Learning to Divide the Load

At 2am this morning I had a brilliant opening sentence for this blog post. My brain worked, crafted, and whittled to make sure I had a sentence that was balanced and clever. Of course at that hour I was attempting to be asleep and so I did not get up and write it down. Naturally I can’t recall it this morning, partially because my brain is fogged from lack of sleep. Stupid brain.

I haven’t been writing much in these past few weeks. I’m juggling too many things and holding them all in my head. The logical thing to do would be to reach out to one of my many willing friends and say “Hey, can you help me with this?” That would make a lot of sense. Tasks like shipping 300 Strength of Wild Horses packages would be far more enjoyable with company. The trouble is that the things to do arrive in such small pieces. I always have trouble deciding that this one additional email means that I should stop and figure out how to reconfigure the load so someone else can help me carry it. It always seems like stopping to shift things around will delay progress. Surely I should just carry on. Besides, other people are busy too. I don’t want to bother them.

I want to say that this “do it myself” tendency is some sort of virtue or at least not a symptom of pride, but I suspect the opposite is true. It is a flaw which frequently leads to me being overwhelmed. I don’t have to be. Many people have told me on many occasions that they’re happy to help out. Yet somehow I always fail to stop and decide to divide the load.

I’m hoping to change this when Kiki gets home from college. She’s going to spend the summer with us dividing her time between art commissions and being a Tayler Corporation employee. I will have someone in my house to whom I can assign work because she is getting paid. I’m certain it will not all be sunshine and roses. I’m still going to have to fight my tendency to not want to bother other people. Yet hopefully by the time she heads back to college, I’ll have learned some things about where hired help is helpful in my business processes. Also hopefully, I will have figured out how to budget and pay for that help. It will be a learning experience for us both.

Of course between now and Thursday when I drive to fetch her from school, I have much work to do. Not the least of this work is turning our dungeon basement room into a space that Kiki can live in for three months without feeling opressed by the bare concrete walls. We don’t have the money to fund framing and finishing. Instead I’ve put up sheetrock on the one framed wall and I’ll be hanging unbleached muslin over the remaining concrete. ($40 can cover most of the room.) The walls will still be hard to the touch, but hopefully we can trade Dungeon-bedroom for blanket-tent bedroom, which seems lots cozier, if still odd. Planning how to make it work is one of the things my brain was considering late last night while also crafting the perfect blog opening.

Perhaps I’ll do some before and after pictures later today. For now, I need to head over to the warehouse. I have 90 more packages to mail and then I can call the SWH shipping complete.

Re-organizing My Office, Again.

When we remodeled my office a couple of years ago, it was my intention to create a space that was both lovely and functional. It worked, mostly. But then we acquired a warehouse and the room which used to be my storage and shipping room became Kiki’s home-visiting-from-college bedroom. In the shift, a whole category of items became homeless, namely art to be sold and the small stash of inventory which we keep at the house. These things drifted for months, stacked on various flat surfaces in my office. Today I finally gave up and installed a utility shelf in my office. It is not at all lovely, but it returns all of the flat surfaces to being functional. In exchange for one ugly corner, the rest of the space can be lovely again. Perhaps I’ll hang a curtain to hide it.

The truth is that, after seven or eight stable years, the living spaces in our house are going to be fluctuating quite a bit in the years that are to come. Kiki will be home for the summer, but after that none of us is certain. This year there is no money to finish the storage room, but next year may be a different story. Two and a half years from now Link will likely depart the house for college. I’m going to be reconfiguring spaces every six months or so for the next several years. I’m okay with that, particularly if it means I only have to stare at these utility shelves for six months.

It may even be a shorter time than that. It is possible that when I finally spend twenty hours doing organization over at the warehouse, I’ll figure out that it makes more sense for the art and matting supplies to take up residence over there. In which case, the shelves and most of their contents will get moved.

Our family and business continue to evolve. It only makes sense that our spaces should too.

