I Surfaced and then Dove Back In

After writing a lovely post about being called back to my writer self, I dove head first into X-treme Dungeon Mastery Second Edition. This is the book that completely took over my life in April/May of 2009. I remember the crazy scramble to get it all done. We are once again having a crazy scramble to get it rearranged and new sections written. I’m very excited about the project and tremendously proud of what we did the first time around and what we’re doing now. We’ve even set up the Kickstarter Prelaunch page.

However the long hours and fatigue have also woken sleeping demons of self doubt. They’ve been loud the past couple of days to the point where it is sometimes hard to focus on the project at hand. It is also hard to find spare brain space for blogging. I’m either actively working on XDM2e, or I’m actively trying to make my brain rest from working/fretting, or I’m trying to catch up on family administration tasks which aren’t politely waiting for me to be done with my project. Laundry is so rude that way. (Also I can’t make my son wait to get his first job just because I don’t want to drive him to the interview. He aced it and starts next week. It’s nice that his forward momentum is happening despite me instead of because of me.)

I’m loving the work on XDM2e and I’m terrified that I’m doing it wrong. I’m thrilled with what we have planned and I’m afraid we’re ruining the book. So that is my current status. Hopefully I’ll emerge a bit when we launch the Kickstarter in August. Though blogging might remain slow until September when the Kickstarter is currently scheduled to close.

Looking Back Two Years

Yesterday I was standing in the kitchen while he talked through the things he plans to do this week. He was talking fast and the list was long, but he was energetic and optimistic about the work ahead. This is a version of Howard I haven’t seen for more than two years, one I wasn’t certain we would ever get back. I spent twenty-five years running to keep up with Howard, then the last two waiting while he moved much more slowly. During those two years I had to face the possibility that this was our new normal. That we simply had to adapt to a different set of capabilities than what we had before. Two years ago Howard switched his mental health meds, then we had a house disaster that disrupted our work spaces for six months, then our daughter got married, then Howard got sick for eight months, and while he was being sick the world threw a pandemic. Then we ended the daily comic around which our lives had been structured for twenty years and we had to figure out what comes next. All of that lingered physically, financially, and emotionally until about two months ago.

Two months ago we got vaccinated, and we finally got the last pieces to deliver packages to our Kickstarter backers. Then Howard streamed all his sketches and life schedule clicked into place. Somewhere in the last month, Howard started popping awake before I do. He started being excited to get up and face the challenges of the day.

On Monday I shipped out the last of the packages for Big Dumb Objects. It feels like closing the book on the past two years. Time to launch ourselves into what comes next. I’m glad we get to launch with Howard back up to speed. I’m glad we had some time where we were forced to live slower. The enforced slowness taught us different ways to be. It gave us space to build a different structure around ourselves, one that values process equally with product. We have many projects we plan to work on in the next six months, but for today I want to pause and be glad for the past two years, and to be grateful that we now get to shift into something new.

Explaining My Work

A challenge I sometimes face is answering the question “What are you working on?” asked in a writing context. Many of my writer friends have a single book they are focused on, sometimes for years. My focus is always rolling and shifting, responsive to dozens of things that are not easily visible to people who are not privy to our behind-the-scenes business choices nor our private family needs. At the beginning of this year I had three months in a row where most of the other things had quieted and I was able to focus on professional expansion for myself on both teaching and writing fronts. During the second three months writing and teaching went dormant while I managed Kickstarter fulfillment. The third three months look to also have heavy Kickstarter commitments in them. I’m going to try to do a better job balancing and giving space to Sandra Tayler: Teacher and Sandra Tayler: Writer, but we need the income running a Kickstarter will bring to us. This means that Kickstarter administration gets to take over my brain for a while.

What am I working on? Well, that depends on how you define “working on.” Do you mean which things am I going to spend time and creative energy on today? This week? Or do you mean what projects do I have pending that I plan to return to? How do I describe projects which are paused for months or years, not because they’re not important, but because in the ever-jostling evaluation of how I should spend my time today keeps pushing them off the schedule? What about the dream projects which I don’t even have the chance to pick up because of all the other things? And how do I explain that no, really, my life has calmed down quite a lot since before the pandemic?

