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Spring is Beginning

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

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

Long Slow Remodel: Progress Today

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

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

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

Early Spring

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

Attempting a Restful Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward

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

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

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

Pandemic in February

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

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

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

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

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

Contemplation on a Pandemic Birthday

I am 48 years old today. Thus I join the increasing ranks of people who have celebrated birthdays while under pandemic restrictions. I’m a late-comer to this particular life experience. By late March everyone will be in the club. As usual in my house, pandemic changes everything and not very much. We’ve always been pretty low-key with birthdays. They tend to be immediate household with a few gifts and some tasty food. Since we’ve been doing meal-prep kits as part of our groceries, I allowed myself to pick only recipes that appealed to me rather than weighing other people’s preferences. So I’ve got three birthday meals. The thing that is truly broken is that Howard generally likes to sneak out and purchase gifts and foods for me either the day before or the day of my birthday. Unfortunately he’s the one who we’re most trying to keep away from Covid exposures, so he can’t go shopping. Pre-planned online shopping simply doesn’t click in his brain the same way.

I keep staring at my age number and wondering how I feel about it. I can feel the years in my body and see them on my face. I have no desire to hide my accumulating years or attempt to turn back the clock. Not even on the days when I feel dismayed about the softening accumulation on my body. Forty-eight is a highly divisible number, which invites retrospection. Half my life ago I had just graduated from college and was chasing a toddler while thinking about having a second child. I’d had my first surgery for tumor removal and thought that adventure was behind me. We were living in our first house and trying to make a record production company work. A third of my life ago we were five years into Schlock Mercenary, six months into trying to make it be full time work, and about to make the decision to print the books ourselves. I was six years past my second surgery and radiation therapy, but hadn’t yet faced the emotional baggage of it all. We lived in the house we have now and had our four children. That half-my-life-ago 24 year old had no idea who she would become. That third-of-my-life-ago 32 year old had started walking the pathways which led to me.

The retrospection is interesting, but turning and looking forward is more so. If me of 24 years ago had no idea who she would become, how far will I go in the next 24 years? I feel strong and confident in ways that I didn’t feel even two years ago. For the first time in eight years no one in my house is in crisis or on the brink of crisis. I’ve learned how to claim space and set boundaries. I’m excited to see what I can become and create in the years to come. I have my plans for this year, now I just need to take small daily steps toward them.

It Finally Feels Like a New Year

Today it feels like the new year has finally begun. Yesterday we shook off the last traces of obligation to 2020, and now I am free to move forward into making this year different. Much of this feeling comes from the presidential inauguration yesterday. I have a sense of profound relief that Trump has been rendered irrelevant instead of being a hazard that I had to keep track of. The first moves of the incoming administration have been focused on increasing access (the white house website is available in Spanish again,) setting expectations for behavior (telling the attorney general’s office they work for the people, not the president. Telling staff that they’re expected to be polite and respectful or be fired,) and setting plans into motion to manage vaccine administration for the ongoing pandemic. For the first time in four years, I am pleased with the direction my government is aiming. I expect that I will not always be pleased in the four years that are coming. To paraphrase a quote I saw on twitter: I am looking forward to being frustrated and disappointed by my government instead of being horrified and mortified by it.

Yet the shift in governance isn’t the only source for my new year feeling. My youngest son passed his final GED exam. None of my kids are in school anymore. Instead of finishing up this final necessary thing, we can look forward to what we want to come next. Unfortunately for him, the very next thing is getting his wisdom teeth removed. But after that, he can look around at options and decide what he wants his life to be. We have a list of short term projects: learning some video editing so that he can be a better-paid skilled assistant for our family business, learning about computer components so that he can build a new machine for himself, continuing driving practice to get his license. Medium term might include getting a out-of-the-house job once warm weather and vaccinations reduce pandemic risks. Long term, no one knows. That’s all fuzzy with too many variables to decipher. We don’t need to try to bring it into focus for now.

It is really nice to see my two youngest starting to grow and plan their lives. I don’t think it is a coincidence that most of the growth started happening in early November, right after the election demonstrated that maybe the world wasn’t completely doomed. I’m excited that they’re in an emotional state where I can start teaching them real-world assistant skills that could translate to jobs where their mom is not their employer. Because I can teach them these skills, more things become possible for me. I’m able to teach classes and host online social events because I know I’ll have help.

