Applying for Passports

It turns out that if you arrive at the passport office and the nice lady discovers that the name on your driver’s license is misspelled (which no one noticed at any point in the past four years), that the wisest course of action is to put applying for a passport on hold and instead apply to have the driver’s license corrected. The nice passport lady explained that the conflict of spellings might upset the passport people so much that they would begin to question the validity of all provided documents and we would then be digging around for “proofs of identity” such as yearbook photos. (Apparently this is the reason that I’ve been shelling out money for kids yearbooks all these years. Who knew? Also, I may end up regretting throwing mine out. Though since my passport is already acquired I’m probably okay.)

Since Kiki’s identification was the one misspelled, we dropped all the other family members back at the house. Then Kiki and I went on a ninety minute adventure at the DMV which was exactly like sitting in a chair and being bored for ninety minutes. We did have the entertainment of a young woman behind us who kept declaring that she felt bad about some relationship thing that was going on in her life. I couldn’t hear her mother’s replies. I wasn’t trying to hear the young woman either, but she so clearly enunciated and projected every word that I couldn’t help it. Eventually they left before their number was called. Presumably to go apologize to the boy in question. After that the only entertainment available was reading the looped slideshow about the value of organ donation, or playing games on our phones. Eventually Kiki’s number was called. Two minutes of paperwork was done. And now we get to wait four weeks for Kiki’s new license to show up. So that we can apply for her passport and then wait six weeks for that to arrive.

In the meantime the passports for the other kids should show up in about six weeks. Unless they’re rejected for some minor error, like the fact that Gleek wore her glasses in the photo. The passport lady said it was probably fine and she’s pretty expert at her job, so: fingers crossed.

All of this documentation effort is so that we can take the kids with us on a cruise next fall. Also, I like the idea of my kids having passports so that if we were to decide to take some other trip out of the country, we could just go.

Now it is 3pm and I really should be settling in and getting some work done, but my brain is tired from everything above. I might nap a bit instead.

My Writing Excuses Cruise

A week ago today the island of Cozumel, Mexico was outside my stateroom window. Memories of the cruise sit in a strange space in my brain, like they belong to another life somehow. I read posts on social media from my fellow travelers about how they are sad it is all over. I haven’t been sad, but I think that is because my brain has decided that the cruise workshop space still exists and I’ve just stepped away for a bit. It feels as if I could just step back. Or maybe as if I’ve bundled it up small and carry it with me.

The trip was not made entirely of joy and awesomeness. This is because Howard and I accidentally packed along some emotional baggage. As this sort of baggage tends to be invisible, we tripped over it on a couple of days until we managed to identify it and get it safely stowed away. Perhaps that is why I’m not sad about being off the ship, perhaps it is because, when we left the stateroom, I left some of that stuff behind. I hope the porter doesn’t mind cleaning it up. Though it likely evaporated by itself without me there to sustain it. Yet the hard bits are vague in my memory and the lovely parts are crystal clear. All the photos remind me of happiness and the entire trip was a gift, one I shall treasure.

The attendees have been sharing their photos of the trip. As I flip through the folders I realize that while we were all on the same ship, each of us had an experience that was unique. I see photos of places I did not go, of people I did not spend much time with. That was one of the powers of the cruise as a location. Each person could choose what sort of trip they wanted to have. Some stayed on the ship and wrote, or read. Others went on tours and sampled native foods.

I climbed up a river in Jamaica with a group of people.
We laughed, chanted along with our guides, and got soaking wet.

I learned that building a house in Jamaica is a multi-generational project. They build a few rooms and move in, only adding to the house as funds come available. We saw lots of open and thriving businesses whose upper stories were construction zones.
House 1

House 2

I wore a silly hat and walked through a cave that has been traversed by a Spanish governor, pirates, runaway slaves, and nightclub goers. The very air of the cave reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, which told me I was passing through the original. I stared up in wonder as bats flew overhead.
Cave Selfie

Cave Stage

Then we found a towel bat in our stateroom that night.
Cruise Bat

I walked through Mayan ruins in Cozumel, Mexico, setting my feet on a road that has endured for thousands of years.
Mayan arch