Explaining my job becomes even more complex when I’m talking to a person who doesn’t even have the framework to understand a variable income creative career. I end up having to pare things down, tell only a piece of what is going on. Whichever piece will fit neatly inside the conversation I’m having without having to expand the conversation. It really isn’t polite to hold up a grocery line to explain to the clerk that my plans for the afternoon involve printing postage and shipping out 100 packages that I need to send to Kickstarter backers. The clerk is making small talk, I give small answers in response.

My life feels so normal to me with all of its shifting schedules and moving furniture around to create space for projects. It is only when I try to explain a piece of it to someone else that I remember most people have a predictable paycheck and a daily schedule that is set by other people. I sometimes envy that regularity and other times I am very glad to have my flexibility.

Still Submerged

I’m still mid shipping. I have hopes that by the end of next week I will have all of the packages in the mail. At that point I can take a deep breath and decide what is next. I’ve also decided that next week is not allowed to have any appointments in it. This week I’ve spent every minute running from thing to thing to thing. I want more space next week. Unfortunately appointments are already accumulating in the week after next, but they won’t be too much if I can finish the shipping next week. This next week will also feature some behind-the-scenes decision making that will determine the shape of my July and August projects.

I’m tired. I wake up tired, which tells me that I’m depleting reserves and need to schedule some slower time in the near future. I did have a bit of serendipity yesterday. The packing paper delivery was delayed by a day which meant I couldn’t do shipping yesterday. Instead I knocked out a bunch of other tasks and errands. Hopefully the packing paper will arrive before today’s scheduled shipping. Otherwise the shipping gets pushed off onto Saturday instead. Or Monday.

But in between all the shipping and errands and appointments. Life is good. I can tell that some of this busy-ness will subside soon and I’m looking forward to that.

Down Periscope

For the past three weeks I’ve been focused on sending packages of books to Kickstarter backers. This effort coincided with lots of the social / community events which were pandemic canceled now being post-vaccination rescheduled. It is all good, but it has also been taking up so much of my brain that time to process and write has been in short supply. Today was spent giving energy and rides to people I love and who I want to see succeed. Now the day still has hours in it, but I’ve used up most of my brain power allotment. So here is a list of things I’d like to write about thoughtfully and at length:

Being surprised to not have more emotions about going back to places like church or seeing people in person for the first time in more than a year. Wondering if that is an indicator of my own increased emotional health, or just the natural result of my introverted nature.

The ways my kids have grown up and stepped up to take assistant roles in the shipping process. They’re problem solving rather than waiting for direction which is not who they were when we last shipped books two years ago.

Finding value in developing accountability systems like a weekly grocery shopping date with my married daughter that gives us a regular social hangout while also accomplishing a necessary life task.

The development of video and livestreaming as a part of our lives that is likely to continue for a long time to come.

The frustration of wanting to be part of digitally including more people in an organization (church) but being blocked from doing so by someone who can’t see why I would even want to do that. I’m not giving up at one blockage, but some brain is going into problem solving this.

Noticing that despite not having big emotions about returning to pre-pandemic activities and relationships, I am definitely seeing and moving through these communities differently. The work I’ve put into learning about advocacy for the marginalized has me noticing who isn’t in the room and thinking about why.

The specific work I’m putting into community building and individual mentoring which is being very emotionally rewarding for me, but which I can’t talk about in too much detail because the stories aren’t mine to tell.

Being happy to see the blue jays in our yard, but also recognizing that they are bully birds who drive away other birds and prevent my old lady kitty from sitting outside enjoying the sunshine. Then pondering how similar dynamics might play out in human situations.

Ignoring the news and much of social media because I have no energy to spend on advocacy or relationship building beyond the community and people right in front of me. I’ll get back to having a wider focus later.

I have a newsletter to write this week. I hope I can find enough focus to say something more coherent than this list.

