issues that have application in much larger scales in society. It would be kind of nice to just be excited about remodeling without all the attached mental churn. But for now, I need to get back to work earning the money that will pay down debts, buy materials, and grant me a life comfortable enough that I can afford to contemplate these thoughts.

How to handle a harassment complaint at your event

Alternate title: Good practices for organizational management of a harassment complaint

Note: This document is not exhaustive and may be updated with additional suggested policies. I am not a trained harassment manager and there may be more detailed documents that you should reference when planning your event.

Step 1: Have a harassment policy
You can call a Code of Conduct, or some other name, but you must have a policy that clearly states what behaviors are not allowed at your event. The policy should state that failure to follow it can lead to expulsion from the event without refund. It should also have clear instructions for how to report a violation. All of your attendees should be asked to agree to this policy if they want to attend your event. If you do not have a policy, stop running your event until you do. This is for your own legal protection as well as the protection of your attendees. You need legal grounds to remove disruptive people from your event.

Step 2: Safety Committee
You need some people who are designated to handle any violations of your behavioral policies. They need to be trained and given a detailed instruction set (like this one you’re reading) for how you expect them to handle any issues. Having set up your committee, TRUST THEM. If you do not trust their judgement, then you have an organizational problem. You as event organizer have enough things to handle, don’t spend time second guessing your committee. There may be situations where you need to be involved in the decision process, but for the most part let your committee have the power to handle things.

Step 3: The victim comes to you
When someone comes to you to report a violation of your policy, the first concern of the staff member should be to make the victim feel safe. If there is an imminent danger or ongoing disruption, that must be managed first. The victim should be brought into contact with a member of the safety committee as quickly as possible. Either walk them there (if in person) or perform an email introduction (if online). Any staff who are not on the safety committee should step out of the process at this point. Helping the victim feel safe might include finding a private location, getting a friend to sit with them, switching to a safety person of similar gender. Always thank the victim for coming to report the incident. Reassure the victim that you want to know what happened.

Step 4: Listen
Listen to an account of the incident. Have the victim write it down, or write it down as they tell it to you. Be sympathetic to the victim. Validate their feelings. Ask for clarifying details. Find out if there are corroborating witnesses who are also willing to report. At the end of this step you should have a document signed by both the safety person and the victim that states what happened. (and additional reports from any witnesses) Both the victim and the safety committee should get a copy of this document. This document becomes a critical legal protection to both you and to the victim should things get complicated later. In a case of false reporting, this document also functions as a protection for the accused. Do not promise the victim any specific outcome from the report.

Step 5: Help the victim process
As part of listening to the victim and validating their feelings, discuss with them what they feel would be an appropriate consequence for the incident, ask “what would you like to have happen?” Document this answer in the report. It can help your committee’s decision making. Thank the victim for making the report. Give them contact info for the person who will be case manager for this incident. (Probably the person they reported to.) Tell them they can reach out and add to their report as needed. If they do reach out, note that on the report with date and time. Tell the victim that you will confer with your safety committee to make a decision about what is to be done and that you will get back to them within 24 hours with further information. (A longer timeline is acceptable if the victim is informed about why the longer timeline is needed.)

Step 6: Immediately contact your committee
They should be on call for exactly this sort of thing. If any committee members are close friends with either the victim or the accused, they should remove themselves from the discussion. If the entire committee is friends with either the victim or the accused, then seek out someone who can be impartial about the incident and hire them to arbitrate. Share the report, the victim’s requested consequence, and any observations the safety person may have. Compare the report with your policies to see if the consequence becomes obvious. Decide on a course of action. This can include anything from taking no action at all, to immediate expulsion from the event for the accused, to contacting the accused for more information or their own report, to contacting law enforcement, to consequences for a false report. Get a counter report from the accused. Have one of your staff advocating for the accused. The step-by-step process you are reading does not cover what actions are appropriate as consequences. That is a separate and nuanced discussion that is outside the scope of this document. Hopefully you had that discussion in detail while writing up your policy. Deciding what action is appropriate is tricky. Impartiality is critical. Part of your decision is choosing who will confront the accused (if confrontation is merited) and what back up they might require to keep everyone safe. Also who will advocate for the accused.