I took beautiful pictures of ocean and beach.
Cozumel seaweed waves

Cozumel waves crash

Cozumel waves

Cozumel driftwood

Cozumel pebbles

I sampled Mayan chocolate made in the traditional ways.
Cozumel Cacao paint

I watched the sunset over the railings of the ship, and the clouds shift and glow in the fading light.
Cruise Sunset

Cruise ocean sunset

Cruise Sunset ocean

I found my fellow writers in the quiet corners of the ship.
Cruise Writing

And then there are the things for which I don’t have pictures.
I ate dinner every night with a different group of writers and never lacked for good conversation. I ate new foods, both on the ship and on the shore. I dressed in fancy clothes and felt happy. I stayed up late because talking was more attractive than sleeping. I participated in dozens of conversations that started “next year…” I was saved from awkward food by my waiter who showed me the proper way to go about eating butterflied shrimp. I spent time with long-known friends and acquired some new ones. I saw kindness as people helped those around them with problems both big and small. I felt an amazing sense of community among our group who was there.

As I said earlier, the trip was a gift. It is one I’d love to share. Registration for next year’s cruise will open in a couple of months, I hope that many amazing people will be able to join us because we plan to make it even better. I know I feel honored to have been a part of it.

Cruise Lessons

Before this trip I had never been on a cruise. I’d never been interested in them. They seemed the sort of thing that would appeal to other people, not me. And there is truth in that instinct. I would not have enjoyed this cruise as much if it were not full of fascinating writer-people to talk to. There have been times when I ate lunch with a random selection of people from the ship. They were friendly and we had a pleasant conversation, but it was not the sort of energizing conversation that I have with writers or the family members of writers. On the other hand, I suspect my experience is somewhat typical. The cruise offers such an array of activities that there are certain to be some that lie outside the interests of any particular individual.

I expected luxury, and I expected to feel guilty about having that luxury. Saying “I’m going on a cruise” feels privileged and self-indulgent, and it is, but it is also an eye opening educational experience in ways that I did not expect. Before I spent a week on a ship I was never able to distinguish port from starboard. Now that happens instinctively because I need it to find my way from one place to another. Until I stood at night looking over the railing at endless water and felt the deck under my feet moving slightly, I did not understand what was meant when people said they feel “at sea.” There were a couple of days during the cruise where I felt emotionally off balance and disconnected from myself, as if I were lost out in the ocean. Looking down at those waves I comprehended that the ship was the only safety available. If I were to go into the water I would die before I could find any other safety. My creative mind helpfully pictured that for me and I visualized myself swimming, watching the ship get ever further away. Then I stepped away from the rail and went back inside where there were walls between me and the vastness of the ocean. On a map, we’ve never been that far from land, just tooling around between Florida and various islands in the Caribbean, dodging Cuba. Looking out to sea, I realize how big the world is.

On the first day there was a paper in my stateroom introducing the ship captain and crew members. I tossed that paper without really reading it. The captain seemed as irrelevant to me as the various airplane pilots who have taken me places. Here at the end of the week, I see it all differently. I’ve heard the captain’s voice announcing arrivals and departures. I’ve heard him explaining why the ship stopped unexpectedly in the middle of the night (because some drunk guy told his wife he was going to jump off the ship, and she panicked and called the emergency line.) I’ve heard him explain that a medical helicopter would be landing to remove a very sick patient. I’ve seen him across the room as he stopped by one of our social events. Slowly I’ve come to understand that we are all in his hands, that his decisions truly matter for the course of the ship and for my experience on it. I also begin to feel connected to nautical tradition where out on the ocean everything stops or changes to help others in distress. I watch the social atmosphere and tiers of service and interaction on the ship. Then I realize that I am participating in cruise traditions that have their roots hundreds of years ago. I begin to understand in ways that I did not before.

I expected to feel uncomfortable being served and waited on. During the first day I thought that expectation was justified when I saw how much of the serving staff had brown skin and that the majority of the vacationers were white. Then I witnessed how many staff members read my badge and greeted me by name. Then a staff member saw Howard on shore and stopped Howard to make him sit down and wait for a car to take him back to the ship. The staff member realized that Howard was on the front edge of heat exhaustion. I watched native tour guides and heard their accents in context without the slight deference that accented people always display in the US. I hadn’t even realized that the deference was there until I saw Mexican and Jamaican tour guides standing strong and confident in their own countries. They were professionals, intelligent and very good at a very difficult job. All of the serving staff are smart, sharp, highly trained, and function so smoothly that most guests will never notice the multitude of ways that their stay has been made easier. I have been meeting the eyes of staff, learning their names, and giving them as much professional respect as our brief encounters will allow.