At the End of a Shipping Week

I’ve been busy with shipping all week long. Shipping is a lot of physical labor and an overload of micro decisions. You can get a feel for the complexity of the process by reading one or more of the shipping updates that I post to the Kickstarter each Friday. We’re now in week three of shipping. Usually by this time I would have moved from shipping unsketched orders into sketched ones, but the addition of slipcases has slowed down the packing process considerably. To add to the complexity, Howard has been livestreaming every sketch. This has actually been enjoyable both for Howard and for the small group of friends and fans who come to hang out with him while he works. I’m hoping that when the sketching is done, Howard can incorporate streaming into his regular creative process.

Today I didn’t ship out any packages, focusing instead on running a few errands, managing some household tasks, assisting with the streaming, writing the Kickstarter shipping update, and prepping for family movie night. One of the wins for today was acquiring some chairs for our patio. I eventually want to have a patio set that is lovely to look at while being comfortable for lounging, but that sort of thing takes time to locate and a significant chunk of money to acquire. Instead I grabbed these.

They are solid, plastic, stackable, sturdy, and comfortable for sitting. They solve the immediate problem of not having anywhere to sit and enjoy the patio that I spent most of last summer creating. The aesthetics of these chairs don’t make my heart sing. I’m not sure I picked the right color, but they’ll be nice to have anyway. And when I do manage to find the perfect patio set, these can be stacked out of the way to only be brought out when we have more guests than our perfect set has chairs to accommodate. It is a solid win, especially at just over $20 per chair.

Now we launch into a weekend where we’ll get to see family in person for the first time in more than a year. After that, there is another week of shipping to do.

May Slipping Away and the Return of Shipping

Last week our shipment of books finally arrived. This instantly plunged me into organization for book signing, sketching, and shipping. It has been more than two years since we did a big shipping. In that time there have been multiple updates to shipping software so I’m having to relearn how to integrate everything. I love that I no longer need to keep a file box of manually sorted pieces of paper. The software does a lot of the sorting for me. The learning is fairly straightforward, but it is occupying some creative time and space. On top of that, Howard wants to be able to live stream the book sketching, which is a great idea, but has also required a lot of rethinking our spaces. We ended up evicting the large sectional from the family room so we can set up the livestreaming spot. The sectional is dismantled and sitting in a pile in the garage. Once we’re done with the sketching we can decide what is to be done with it, because in some ways it wasn’t the best piece of furniture for how we actually use the room.

With all the shifting of boxes and shifting of furniture and learning new processes, May is more than halfway done. I’m hopeful that I can get the first glut of shipping complete and settle into a steady process for getting all of the other packages sent. Then I’ll be able to reclaim my contemplative time and writing time.

One thing that is bringing me joy is that a pair of blue jays have nested in our yard. We haven’t actually found the nest, but the jays are around all the time and they spend significant amounts of that time peering in our windows and yelling at our cats. They watch the people too, but they don’t yell at the people. So we end up with chittering cats who are bird watching and yelling blue jays who are cat watching. Fun for everyone!

I need to clean my windows and get some better pictures.

Prompts and Personal History

My artist daughter Keliana has been participating in Mermay in which the goal is to draw a mermaid each day during the month of May. It has been fun for me to see her art go up on her Patreon, some of them finished, some only sketches, some with stories attached, others just images. In the past I’ve participated in similar prompt lists focused on photography. They can be very useful ways to spark new ways of seeing the world, to create things that otherwise would not have occurred to you. I really like that aspect, but my primary art isn’t visual, it is words. So I wondered if I could find my own prompt list to help me create more variety in the things I blog about. I also wondered if I could use a list to remind me to write about pieces of my life that otherwise get missed. I’d had an entire train of thought the other day about how during the first stages of the pandemic I was very focused on recording what daily life was like because it was suddenly different. Except in the Before Times I neglected to record daily life, and now that the pandemic is winding down, I’m again not recording daily life as much. So as a historical record, my recountings of pandemic existence lack a basis for comparison. Perhaps prompts would help me provide that basis. I figured that searching for personal history prompts might be a good place to start. I found these sites: 1, 2, 3