Step 7: Report to event managers
This step may take place between Step 6 and Step 8, or it might be something that just comes up at the next business meeting depending on the severity of the incident and how empowered the safety committee is to make decisions. Do not allow this step to be a blockade that prevents action. The key is to make sure that event managers know that an incident happened and have enough information to not be surprised if they are asked a question about it.

Step 8: Take the action
You may cycle through steps 6 to 8 multiple times as you gather additional information and reports. The key in this step is to act decisively and in a way that ensures safety of everyone involved. Make sure your action matches your stated policies. Also make sure that you extend as much courtesy and kindness toward an accused person.

Step 9: Inform the victim
Within 24 hours of the report (or on the previously agreed timeline), the victim should be contacted with either an update or the resolution of their issue. Make sure you assign a safety person who knows it is their job to keep the victim updated and to relay any ongoing concerns from the victim to the committee. Document those contacts and concerns in the report. Maintain contact with the victim until the incident is officially closed.

Step 10: Appeals and press
Someone is likely to be unhappy about the decision your safety committee made. They may post angry things to social media. They may outright lie about the events that happened. The only answer you give to any questions about the incident from people who were not directly involved is “For confidentiality reasons, we do not discuss any harassment complaints.” This is the answer that protects everyone. It preserves the confidentiality of both the accused and victim. It saves your event from legal liability and ongoing drama. The only time you ever release information from your harassment reports to anyone outside your safety and event management committees is if there is a legal case in which those documents become evidence. You do not need to prove you made the right choice. You as event organizer have the right to expel anyone from your event. At least you do if it is in your written and posted policy. Both the victim and the accused have the right to go to a court of law to challenge the decision you’ve made if they so wish.

Step 11: Post Mortem
The safety committee should meet periodically to discuss any incident reports and make sure appropriate follow up actions are taken. Equally important is that they examine their own handling of the incident to identify any weaknesses in the process or in the written harassment policy that need to be addressed. Make changes so that the next incident is handled as well as this one or better.

Structuring Life to Support Creativity take 2

A week ago I got to reprise my presentation on Structuring Life to Support Creativity. Unfortunately I heard from people who had to miss it because of conflicts or space issues. So I’m putting up the notes from the presentation here. They are rough notes rather than a fully flowing blog post. If I were to write this out fully, it would need to be 10,000 words or more. I first gave this presentation in 2013. There are some differences in information that I covered, so reading the original version might also be worth your time, you can find it here.

I always begin this presentation by saying that creative pursuits are patient. They will wait for us until we have time to get back to them. It is important to remember this when we are in a period of time where we need to do other things. I’ve had long spaces of time where I had to set aside fiction writing because I needed to focus my creative energy on business, or family, or health management, or grieving, or emotional processing. I lost nothing by taking care of these things first and then coming back to writing. Usually my creative efforts are better for taking time out to manage life events.

Know your goals and priorities
The first task to do when trying to fit a creative pursuit into your life is to step back and examine which things are the most important to you. For me family and loved ones are more important than creating books, even though I love both. This is the major reason that I sometimes spend long stretches without writing fiction: I am spending energy on the hugely creative task of raising children. And any creative task you undertake will interfere with any other creative task you want to do. A lot more occupations are creative than are generally considered creative. We create friendships, orderly homes, art projects, parties, etc. Service that we do for churches, schools, or communities can be hugely creative. Sometimes the work we do for a day job is also very creative. Grieving and emotional processing of life are when we re-create ourselves. Stepping back and analyzing what is most important so you can spend your creativity on that will help you be happier in your life, even if it means you’re spending a bit less time on the thing you thought was your one creative pursuit.

Recognize the pillars of your life.
Many creative people have a day job that literally keeps a roof over their head. Often this day job is viewed as a frustration or a distraction. However the ability to pay bills actually supports creativity. Maslow described this in his hierarchy of needs. We are less able to put energy into creation if we don’t know where our food will come from next week. Household tasks are another pillar that many people resent as a distraction from creativity. However if your surroundings are chaotic, the clutter in your physical space and clutter of undone To Do items in your head may make it difficult to accomplish the creative work you want to do. Social relationships are a third pillar. There is significant variance in the human need for company, but most of us do best, and are most creative, when we have emotional connections with others.