I was surprised at how international an experience I’m having on the ship. I knew I would encounter other cultures on the shore, but I find them on the ship as well. Our captain has an eastern European accent. Most of the staff are not from the US. Among the guests I’ve heard a dozen different languages. Many of our retreat attendees have come from outside the US. I love hearing voices with different perspectives. It helps me see my assumptions which had been invisible before.

The ship itself surprises me in small ways. The bathrooms all have thresholds to step over and they latch in ways that remind me I am on a ship, not in a hotel. Most of the time, I am only aware of the motion of the ship as a slight rumble, not really different than the rumble from an air conditioning system in a building. But then there will be a moment where I feel as if I am dizzy. I’m not. It is just that the room is moving slightly around me. Once I identify the motion of the ship, I can adapt for it without trouble. I brought sea sickness remedies, but I have not needed any of them. I enjoy watching the logistics of getting the massive ship into and out of a port. The sunsets at sea have been uniformly gorgeous, which has more to do with the clouds and the sea than the ship, but they surprise me and it is only on the ship that I can see them this way. Behind the ship the wake stays visible all the way to the horizon and gives me thoughts about how we all mark the world by our passing.

We have already scheduled the cruise for next year. I’ll be going again. Next time I’ll be much more familiar with how the ship works. Howard and I will not attempt to go without internet because apparently we keep portions of our cognitive functioning stored in the cloud. I did no writing until I was reconnected to the internet. I have mixed feelings about that. Things that were unexpected obstacles this time will not be problems next time because we’ll know what to expect. I do hope that I’ll learn as much next year as I have this year. I believe I will because it was other people who taught me and I will not run out of things to learn from others. I’ve learned and grown from my conversations with the attendees and the staff on the ship. It will be interesting to see how all my new thoughts settle when I get back home.

Tweets from GenCon

Since the best record I have of my time at GenCon is what I tweeted while I was there, I’ve collated those tweets into a blog post. My apologies to those who already read all of this by following @sandratayler on twitter.

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler Jul 29
Gatorade for Breakfast is the name of my GenCon booth set up day. #GenCon2015

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler Jul 29
My books got to come to #GenCon2015 this year.
GenCon 1

Sandra Tayler retweeted
Howard Tayler ‏@howardtayler Jul 29
The dice don’t hate you. The dice hate being anthropomorphized. Stop breathing life into them and they’ll behave, you know, randomly.

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler Jul 31
Our Planet Mercenary game will be at 630pm in Griffin Hall inside the JW Marriott. 7pm. Should be fun. #GenCon2015

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler Jul 31
Our @PlanetMercenary field marshals play at #gencon2015

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler Aug 1
Just witnessed the annual Sat morning Running of the Gamers into the dealer’s hall for exclusives. #gencon2015 Impressive.

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler Aug 1
I love seeing adults who are passionate about their interests and who understand that play is important. #gencon2015

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler Aug 1
Card city #gencon2015

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler Aug 1
Backstage at Tracy Hickman’s Killer Breakfast. He’s got an amazing crew making the show possible. #GenCon2015

Another shot from that event:

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler Aug 2
I like having a job where sitting around on couches and talking to interesting people counts as working.

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler Aug 2
Sunday at #GenCon2015 is 100 “in case I don’t see you again” goodbyes. Some I farewell 3-4 times. Others I miss completely.

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler Aug 2
This was my favorite celebrity sighting at #GenCon2015 “are you satisfied with your care?”

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler Aug 2
Adorable girl getting an art lesson from @howardtayler at #GenCon2015

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler Aug 2
Sir Diddymus rides through #GenCon2015 in service of his lady.

Sandra Tayler retweeted
Jim Zub @JimZub August 2
Howard was at a panel when Tracy had to leave Saturday, but we snapped a quick photo of our authors. — with Tracy Hickman and Sandra Tayler.

Booth crew

Sandra Tayler retweeted
Howard Tayler ‏@howardtayler Aug 2
Layer after layer of illusion magic is stripped away as #GenCon2015 fades under the assault of an impending Monday.