I gleaned out a set of prompts that might be interesting to write about. I was very amused how one site assumed some very specific things about who I was as a person and what my life had been like. It assumed my parents were dead, that I missed them, and that I had grandchildren I wanted to give advice to because I was myself approaching death. Only one of those things applies to me. (I do miss my parents because they live several states away and pandemic made visiting verboten for more than a year.) And then there were questions like this one: How common was working mothers in your day? Have working mothers been good or bad for our society? Explain why or why not. Which, yes, does possibly prompt a person to write something about their life experience and opinions, but wasn’t matched with a question about working fathers and whether they had been good or bad for society. I am side-eyeing the assumptions around that question and lack of matching question. So I’ve … adjusted… several of the prompts so that the shape of them doesn’t irk me.

(For the record: Working mothers have always been common throughout all of history. It is just that during a period of about fifty years in white, American, middle-and-upper class families there was a narrative that somehow having mothers work outside the home was an aberration that caused problems for society. Does Mom working cause problems? Yup. Does Mom being a home maker and domestic worker and childcare provider cause problems? Also yup. I’ve been both of those Moms. I’m in favor of providing families with choices and support so they can decide their own best balance.)

So there in the parenthetical I’ve answered my own first prompt. I don’t plan to do these daily. I have enough creative projects in progress without assigning myself another one to track. But sometimes I want to write a blog post and feel a little stuck on where to start. Now I have a set of prompts to pull from. In the meantime if you want to see some fun Mermay pictures, you can become one of Keliana’s patrons for only a dollar.

A List of Small Updates

The last few weeks have been a period of calm accomplishment. I’m trying not to measure the value of my life in “things done,” but when living a life where most days are similar to each other and weekly patterns repeat themselves, sometimes I can lose a sense of progress. At those times it is useful to look back at the state of things six months or a year ago and see how all the small efforts and changes added up over time. So, as I enter a spring and summer that will probably look a great deal like the ones I had last year, now seems like a good time to record some status reports.

I bought Scrivener today. I’ve felt daunted by the thought of learning how to use it, but I was also daunted by the process of organizing thoughts into a novel. My first draft was one giant word document and I longed for the ability to separate out chapters or scenes to view them separately. Then I found my way into a process for brainstorming my novel’s plot that involved 4×6 cards and a file box. This made the organizational portion of my brain very happy. It is tacitlely satisfying to write notes on a card and then drop it into place. However I could already see that the method is not particularly portable and impossible to back up. So when I learned that Scrivener allows me to create scene cards and shuffle them around in the same ways that I would with physical cards, I decided to give it a try.

All of this shuffling of card and learning of digital tools is because I’m taking another run at finishing my middle grade novel. I’m scavenging my first draft for parts as I pull a sub-plot into being the main plot, let go of some of the ideas that don’t fit anymore, and adding additional threads of lore. This discovery phase is being fun. I hope to have the novel re-drafted by July because a friend of mine with experience writing and publishing middle grade has offered to do a critical read of the book and I’m using that offer as a motivational deadline. It feels good to have a specific creative focus and to prioritize writing.

Teaching classes is on hold until July. (Yes this fits nicely with focusing on fiction writing during that same period.) But even though I’m not focused on teaching, I’m still collecting bits and pieces that will go into my next classes. I have some I’m very excited about. I’ve also pitched some of the classes to a writing conference in the fall. Hopefully they’ll pick them up and I’ll get to teach several classes there. I’m also working with a graphic designer to create some logos for myself and for the creative community that I’m trying to foster. I hope to have images to share soon. And, as I posted the other day, I’ve been dressing up my Zoom corner. So “on hold” doesn’t mean “nothing happening.” It just means that I’m letting that portion of my brain simmer while I’m sending most of my energy into other things.