Renewing My Spaces

Every so often we would look at our walls and say “We really need to repaint.” Sometimes the words were triggered by corners where the paint had completely chipped away, other times it was contemplating the way that dirt collected on the sections of walls in front of the studs, thus creating a grid pattern in dirt. The declaration of the need to paint was always a launching point for the conversation, because if we were going to improve why stop with paint. “These cupboard need to go. The drawer fronts are breaking off. While we’re at it we should move the pantry and knock out this wall to connect the kitchen and the front room. Then we can expand off the back to add a dining room.” Soon we’ve imagined spending enough money to double our mortgage and the whole project gets filed in the “when we can afford it” pile to get dusty.

The problem is that the state of the walls triggered this sort of conversation increasingly often. We began to feel like the house is falling apart and we were powerless to fix it. We weren’t. It just required me to think about it differently. I had to think of fixing the house in small pieces rather than in massive projects. I had to apply the “do a little every day” philosophy which does not come naturally to me, but which I’ve learned is amazingly effective at getting things done. I needed to see the need for paint and treat that as a project in itself rather than as a small piece of a larger project. I’ve been staring at ugly paint in the front room for the last ten years. Putting new paint on the walls took $80 and 15 hours of work. I spread out that work over a week and a half, moving furniture and washing walls, masking, and only on the final two days breaking out the drop cloths and paint. Now the walls of my front room make me feel accomplished instead of helpless. It leaves me excited to proceed with putting on baseboards and finally replacing that stupid plastic windowsill which we’ve hated since the day we moved into the house fifteen years ago. Each of these projects takes some time, but if I spread out the work it becomes and enjoyable project rather than a massive and disruptive effort.

How we arrange our physical spaces can have a major effect on our mental spaces. I noticed this when we remodeled my office last year. The moment when I realized it was possible to remove a wall and join a closet into the room let me imagine the room I wanted instead of the room I was stuck with. I don’t think it is coincidence that I’ve been finding mental energy for my writing and projects since I created a physical space for them. So now that the walls in my front room are a pleasure to look at, I’m also looking around the room and thinking “What do I need this space to be?” Our front room should be a home for our antique piano, a place where people can enter our house and sit down to visit, and a staging area for things entering and exiting the house. It’s done fairly well at two out of three, but I don’t know that it has every succeeded at being a pleasant place to sit and visit. We’re going to fix that. Fixing it will require me to once again knock down a closet wall. It’s not that I have a thing against closets. I like them a lot, but not when they’re plunked in the middle of floor space which could best be used for actual living.

Little by little this house is going to be customized for the way we live. It will be full of small thoughtful details because such things delight me, and making my home full of small happy details seems like a worthwhile pursuit. The process will be slow, because both money and time have to be carefully apportioned, but $80 and 15 hours is well worth being able to sit in my front room without hating the walls.

Painting the Front Room

January is a cold month with far too little daylight, so I try to fill it with fun projects. That way I blink and it is over.

This is our front room. It hasn’t been painted since before we moved into the house. We’ve found it fascinating that the dirt accumulates differently depending upon whether there is a stud behind the sheetrock or just an insulation filled space. At this point you can clearly see a complete grid of where all the studs are in the wall. It feels rather like a jail.

So I bought paint. It is called Castle Stone, but the castle in question must be a sand castle because I would call the color Sand. Over the past week I’ve been shoving things around and prepping for paint. Today I painted the first section.

It still needs a second coat and the rest of the room needs to match. We’ve also discovered another hazard of making home improvements. Now the kitchen looks even worse than it did before. I don’t think I can stop painting when the front room is done. But for today I can feel accomplished while the paint dries.

I Have a Library

Some dreams shine brightly right in front of our eyes. They are the big shiny possibilities which pull us forward and cause us to despair because they are so far beyond our reach. Other dreams are quiet. They exist in the backs of our brains and we pay them no attention until that moment when they either come true and bring us unexpected joy or become forever unavailable and bring us unforeseen grief. Quiet dreams matter. They are the difference between a joyful life and one spent in hollow pursuit of the shiny, unreachable dreams. This past year I’ve been working to identify and fulfill some of my quiet dreams. I started by giving myself permission to want things, even things I knew I’d never have. Then to my surprise, I found that many of the wants which emerged were very easy to fill, and once they were, they significantly added to my daily happiness. One of the quiet dreams that emerged was a desire for a library.