I mentioned before that things like grieving can interfere with creativity. The same is true of frustration or resentment. Any energy we spend on resenting a necessary life task subtracts from the energy available to create new things. Time spent maintaining your pillars creates a space where your writing or art can happen. I become much happier about doing maintenance tasks when I can see how they make the creative tasks possible.

Know your supports and emotional drags
Figuring this out starts with looking at the people in your life. Think about them.
Who supports you in ways that energize you?
Who claims to support you, but somehow you always end up discouraged after being with them?
Who doesn’t support you or actively interferes with your creativity?
You may want to adjust the quantity of time you spend with people who sap your creativity. Or you may want to re-frame that time so that it is further away from your creative spaces. Go to a movie and then talk about that movie instead of going to lunch and end up explaining why you want to be a writer.

Also look at your pillar maintenance tasks. The things that keep your life structure stable. This is when your family/housemates/friends become very important. Because some of those maintenance tasks do drag on your creativity while others are neutral or feed into creativity. If laundry sucks your soul, perhaps make a deal with others in your house so that they manage the laundry while you manage something else. Communication with the people in your support network is crucial. As you are building space in your life for creativity, they also have to give space for that creative effort. Make sure that these discussions include the sacrifices you will make to meet their emotional needs right along side the sacrifices you need them to make for your creative pursuits. (IE, you get one hour of uninterrupted writing time each day, but on Saturdays they get to go out to do their hobby thing.)

Consider what blocks of time and what physical space you can devote to your creative pursuit. Having a physical space can be helpful, even if the space is only contained inside a laptop or notebook. Entering your creative space can teach your brain to open up your creative thoughts, helping you to get in the zone faster. In order to create that space I’ve known people who depend on the smell and flavor of a favorite beverage, others light a candle, or have turned a closet into an office, or have an actual office. Some go to a coffee shop or a library. Some just put on headphones and particular music. The key is that at the schedule time you enter your creative space and train your brain to open up your creative thoughts. Then when you exit you can carry the thoughts with you or close them up as necessary to face the next task of your day. If you haven’t organized a space or made a schedule for time, then that is likely a significant drag on your creative efforts.

Plan your creative effort around your pillars
There are scientific studies done about willpower and how it is a limited resource. Anecdotally, I know this is true for me. Every decision I make is an exercise of willpower and makes following decisions more difficult. This is one of the reasons that decision heavy tasks, such as parenting, can be a huge drain on creative energy. Knowing this can help you as you structure time in your day to make room for creativity. It takes a large amount of willpower to stop playing a video game and go write. It takes less willpower to start writing right after you have finished lunch. In fact if you build a habit of lunch-then-writing the transition to writing takes no willpower at all. And the transition to lunch is helped by the biological imperative of hunger. I call this process setting a trigger.

I rely heavily on triggers. The routine of getting kids off to school in the morning triggers me to get out of bed early. Then once they are out of the house, the quiet reminds me that I need to get to work. Using an externally impose structure like a school schedule is very helpful in scheduling creative time. Our schedules go very mushy in the summer when we don’t have that external structure. In the absence of kids or school structure, I know creatives who sign up for classes, make writing date appointments, use a day job, or use scheduled volunteer work to provide external structure in their day. Using an external structure reduces your willpower load.

It is possible that some of your pillars will absorb creative energy for a time. If you’re struggling to pay bills, then the best use of your creative energy might be to go back to school and get training, so you can get a better job, so that you can be less stressed by bills, so that you have more room in your brain for creative things.

Analyze your blocks
Some things will interrupt your creative time. Other things will prevent you from starting. A challenge I regularly face is that if I know an interrupt is coming, say I have an appointment in an hour, there is part of my brain that doesn’t want to get started on a creative task because I know I’ll be interrupted. To combat this, I had to teach my self that five minutes is enough time to get something done. This is where visualizing my creative thoughts as existing in a cupboard in my brain has been very helpful to me. I open the cupboard and use those thoughts for five minutes then close up the cupboard again and move on with other tasks.