The next big home improvement task is moving the door into the garage. This is a multi-step project that starts by moving food storage shelves out of the way. I’m breaking it down into bite sized pieces and doing a little bit at a time rather than letting the size of the whole thing make me stop. I’m also waiting (and waiting, and waiting, and waiting) for our tax return to come in so I can afford to buy a new door. I’m now on week six of waiting. I don’t like waiting.

Outside the house I managed to accomplish the critical early spring tasks. I cut back our pear tree so it can (hopefully) recover from blight, and I cut back our grape vines so I could build a new structure for them. More structure needs to be built, but at least they are set up for a good growing season. Later this week I hope to tear grass out of an old flower bed and scatter a bag full of Utah-native wildflower seeds. I want to re-wild portions of our yard and make it more wildlife friendly. Mostly that means birds and bugs. My neighborhood doesn’t get wild mammals larger than mice. However if I could convince a family of quail to take up residence, that would make me very happy.

The kids are all in fairly stable configurations. Growth is slow and sometimes in odd directions, but bit by bit they’re beginning to claim adulthood. For the most part my job is to stay out of their way and not make their lives too easy. They need to practice doing some of the small life maintenance things which are so second nature to me now that I’ll often do the things for my kids without thinking about it. So my job is to think, and to leave the small mess, or the small task, for my kid to (eventually) notice and do for themselves.

Howard is still working on creating process for his next comics projects. He keeps running into mental roadblocks, and he keeps being frustrated by his own lack of productivity. Again, my job is to stay out of the way.

In pandemic news, Utah is on a low-level plateau. The removal of the statewide mask mandate didn’t cause even a blip in the plateau. Possibly because I didn’t notice much behavioral change. Most retail stores and schools are still requiring masks. However church gatherings and activities are coming back up to pre-pandemic levels in the next couple of weeks. By “pre-pandemic levels” I mean that there will be as many hours, but masks are still expected and social distancing is the norm. We’ll have to see how that affects the numbers. I think it is a reasonable next experiment as we all try to figure out how much the vaccination effort is helping and what life patterns we can reclaim from the before times. In another ten days everyone in my house will be fully vaccinated. So venturing to church in person is something that we’ll be trying, and possibly retreating from if we discover it to be panic inducing. Slowly life is taking on a new shape yet again. However I’m still not planning on traveling this year and not going to any big conventions.

I have many mixed thoughts about the ways that pandemic have exposed privilege. I can’t help but compare the current crisis in India with the US having piles of open vaccine appointments with no one showing up for them. I have friends in Canada who are locked down and would love to be vaccinated. And I compare that to what I contemplate happening in my life in the next few months. It isn’t fair. I know that life has never been fair, but all the unfairness keeps being in the front and center of my attention. For the most part, I can’t fix it. So I focus on telling stories that help people whether they’re in the form of blog posts, tweets, middle grade novels, picture books, or letters.

Fixing Up My Zoom Corner

One thing that the pandemic made necessary was setting up a space in my house where I could manage Zoom meetings and classes. I claimed a corner of the bedroom and set up this.

It functioned really well for the past six months, but I discovered that having a green screen behind me created a fuzzyness to my video images that I did not like. I wanted a real background. I also wanted a corner that was pleasant to look instead of a corner that looked and felt jumbled. So I pulled everything out, painted that corner (to cover up the gray stripes marking the location of wall studs) and put up some shelves. I like it a lot better now.

I have flat spaces to put lecture notes, shelves to display attractive things, and a place that is generally pleasant to look at. I finally mounted and hung my two original drawings from Strength of Wild Horses. I also invested in a better webcam so that when I teach and record classes, I’ll have a clearer image to work with. The view via Zoom also looks pretty good.

The last piece I need for the space is a footstool because the height of my chair doesn’t let my feet sit flat on the floor. I went shopping and found some functional ones at reasonable prices, but my heart caught on this fellow.

He was more expensive, but Howard pointed out that sometimes it is okay to pay for joy. So I placed the order and he is coming to live with me. His name is Clyde.

So now I’m set up to host more online classes, attend online social events, and visit with friends. This is good, because even with vaccinations, most of my connections with other writers will be online this year.