I’ve always had books in my life, lots of books. They lived more-or-less on shelves, though most of them spent significant amounts of time in stacks or piles. Some of the piles became semi-permanent installations in various corners of the house. They were like flotsam in the eddy of a flowing stream, places where books gathered because people set them down there. I made periodic attempts to clear out the piles as they became messy. I’d stack books on shelves two deep, because there weren’t enough shelves. Occasionally I would sigh to myself and wish for more shelves. Sometimes I would get desperate enough to buy an additional small book case and find a corner where I could shove it. Then it too would become home to stacks of books. Thus books accumulated in all the corners of our house and our lives.

When I stood in my office and pictured knocking out a wall, the world opened up with new possibilities. I could have guest space, a craft desk, and finally enough shelves to house all the books. It was the fulfillment of half a dozen quiet dreams, things I’d been doing with out for a very long time. The office was completed last May. I finally installed the shelves this week. I pulled the books from their boxes and placed them on the shelves. The shelves began to fill and something magic happened. I didn’t just have shelves of books, they transformed into a library. There was space to sort by size and type. I could put all the kid friendly books in easy child reach, while placing other books up high. All the anthologies could go together. This type of sorting was not possible with books stacked and piled all over the house. Then I remembered, I used to do this. As a child, I sorted my books. I’d learned about the dewey decimal system in school and tried to create a numbering system of my own. Some of my childhood favorites still have giant numbers scrawled inside the front covers or taped to the spines. For a while I used unicorn book plates.

The numbers were for the checkout system I had devised to track who had borrowed my books. I revised my system multiple times over the years as various systems fell apart. I’m not sure that anyone ever checked out a book from me, but the organizing and planning made me happy. Much of my discretionary money went into book purchases. I wanted to own every Black Stallion book. Even as a teenager I made list of books I wanted to own someday. I’ve been an amateur librarian all my life without realizing it. And now I have a library.

This makes me incredibly happy. Our book purchasing habits have changed. More of our books will be electronic than mass market paperback, but the hardbacks are going to continue to accumulate. My kids are acquiring manga at a frightening rate. Some of these books will be passed along to make space for new ones. But even though the contents of the library will evolve, I find it wonderful that we are able to set aside this small corner of my house and put books there first. The existence of this space declares that stories matter, that they deserve a space of their own. And there is a comfy couch right there so that people can sit down to read. It is a beautiful thing.

Shelving Project

In theory I can plan a home improvement project, do the math, make a list, and take a single trip to the store for supplies. So far my two-day-old shelving project has required one trip for boards and brackets, a second trip for screws and sandpaper, then a third trip to return sandpaper and buy sandpaper sheets large enough to fit the hand sander. A fourth trip will be necessary for additional boards and brackets, but at least now I can start work. Well, I can when it cools down outside. I don’t really want to deal with wood dust inside the house. Thus my morning project turns into an all day project. I console myself with the thought that once I am done my books will no longer have to live in boxes.

The second day of the project fares better than the first. I get up early to sand the edges of the boards and apply the first layer of stain. I only do two boards. They are proof of concept before I begin sanding a dozen more boards. They look nice sitting out on my deck rail drying. Hopefully they will continue to look nice when transported to my office. I’m really glad to finally have something visible for all the running around I did yesterday. Some days all my work vanishes so that I end the day wondering where the time went. Most of my summer work falls into this category. “Creating structure and schedule” is a crucial task around here, but success is invisible while failure is obvious. At least with the shelves there is something tangible.