Alternately, you can rearrange the other parts of your life to defend large chunks of creative time. I know many writers who do this. It works best if your support network understands the need for those large blocks of uninterrupted time and participates in helping you defend them. If your support network doesn’t do high-focus creative work, it might be good to spend some time helping them understand creative flow. Because a two minute interrupting half way through an hour of writing time means that you don’t have an hour of writing time, you have two half hour writing times. Minus the time spent putting away whatever thoughts were opened up by the interruption. It often helps to have a visual signal to tell people not to interrupt you. We set up a string of flower lights at the entrance to my office. When the lights are on, my family knows to only interrupt if absolutely necessary.

The list of mental/emotional things that can block creating is a presentation to itself. I called that presentation Breaking through the Blockages and gave it at LTUE in 2015. Clicking this link will lead you to notes from that presentation. In addition to the points covered in that presentation, I add the thought that if you are doing emotional processing of grief or a life change, that emotional process is a creative one. It will absolutely interfere with your other creative efforts. We don’t usually think of grief as creative, but the process of grief is frequently one of letting go an old way of being while creating a new self that no longer centers the object of the grief. Self re-creation and grief are messy processes that slop over into unexpected spaces and pop up at inconvenient times. If at all possible don’t layer guilt for not creating on top of these processes. Remember the very first thing in this post, creativity will wait for you. This can be tricky to remember if one of the things you are grieving is lost creative time.

In my first iteration of this presentation I spent an entire segment on biological rhythms. This time I passed over it lightly, mostly because an audience question reminded me. We all have times of day where we’re energetic and times when we feel sluggish. Pay attention to your patterns, and if at all possible, schedule your creativity for the time of day when you feel energetic.

Transformations vs. incremental changes
When people come to a conference or creative retreat, they sometimes leave filled with energy and plans for renovating their entire life. Take a moment to consider how you want to manage that renovation. A massive effort to change everything often fails for several reasons. Habit is strong, and if you want to create a new pattern, you need to create structure that makes falling back into the old habits difficult.

The example I used was deciding that I spend too much time on facebook. If I declare that I’m going to spend no more than an hour per day on facebook, but don’t put any structure around that declaration, I’m likely to fail inside of two days. If I decide that any time I get on facebook I will set a one hour timer, that is better. I have a trigger to remind me to exit facebook. However I have to use willpower to set the timer and then I have to use willpower to turn off facebook when the timer beeps. It is very easy to forget the timer or distract past the alarm. If I install nanny software that automatically limits my facebook time to one hour per day, that has a better chance at working. I only have to decide to install the software once instead of once per day timer setting. And if I want to extend my facebook time it requires a decision and effort to do so. If I wanted to be even more certain that I’ll stay off facebook, I could delete my account entirely. This puts a significant logistical barrier to returning to facebook. An even more thorough method would be to completely cancel my internet. This last option would forcibly change many patterns in my life, and would have a signifcant impact on other members of my household, which brings me to the next reason that huge transformational life renovations often fail: transformation is hard on your support network.

Making sweeping changes all at once will make other people in your life uncomfortable. Because they are uncomfortable they may (consciously or unconsciously) pressure you to “return to normal.” For this reason massive life transformations can seriously disrupt relationships, which is why communication is critical during transformations. Also critical is disrupting old habit paths and putting road blocks to getting back to them. Certain life events make some level of transformation inevitable: Moving, getting married, getting divorced, birth, death, new day job, diagnosis, adoption, etc. These events inherently make some old habits impossible and provide an opportunity to build new habits. Building new habits is a creative process that will interfere with your other creative process until the new habit is established.

In order for a transformation to work, you have to be willing to let go of your old way of doing things. This may mean letting go of things you like in order to fix something you want to change. An example: I’ve long wanted to switch my online store software to a new system because the one I’ve been using is out of date. I began the process and then discovered that the new store system connects smoothly to my accounting software, but only if I switch to the online version of the accounting software. In order to fix my broken store system, I have to let go of an accounting system that was working just fine and re learn how to do my accounting. I have to be willing to change the thing I like to fix the broken thing.

The alternative to massive life transformation is incremental life change. This is transformation in pieces and at a small scale. It allows you to change a portion of your life and to let that change settle in before changing something else. Small changes can have significant ripple effects. For example: setting up a physical space for your creative efforts is not hugely disrupting to your regular life patterns or to your support network, but having it suddenly enables you to signal when you’re busy, allows you to set up creative triggers, and helps you open up your creative thoughts. Small changes can be significant. And accumulation of small significant changes will, over time, result in life transformation.