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler Aug 2
This is all that remains of our #GenCon2015 booth.

There are a few things I did not tweet, though I would have if I’d not been distracted.
Here are our GenCon Field Marshals who played Planet Mercenary with Howard and Alan. They were fantastic and it was a great game.

And there was a thing which amused us all greatly. Here is a shot that our booth mate Jim Zub took on the first day of the convention when the crowds were waiting for the dealer’s hall to open.
Zub & Crowd

This was a publicity shot that showed up on the GenCon site the next day. If you look closely at the escalator, you can see a small figure with arms outstretched. That’s Zub. The official GenCon photographer took this at almost the same moment that Zub’s photo was taken.
Zub & Crowd 2

I had a really great time. I’m excited to go back again next year and I’ve placed it firmly on my schedule. I’ll wiggle all the other stuff around to make that possible. Next year we’ll have the Planet Mercenary book and I want to be there for that.

My GenCon Schedule

I didn’t think that I’d have any scheduled events for GenCon, but then suddenly I did. If you’re at GenCon, you can come find me. Most of the time I’ll either be at booth 1935 or floating around at the Writer’s Symposium. But these are my fixed schedule points.

Planet Mercenary Field Marshall game
Friday 6:30pm
location TBD

Panel: Writing Serialized Stories in Comics
Saturday 1pm, Writer’s Symposium Room 242

Writing Excuses recording
Saturday 6pm, Writer’s Symposium Room 242
Not sure yet if I’ll be participating as a guest. Howard is still arranging for guests and planning topics.

Planning for GenCon

I remember when planning for GenCon was hugely terrifying and stressful. It loomed like a giant in my brain and I was always terrified that I would get it wrong. Yet this year I’m departing for GenCon in less than two weeks and the whole preparation process has felt… uncomplicated. The list of things to do was huge and complex. There are lots of niggling details I have to get right, but they’re all familiar niggling details. I know how this works. I can just do the things and not be afraid it will all fall apart. A large part of why GenCon has become routine is because we have a stable and amazingly effective ground crew who make everything possible. Without them the show would be much harder to manage.

This year is particularly fun for me, because I get to go. I’ll get to attend the writer’s symposium. I’ll get to find game professionals and ask pertinent questions about how I should put the Planet Mercenary book together. I’ll get to wander around and feed my brain with details about how the game industry works so that I can create something that will work in that space. I don’t have any scheduled program items. I won’t be tied to the booth, we have a crew for that. Though I’ll undoubtedly step in to give people breaks as necessary. I’ll get to thank the crew in person. I’ll get to spend hours talking to writer people about anything and everything.

It is going to be a good show and I’m glad I get to be there for it.

Pioneer Trek Completed

After the storm there is a calm. It is calm inside my head today and it feels strange. Only inside this calm can I see how very afraid I’ve been for at least six months. Pioneer Trek was not the only reason I was afraid, but it seemed specifically designed to punch every single fear I had. It took my family outside of our comfort zone and far away from all our usual coping strategies. It made us uncomfortable and miserable. We were obligated to a large group of people and so we had to find ways to keep going even when we felt broken. All of the struggles I’ve had with my kids were exposed to view because there wasn’t any privacy.

And that was just my emotional stuff. There was six hours of driving with an hour where the caravan of nine vehicles was stopped on the side of the road because of a faulty tire. We had another hour stopped because our bishop received word that his mother had died suddenly. It rained while we were setting up camp the first night. Then it rained again halfway through our second day of hiking. Not just rain, but cold, blowing, almost hail. We were soaked and cold. My son Link was riding in a rickshaw because the walking was too much for him. Other people had to pull him every step of the way and I felt the burden of that. By the time we came to the river crossing, no one bothered to change into their water shoes because everyone had been walking in squelching shoes for more than a mile already. Then back at camp we discovered a wet mess. We’d collapsed the tents because we worried about them blowing away in our absence. All of the tents were covered in puddles of water. Many of the tents had leaked through. Lifting the tent sent water inside of others. About half of camp had wet bedding and it was still raining. We’d taken some of the smallest kids (twelve year olds) and put them inside a heated van because hypothermia was a real possibility. We had word that our planned third day of hiking was not going to be allowed because the group who had gone out that day had to be rescued off the trail. The goal was mild hardship, not actual peril. So the leaders met and decided we needed to pack up and go home two days earlier than planned. Wet things were rolled up and stashed chaotically into the trailers. We fed everyone and then drove from six pm until midnight-thirty. The last part of the drive was through an astonishing amount of rain, thunder, and lightning, all of which was headed right toward where we would have been camping.