I Keep My Brain in My Office

I am very tired today and I have learned an important thing about myself; I store parts of my brain function in the organizational structure of my house. Once I got the correct desk installed in my office and set up my computer on it, much of my inability to prioritize vanished. This effect increased as I moved my books and projects into their new places in my office. I depend upon visual reminders to help me keep track of what I need to do during the day. I post school notes on the kitchen bulletin board and on my fridge. My old computer hutch was papered with post-it notes. A business card sitting at the foot of my monitor would remind me of an email to send. With all of that stuff packed away in boxes I carried a level of stress and internal confusion. My written to do list has all of those reminders as well, but apparently my back brain requires spacial orientation to the tasks. It is fascinating. I may get more analytical about why this works for me at some other time. For now I am very tired.

In the last two weeks I’ve been to IKEA four times (Howard once), Home Depot six times, Lowe’s twice, and I think there was a Walmart run in there as well. Each time I was making expensive purchasing decisions or returning the results of last trip’s bad decisions. I helped three kids keep track of their work so they could get it done. I kept in touch with my parents (Grandma is better, moved back into the physical rehabilitation facility). The prom dress was altered, not perfectly, but well enough. Kiki was sent off smiling to prom. Gleek is into the middle of her time swap. All of this week’s critical tasks are done all of it despite multiple nights of insomnia followed by mornings where I had to get up early. Next week has a new list of critical tasks, I am not going to think about them tonight. Instead I’m going to show you pictures of my remodeled office, because it is pretty. …

Updates from the Tayler House

Three fourths of my kids are sick today. This is going to significantly change the tenor of my day. I’ve grown accustomed to having longish stretches to focus on work. There are still random phone calls, script aprrovals, and business meetings to interrupt my focus, but on the whole I can work. I was thinking about this the other day after reading a post from my sister who is potty training a toddler and thus having to orbit said toddler pretty closely. After reading the post I swiveled in my office chair and realized that I’d been sitting in that exact chair for over two hours. Such a thing never happened when my kids were little. I was up and around, feeding kids, cleaning messes, negotiating deals. So in some ways today will be a return to that. I expect to be paged for deliveries several times per hour.

LTUE begins one week from today. If you’re local in Utah it is definitely an event to consider. I’ve already begun compiling notes and thoughts for my four panels. The nice thing about pulling together notes for a panel is that the same notes can be used to write a blog post later.

In writing news: My short story “The Road Not Taken” was selected to be featured as a finalist during the Mormon Lit Blitz over on the Mormon Artist blog. This was a cheerful addition to yesterday. Subscribing to the RSS of that blog from Feb 15-29 is probably worthwhile. They’ll be posting one finalist per day. I’m looking forward to reading them. I hope you’ll join me and perhaps cast your vote for any writing you especially like.

To balance out the happy writing news, I got another form rejection on Stepping Stones. My only reaction to this one was the thought “of course” followed by a thin thread of “this is wasted effort. No one will ever want it.” Sometime in the near future I’ll pull up my boot straps and figure out where else to submit. Right now I need to focus on the primary February goals.

Good heavens, it is February. This is the month when I need to finish layout work on Sharp End of the Stick and I need to dismantle and reassemble our shipping system. In theory I’ll get some further work done on my office remodel, but truthfully that project is paused until I can allocate the necessary funds to pay someone for framing, electrical, and drywall. I have ongoing support for kids, homework, and household maintenance. The weather remains cold, but not really wintery. LTUE is a bright spot, but only lasts three days. Hopefully my participation in Letter Month will help me find small bits of happiness in a month that is looking sloggish from this end of it.

And now it is time for me to begin the work of today.

Office Project in Process

I’ve been nattering on about my office and I finally have some visuals to share.
This is the view from my desk chair facing the opposite side of the room.

You can see the serious lack of organization on the bookshelves and the fact that there simply were not enough shelves for the quantities of books. All of that stuff went into boxes. Then the shelves were moved out of the way. It revealed a bare and boring wall.

That’s okay though. Because the next step was to make the wall go away.

From the chaos of debris, you can infer exactly how much fun my kids had helping me destroy the wall. I recommend wall removal as a family activity, but only if you really want the wall gone. For the first time I can actually see what my enlarged office is going to look like. That back wall is going to be covered in wall-mounted bookshelves. It will be my library. In front of it will be a couch. But first we have to figure out how to remove the remainders of the wall and find someone to help us do framing and drywall work.