Health and Spoon Theory
If you have not heard about Spoon Theory, I recommend reading the linked article. It is a handy metaphor for understanding that we are not all granted the same quantity of energy each day. Some people can make 1000 decisions (or exercises of willpower) per day, others can only handle ten. Sometimes just managing ill health uses up 3/4 of your available energy, pillar maintenance uses up almost everything else, leaving only a sliver of energy for creativity. Being a caretaker for someone else can have the same toll. This is hard and not fair.

Unfortunately grieving (or raging) of your limited supply of energy also uses up the supply. Grief is often a necessary process in relation to ill health or caretaking, but pay some attention to moving through those emotions mindfully. Process them with your support network, with a therapist, with the help of books dealing with your issue. It can be easy to just sit with grief instead of moving through it. Resist the urge to shove it aside so you can focus on other things. “Shove aside” can be a necessary short term strategy, but unless you process that emotion, you’re stuck with it. And it accumulates. And it leaks into every aspect of your life.

Be aware that diagnoses almost always trigger grief (and a host of other emotions.) If you or someone you love gets a diagnosis, you’ll need to process it. The amount of processing depends on you, your past experiences, the pervasiveness of life change, how others around you are handling it, and a host of other factors.

If you are a healthy person, be aware that you know someone who isn’t. Take time to be part of a support network for someone who struggles. Solid support makes all the difference in being able to carve out creative time.

Break your patterns / get out of your box
As you are renovating to make room for creativity, be careful not to remove from your life all of the “distractions” that filled up your creative aquifer. Creative minds need rest. They need time to switch off from all the thinking. This is why you often see creative people diving into binge watching TV or playing video games. They need a comfortable retreat. That is important. However be on the alert for dysfunction in your habits. Eight hours of sleep is necessary for health. Fifteen hours of sleep is a sign that something is wrong. Two hours of video game may be refreshing. Ten hours of video game has almost certainly passed the point of diminishing return.

When you discover that your habits keep you contained in the same round of things, take time to do something new. Try a new activity. Go to a new place. Talk to new people. Get outside your comfort zone. Even if the new experience is uncomfortable and/or unpleasant while you’re going through it, you’ve still filled your brain with new material that you can draw on when you’re creating. Also, many times new experiences end up being enjoyable.

As a suggestion: donating time to helping others is a brilliant way to have new experiences and to fill up your creative/emotional energy.


Expect iterations

As you’re making changes whether they be incremental or transformational, you should expect a try/fail cycle in figuring out your life structure. Even if you do figure out the absolute perfect system where all the parts are working smoothly together, something in your life will change and that system will fall apart. If you know in advance that this is inevitable, you make be able to skip the part where system failure feels like a personal failure.

The example I often use for this is laundry. When Howard and I first got married we had one laundry basket. It was simple and effective. Then we had a baby, and another, and another. I discovered that adding a baby managed to triple the amount of laundry. The basket was always mounded and there were mounds on the floor. I always felt buried under laundry and overwhelmed by it. Then one day someone (probably Howard) said “Sandra, you can have more than one basket.” And he was right. Purchasing one basket per person suddenly changed a massive mound into neat baskets where clothes were sorted by person. All it took was recognizing that the system which worked great for two people was a complete failure at trying to handle five people.

When creativity is getting squeezed out of existence, stop and take time to figure out why the system that used to work isn’t working any more. Salvage pieces that are still working and rebuild.

I close the presentation with questions from the audience. Often the answers to specific questions generate some of the best insights of the presentation. Frequently this happens when one audience member has an answer for another audience member’s struggle. So I close with the reminder that if you’re struggling, you’re not the only one. If you ask your support network, online friends, family, odds are good that someone has exactly the words you need to help you move forward.

Best of luck in your creative efforts.