We spend the third day all gathered at the church building. We put tents back up to let them dry. We lay out sleeping bags and pads. We cleaned out the rented vans and ate some of the left over food. We finished up some of the planned activities and put a closing prayer on the whole thing.

All of that, plus months of advance stress. And I’m very glad for all of it. Here are the things which would not have happened if we hadn’t been miserable:

Link got to see other members of our congregation willingly pulling him along in his rickshaw. In fact there were more people who wanted turns than got them. I didn’t hear anyone complain that he got to ride when they didn’t. On the first day I broke because he had shut down and I was terrified that the experience would break him in a permanent way. By the third day I saw him working side by side with others and talking to them.

Gleek, Patch, and Kiki all checked up on me to make sure I was okay, because they saw how stressed and cold and miserable I was. They saw me cry messily. So did others and they took care of me too.

Gleek walked with me through the cold and rain, her arm around me.

Kiki stepped up and had some hard conversations with Link during the time when he was so emotionally shut down that he was ready to just sit in a van until time to go home. He talked to her about things he’s never said to anyone except me.

Patch forgot his rain poncho back at camp, so during the cold, wet walk he was completely soaked. Yet he kept going. He was one of the hypothermia kids we put into dry clothes and into a heated van as soon as we hit camp.

And those are only the specific instances that I can remember off the top of my head. More than anything else I think that the calm comes from knowing that this hard experience was really important for all the members of our family. I still don’t know why, at least not all of the whys. I do know that hard experiences force growth and we’ve been in sore need of some growth. I feel like this experience has shifted some things in me. It has built connections with our church community. It pushed all of us beyond our limits, so now we get new limits. I am less afraid of things to come, because I can’t imagine that any of it will be harder than the past three days. I feel scoured out and clean with most of the mental chaos washed away.

All that remains is to put away the camping gear, wash away the mud, and to sleep until we’re not physically tired anymore.

Projects in Process

It appears that more than a week has passed since I last posted. I was wondering how that could happen, then I made the following list of my projects in process:

Pioneer Trek
Preparing for this has been an endeavor which has required multiple shopping trips and lots of thinking. We aren’t a camping family, so there was quite a lot of gear that we didn’t already have. Or at least we didn’t have enough of. On top of that, Howard has been working hard to make sure that his work is far enough ahead that he can go internet silent for four days. So have I. This will be our longest trip away from the internet since we started running an internet based business. Also this will be the first trip since we got our cat where both us and our backyard neighbors are absent at the same time. They usually take care of her while we’re gone. So I’ve had to do quite a bit of thinking about who would care for her and what instructions I should give for the care of a cat who is accustomed to going in and out of the house as often as she can convince a human to open the door.

And then there has been a full load of anxiety attached to all of the above. I’ve spent quite a lot of energy telling myself that everything will be fine. The truth is that trek may very well be an entirely miserable experience. Or it could be a fantastic one. I don’t know how this will turn out, I just know that it is an important experience for our family to have. We felt that strongly when we agreed to go. I’ll admit that I’d like to come home and help my kids process and learn from amazing experiences instead of helping them process miserable ones. I have to remind myself that my job isn’t to make sure that my kids only have good experiences. My job is to help them learn and grow from whatever experiences they have. It is really stressful spending so much time and energy preparing for a thing without knowing how much emotional clean up we’ll have to do afterward. We leave at o’dark thirty on Tuesday.

Planet Mercenary
Howard and I have been figuring out how the workflow needs to go. He’s been doing art direction. I’ve been handling contracts. We started the process for manufacturing cards and dice. Alan continues to run playtests and tweak the rule set. I’m putting together the structural skeleton for the book, deciding how many pages will be devoted to each section.