Books Arrived, Time to Do All the Things

The big shipment of Planet Mercenary books arrived today. That means it is time to switch gears and start sending packages out the door. My thoughts have been running a mile a minute since the moment I pulled up at Hypernode Headquarters and realized that I wasn’t going to have to sit around waiting for the truck, it was waiting for me. Cue flurry of me rapidly shifting the last few boxes so that pallets could take up that floor space. Thirty out-of-breath minutes later the delivery was done and the truck drove off.

Since then I’ve been making lists and scrambling to get things done. These are things I am tracking right now:

Preparations for the first shipping day: including finishing the errata document, getting 800 books triple signed, ordering the necessary shipping supplies, and mentally pre-organizing the backers into batches.

Preparations for ongoing shipping: I’m going to have to do many shipping days across several weeks. My kids are going to get tired of working and so I may need to hire neighborhood teens and organize that. I don’t know what will be needed. I’ll have to figure it out as I go.

Combining Deluxe Handbrain screen orders with Planet Mercenary orders: The first rush of emails is done, but responses are still coming in. At least now I have a practiced system for handling them so nothing gets lost. (Creating that system was a source of some stress as I used my brain as a bridge between three incompatible systems.)

Fulfilling on the last Planet Mercenary Kickstarter items: The Planet Mercenary backers will be getting their packages soon, which only leaves the Game Chief Secrets PDF which we promised. So I’ll be trying to squeeze in writing and editing time around the shipments. If anything slides it will be finishing up this, but I’d really like to end July with having delivered everything. I want August to be fully focused on the big events scheduled there. And in September I’d really like to shift gears into doing something new.

Fulfilling on the Handbrain Screen Kickstarter: The pressing of the screens themselves has been scheduled. I’ll need to approve them, pay the bill, and then wait for a truck. Then a second wave of shipping hits. Also there is the Adventure PDF that needs to be written and sent out.

Preparing for GenCon: This one is made so much easier by the crew I have in Indianapolis. They’re such amazing people and make running the booth possible. However much of my work for GenCon happens before we even get to the event. I’ve already done the hotel booking, flight purchasing, insurance purchasing, and arranged for electricity at the booth. Our official convention schedules are done thanks to the amazing folks at the GenCon writer’s symposium. Yet to do: make a new banner that features Planet Mercenary, ship Planet Mercenary books so we can sell them at the booth, double check on-site inventory and ship to fill any gaps, prep the cash register with new products, get the GenCon adventure ready for players, assist in lining up GCs to run games at GenCon, communicate with booth partners to make sure they have everything they need, prepare two solo presentations to give at the convention, and make up flyers and other promotional materials for the show. I’m sure I’m forgetting something. There is always something.

Preparing for the Writing Excuses Cruise:
It is in Europe this year. I’ve never been to Europe. There are packing preparations to make, power adapters to buy, flights to fret over, and planning for the adult kids who will be staying with the teen kids. The actual planning for this is not that hard, but the emotional footprint is big. Particularly since it has to be squeezed in between all of the other things.

Completing the next Schlock Mercenary book:
It can’t fall through the cracks. I really want to send it to print by early September so that I can have books on sale for Christmas. This means I have to finish writing the bonus story ASAP. I have to work with an artist to get the bonus story drawn. I have to get an introduction written. And Howard needs to do the cover and marginalia. Howard also needs to get way ahead on the buffer because of the upcoming travel.

Household stuff:
Apparently we’re out of groceries and this is a problem.

Thing I am really looking forward to: being able to complete things in the list above and not have to worry about them anymore. I’ve been pre-planning the Planet Mercenary shipping for the last eighteen months and I finally get to do the thing.

Warehouse Day at Hypernode Headquarters


I showed you this photo the other day. It is how the warehouse looked before we put in hours of work today. Here is what it looked like after:

It is a little hard to see, but from the floor the difference is significant. I now have space for up to ten pallets of books. Or I will once I haul off that stack of old pallets. With the shifting done, we got to work bagging components:

One of the secrets to an efficient shipping is to bundle things in advance. Every single order at the Company Commander and Commodore levels get a little white bag containing 4 pins, 1 coin, 1 set of dice, and 1 deck of cards. They also get a padded envelope containing their Seventy Maxims book and Game chief screen. So when time comes to box orders, instead of needing to grab ten different things for each package, we only have to grab three: book, padded envelope, little white bag. Additionally, the bundling also provides some useful padding making it less likely that things will get damaged in transit. Today we assembled almost 800 little bags. We need to assemble 1200 more exactly like these. Then we’ll assemble a pile of bags for the backers who included RiPP tokens in their order. The RiPP tokens fit into the little bag too. The bag itself is a bonus that we didn’t tell backers they are getting. It is a small thank you from us for supporting the project and being patient while we got everything done.

Lots of work still remains. I’ve only got a few weeks until the books arrive.

Preparing for a Big Shipping


Today I walked the warehouse planning the work for our “warehouse day” next week when I haul my four kids over and pay them to help me reorganize. There are boxes of books to re-stack, garbage to haul to the dump, recycling to haul out, and various other related chores. All of this is preparatory to receiving the Planet Mercenary books in a few weeks. I have to physically make space on the floor for an as yet unknown number of pallets. I’ve paced it off and I’m confident I can make space for up to 10 pallets, which should be sufficient. I always have pre-delivery anxiety about not having enough space.

Another task which needs doing is pre-bundling components that will go into packages. Many of the packages have the same contents. It is much easier to grab a single bag that contains 4 pins, 1 coin, 1 dice set, and a deck of cards than it is to grab each of those things individually for each package. However it does mean that we have to sit down and make up the bags containing all the things. That work needs to happen before we can begin shipping in earnest, and I hope to get it done before the books arrive.

A related pair of tasks: The GC screens arrived flat and they need to be folded in order to fit into the shipping boxes. The Deluxe Handbrain screens will arrive as individual units and will need to be assembled into 3 screen sets with matching pins.

Invoices need to be printed and sorted as well. That process will begin first for the Handbrain Screen Kickstarter, because that is where I have the information about who might want to combine their orders. I have to collate that information before I can ship any of the orders. However I can’t get rolling on that quite yet. People need more time to fill out their surveys. I don’t know yet whether the Handbrain Screens or the books will arrive first. Ideally I’ll have a couple of weeks between the arrivals. Most likely they’ll arrive within a week of each other because those were the timelines I was given. Once both shipments arrive, all that remains is for me to ship things out.

I did preparatory accounting yesterday. I’ve got lots of shipping bills incoming, so the accounts need to be as prepared as the physical spaces. I’m tempted to run a sale to clear out some inventory and create more wiggle room in both the accounts and the warehouse. Yet running a big sale and triggering more shipping right in the middle of preparing for a massive shipping seems a bit crazy. The truth is that I have enough space in both places to get the job done, even if it will be a little tight for a while.

Time to get back to work.

Walking Into High School

I just watched my 15 year old Gleek walk into the high school building for her orientation day. There was this moment when she walked past the pep squad sent to greet all the incoming sophomores, where the bottom dropped out of my stomach because I could see all the way my daughter was visibly different from what is standard dress and behavior in our community. We live in a place with a predominant religion. In our town 80% of the students she meets will be LDS (Mormon). Since we are too, this is a little bit comforting. We have at least a baseline expectation for what priorities and values the people around us hold, even though there is a lot of individual variation in how committed people are and how they interpret doctrine. My daughter is a walking, visual variation.

The norm in our community is short hair for boys, long hair for girls, conservative dress, natural hair colors. Even the teens who aren’t Mormon tend to follow this norm. Utah is very clean cut, Orem especially so. This morning my daughter walked into the school building with bright blue hair cut into an anime style pixie cut, short in the back, long near her face. She wore flowered cargo shorts and a black hat. Her arms were adorned with sharpie marker flowers and swirls reminiscent of tattoos. Her surface defies the norms of our community. Her heart embraces our religion. She loves church, and she consciously examines its doctrines. She studies scriptures on her own. She has developed her own relationship with God which is part of how she navigates her personal challenges.

Mostly she’s gotten positive reactions from people at church. I get lots of women telling me that they love her blue hair, that she’s adorable. Thus far I haven’t heard from people who think her blue hair is a sign that she is drifting, lost, or not committed. I assume those people are out there, and I’m grateful that thus far they are keeping their judgements to themselves. What I don’t know is how her surface appearance will affect her relations with peers at school. High school always sorts itself into groups. I worry that she’ll be pushed into groups where her appearance matches rather than being able to find places where her heart matches, no matter what she looks like. She enters the school with a group of established friends who have long accepted her for who she is. I hope that continues. I hope she finds people who celebrate both her internal strength and her enthusiastic creativity. I hope she finds friends who will be there and support her on the hard days, because high school always has hard days.