Mental Health Management
I’ve been driving at least three and a half hours each week taking my kids to various appointments, therapy sessions, and classes. This does not include the time that I sit and wait for them while they are in these things. Though I don’t do as much sitting around as I’d expect because I tend to drop one off, drive another one, then pick one up, then pick up the other one. It is hard for me to tell if any of it is producing increased emotional stability and coping skills. I think I won’t know the results of this summer until school starts. I do know that we just revised our plan for Link. His therapist (the second one we’ve tried, and the one I thought might be able to help) is leaving. Instead of handing Link off to a new therapist, we’ve decided to take a break for a bit. We’ll let him process the classes he’s taking. And let him process the experiences he has during Trek. And let him process going to visit his grandparents without his parents also there. In addition to all of that, we’ve been doing some medicine switches. Changing mental health medicine is a slow process which requires observation. I think that things are improving. The kids are negotiating their frustrations in ways that are more productive. And that is not for lack of conflict over video games, food, space, etc. I sometimes feel guilty that I’m not providing more summer outings, but the kids are bonding over shared games, and I have to remember that is worthwhile.


Out past the trek, Howard and I will both be going to GenCon. I’m very excited about this. I’ll get to go and be with other writers. I’ll get to dwell in a professional space and put down much of the parenting things. We run a booth at GenCon, so there are lots of preparatory things we need to do. I did the big shipment of merchandise to our crew there. This past week Howard and I ordered new pins, bags, and badge holders which will be at the show. That required decisions and design time. We’re actually a bit later on ordering those than we wanted to be. Some of them will be shipped direct to us and we’ll haul them to the show in suitcases. Also in my GenCon planning was figuring out child care while we were gone. I finally decided to send the kids to stay with their grandparents. This will mean they get to fly as unaccompanied minors (direct flight, only one hour long). The boys get their trip while I’m at GenCon. The girls get their trip a week earlier. Thus I’ve arranged for the house and cat to be tended at all times. There will be more GenCon scrambling after I get back from trek, I’m sure.

Schlock Mercenary / Regular business
The usual operation of things does not stop. There are orders to fill, email to answer, and accounting to do. We’ve also got the next Schlock book in process. There are more design decisions to make with this book because it is the first of the next set.

Just like regular business does not stop, neither to regular household tasks. People need food, which requires shopping. We have defaulted into eating quite a lot of frozen food or eating out. This is hard on the budget, but does solve the problem of hunger. Though the kids are starting to talk wistfully of foods that are not microwaved. I’m hopeful that post-trek we’ll get back to meal planning and cooking more often. The other house project that is in process is preparing to paint Gleek’s room. She’s the only kid who didn’t shift rooms earlier this year, so she’s the only one who still has dingy white walls. This week Kiki and I have been helping her organize and sort her things. Gleek is old enough now that she’s ready to give away things she’s outgrown or at least store them instead of having them out. After trek we’ll pull things down from the walls, wash walls, and prepare to paint.

Blogging has been sporadic, obviously. Yet I’ve gotten started working on the revision of House in the Hollow. My goal is to have it submittable this fall. Writing is beginning to come back, which is always nice.

So that’s what I’ve been up to and what I’ll be doing in the next few weeks. I’m sure I’ll return from trek with stories to tell. Though if the stories are hard, telling them may wait a while.

Preparing to Trek

Pioneer prep
This is how I’ve spent large portions of the last few days: gathering clothes and sewing skirts. Our family will embark on a pioneer trek in just over two weeks. As you can see, historical realism isn’t really what the venture requires. We’ve got plastic buckets for luggage carriers and the fabrics I used are definitely not period. It is more of a pioneer LARP than a historical re-enactment. Howard labelled it Brigham-punk LARP. Yet we’re all going, because as a family venture it pulls us all out of our usual context and will thus spur us to growth. Theoretically. It might also spur miserableness and resentment from those who feel severely technology deprived. I might be one of them at some point. I certainly had moments of grouchiness while sewing all those skirts and thinking about all the other projects that were waiting for my attention.

This pioneer trek thing is fairly common here in Utah. My facebook page is filled with pictures of folks who’ve already been this year. I looked at their faces. Then I looked at their heads. All the men were happily wearing their hats. All the women had sun beating down on them and bonnets dangling by strings. This tells me that pioneer bonnets are annoying to wear. Note that we have hats instead. I also sewed nice big pockets into all the skirts, because if I have to hiking in a skirt, I want pockets to carry all my things.