There are so many things I hope and fear. Mostly I try to not let those hopes and fears leak to where she can see them. My emotions are mine, she shouldn’t have to feel the weight of them. In a few hours I’ll go pick her up and I’ll get to hear how everything went. I would love for this year to be more aligned with hopes than with fears.

Administrative Things

Administrivia took over this week. My time was eaten by unexpected small tasks relating to the following.

Home refinancing: The details of why this had to be done right now are personal and financial. Also with rates due to go up, sooner is better than later. Yet I’ve been providing paperwork, fielding phone calls to answer questions, and doing some household repairs so that the place shows well for an appraisal. I also had to call the county registrar because somehow they had our property address listed on the wrong street. The fix was simple, but it took me thirty minutes of time.

Shifting Link’s educational path
: Because we were changing the plan, I had to communicate with the WIA Youth program and put the new plan down on paper. We also had to change the schedule for his tutoring appointments. There is still a website we need to go register on and some practice tests for him to take. None of it is difficult. All of it takes time.

Communicating with Patch’s teachers: We seem to have full-on panic attacks under control, but Patch is still frequently shutting down and not communicating well with his teachers. This means I have to communicate with them more. We have to make plans for how to handle his behavior and how to make sure that avoidance doesn’t get him out of doing work. He needs both sympathy and expectation. Because the teachers and classes are different, I have to communicate with every teacher who is having troubles. I also have to spend a lot of time talking with Patch. He has to be part of the process. He also needs to know what the concrete goals are for each classroom. I also talked with him about the efforts he needs to put out to make friends instead of passively waiting for friendships to find him.

Health insurance snafu: The good news here is that we’re covered, we’ve always been covered. The bad news is that over the past week two doctors appointments and five prescriptions were bounced because the system said we weren’t covered. I spent time on the phone talking to the insurance company and they are fully aware that this is an error. Unfortunately the fix will take a few days. Then I’ll have to call all the places again and have them re-run the insurance. Further details of this snafu may become a cautionary post later, but I want the story to be complete before I write it. The truly frustrating part is that nothing I did caused this problem. it was caused by other people and it has cost me at least three hours of time and associated stress.

Project Management: The acquisition of an outside editor has shifted my role in Planet Mercenary a bit. Right now my primary job seems to be making sure that everyone has work they can be doing. Ideally none of the creatives are sitting around and waiting for a piece so that they can be working on it. This means I have to track where everyone is and make sure they have work queued up. This includes me since some of my tasks on the project are also creative. And Planet Mercenary is not the only project I’ve got to manage. There is also a new site design for the Schlock page, the next Schlock book, the 70 maxims book, convention preparation for LTUE, and other things that I can’t think of off the top of my head, but inevitably pop up at inconvenient moments.

Email: There is no end to email. Ever. At least much of it has been nice email, but the quantity still nibbles at my brain.

I do not like administrative minutia, but if I don’t do it everything falls apart. Hopefully I’ll be able to have solid blocks of creative time next week before LTUE.

Happy New Year

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I put up the new wall calendar today. The calendar used to be the scheduling hub of the entire household. On it were all the appointments and events. If something needed to be remembered, it went on the calendar. These days most of the appointments never even get written on the wall calendar. They’re hidden away in my electronic calendar where they are far more useful to me. Yet the wall calendar is still useful. I come and look at it any time I need an over all view of the next weeks, months, or year. The kids reference it all the time when they need to count days or find out when the next school holiday is. So I spent an hour putting down the big events and birthdays for the year. Then I pinned it to the wall, moving it over slightly because the old spot had so many pin holes it was hard to get the pin to stick. Some day we’ll use piles of spackle to repair all those holes, but not today.

For now I’ll listen to the booming of the neighbor’s fireworks and glance at them out of my front room window, past the glow of the Christmas lights on our tree out front. The holiday season will soon be over, I should enjoy this last bit of it.
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