Mostly, I’m looking forward to the trek. I like being outdoors. I don’t mind camping. I enjoy hiking. I do carry quite a bit of anxiety about how some of my kids will handle the stress and fatigue. I always get anxious if Howard is likely to be stressed, because some piece of my brain is convinced that preventing his stress is my job. (It isn’t.)

With the majority of the clothing acquired, I can move on down the list of equipment. We’ll be ready when the time comes.

Making Art

Art museums take my breath away. I am always awed by human creativity, the ways that people choose to express themselves, and how often they make simple objects needlessly beautiful. Then I stand in front of Greek marble sculptures and know that people have been doing this for a very long time. I wander to the next gallery that has ancient stone statues and I realize we have been creating art for even longer than we’ve had recorded history. That long ago sculptor was driven to create by a very similar creative impulse that leads me to write. Standing in a museum I can see all of this and I feel connected to all of the best of our history. Humans are amazing. It is nice to be reminded of that, because wading around the internet and watching the news so often shows me how humans are terrible.

I sat at the table and listened to my friend Mary plan her birthday dinner. It was to be a multi-course formal event. She picked anchor items then she planned complimentary courses. I listened to her discuss with her husband the merits and detriments of various pairings. Once the dishes were selected, they talked at length about the order of presentation. I squelched my impulse to reassure them that their guests would be happy with any order. This wasn’t about appeasing guests, they were discussing the artistic presentation of food as part of a formal dinner. I was watching art in the planning stages. Later this evening I will get to participate in the culmination of the planning, shopping, chopping, and cooking. This is not an art that will ever end up in a museum because it’s very nature is ephemeral. It is my friend raising a necessity (food) to an art form and I’m honored to be able to participate.

Dinner settings

We began our tour of the Chicago Art Institute in the miniatures gallery. In the 1930’s Mrs. Thorne took dollhouse decoration to an art form. She commissioned teams of artists to create accurate miniature replicas of period rooms. Every single one was stunning. I was most charmed when there was a doorway or window that I could peer through into a back bedroom or a garden. I very much wanted to shrink myself and go explore those gardens. I suspect that Mrs. Thorne was ridiculed on more than one occasion for wasting her time and resources on so frivolous a pursuit as miniature rooms. I think that every artist or creator has their work belittled at least once. Yet her creation is marveled at today. Her rooms are carefully preserved by museum staff so that they will be available for my great grandchildren to admire. I am grateful to the museum conservators for this and for the Greek marbles that they tend, and the impressionist paintings, and all the other things that fill my soul when I look at them.

The last gallery we wandered through at the art museum was the Folk Art gallery. I looked at weather vanes and homey little chairs. I pondered why Folk Art is different than Art. The sign on the wall implied that the difference was in training and skill. I don’t quite buy that. Some of the folk art pieces were every bit as lovely as pieces found elsewhere in the museum. Then I thought of Mary’s planned birthday dinner and of the thanksgiving dinner I created for my family last November. Mary’s dinner is an art, mine was a folk art. Mine sought first to be comfortable and pleasing. Mary’s seeks to be beautiful and esthetically pleasing both to eyes and educated palettes. There is intrinsic value in both sorts of creation. It is true that Mary and I laughed at some of the items in the Folk Art Gallery. There was one clock case made of layer upon layer of wooden strips cut into zig zag shapes. It was busy and while not exactly ugly, definitely not something I’d want to look at often. Yet I could see how much loving work had gone into the creation. Some artist loved making that clock case.

In the Thorne Miniature gallery the European rooms ran along one wall while the American rooms were on the other. Stepping from one side of the hall to the other provided a distinct contrast. The European rooms were all large and highly decorated. The American rooms were smaller and practical. Yet both were beautiful. Just as Mary’s elegant dinner and my homey dinner are both beautiful. Just as folk art and fine art are both beautiful, even when they are kind of ugly. I love that humans make things needlessly beautiful. I love that we are all artists, creating in different mediums. Some create books, others well-run classrooms. Some make buildings, others sandcastles. Some embroider tapestries, others knit scarfs. Some create with expertise and skill, others with skill-less fingers but a strong desire to make something anyway. That is how we all begin, with pure desire to create. The skill comes later.

Art museums remind me that we are all artists, we all create in our own way. I think if we spent more time remembering that, the world would have more of what is lovely about humanity and less of what is not.