A third thing that is making the year feel new, is that I gave the final approval to print on the Big Dumb Objects book project. This book has been something of an albatross for almost two years. We had to scrap and re-do the bonus story twice. The Kickstarter for it was delayed by the massive expenses and disruption of our 2019 plumbing disaster and related home renovations. Then fulfilling the Kickstarter was disrupted by Howard’s health crashing and the pandemic. Slowly we managed to find our footing. Now the book is done. The next time we have to think about it will be when the shipments of books arrive and I need to mail several thousand packages. That is familiar work for which I’ll have two skilled assistants.

I taught a class and it worked. I finished a draft for a personally impactful essay. I’ve got a short story in process. I’ve got a research projects to find agents who rep middle grade and picture books. I’ve got plans for building community and connecting with other creatives. I’ve set myself some creative goals. I’ve even told myself firmly that I need to settle into these new obligations before saying yes to any other things I decide I want to do.

The year feels new, and that means it is time to get to work.

Permission Granted

Early in my daughter’s senior year of high school she came home excitedly telling me about a group of friends who were planning a road trip to Disneyland after graduation. She was wondering if I would let her go. I pointed out to her that she was due to turn 18 in a couple of months, and that meant she could make her own decisions about things like road trips. If she could pay for it, she could give herself permission to go. “I can do that?” she asked, amazed. For a dozen reasons the trip did not actually happen, but I still remember that moment, seeing my daughter have a dawning realization of adulthood. That she could just give herself permission to do things and then do them.

Which is where I find myself today. I taught a class online to a group of fifteen people. It wasn’t part of a conference or other event. I just wanted to teach, so I set it up, solved the tech hurdles, announced my plan, and made it happen. Inside me there is a much younger version of me who is amazed that I just went ahead and did the thing, who has spent the last eight months asking “are you sure we can do this?” But I did do it, and people bought tickets. Then they came and asked good questions, shared interesting resources, and smiled or nodded as I taught. I gave myself permission to be an expert and people showed up and treated me like one.

I’m so glad I found the courage to make this thing happen, even though it felt scary. Even though my anxiety was a resisting force at every step. I got to teach a class today and I’m very glad it all worked. I feel energized and exhausted. I feel like I put something useful into the world and helped people along their own creative path. I feel like I made a good thing happen with only my own decision and determination. Now I’m going to go collapse and do something comfortable. Next week is soon enough to do another brave thing.

From My Newsletter

Most of the “letter” portions of my newsletter are focused on creativity or what is going on in my life. This one was different, because the past week was different. If you’re interested in subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you can do that here.

Dear Readers,

At the beginning of a new year I would like to be focused on my excitement for the projects I have planned, the classes I get to teach, ways I plan to move forward. I do talk about those things down in the Projects in Process section of this newsletter, but here in the letter itself my focus must be different this month. The recent riot at the US capitol building has reminded me of my responsibilities as a citizen. I join those who are calling for accountability for all the people whose words helped spark the riot and the people who physically did the damage.

Note that I say accountability rather than justice or punishment. I am choosing my words carefully in this letter so that they can carry my meaning precisely. I have been doing a lot of listening to friends who are prison abolitionists. I’m not fully on board with having no prisons at all, but they make some powerful points about accountability and restorative justice compared to simple justice/punishment models. Simply locking up a perpetrator may prevent imagined further harm, but it does not take steps to heal the damage which has already been done. My country needs accountability, restoration, and healing right now. Achieving that is far more complicated than merely imprisoning some people, though it definitely begins with taking power away from people who used their power to induce others to cause harm, and to prevent those who physically caused harm from doing more.

Power. This is a word and concept I have been considering a lot, particularly in the months since George Floyd’s death and my conscious commitment to anti-racism. It is so easy to feel powerless against national-scale events: pandemics, insurrection. On some level that is true. I am such a small pebble in the flowing river of my country. There is no way for me to change the course of the whole river, however when I focus my attention on the entire river, I miss seeing how much power I actually have. My pebble is tiny, but my learning about privilege has shown me that I do have some power over every molecule of water that I touch as it flows past. I can position myself to shelter those who need space to grow safe from heavy current. I can boost people and shore them up. I have a lot of power to influence the world that directly surrounds me and the people to whom I’m connected by social networks both online and in real life.

Learning to recognize my power comes slowly and counter-intuitively for me. I’m mired in social norms that teach women to stay behind the scenes, keep everything running, but don’t seek attention. Yet behind-the-scenes people who keep things running have enormous power. They are the ones who maintain status quo, or choose to disrupt it. This is where accountability comes in. On a national scale we have to look at the people whose decisions supported and empowered people who then decided to breach the capitol building to try to change the outcome of an election. What decisions gave that movement space to grow? This question must be asked of elected officials, tech companies, judges, and private citizens. With a follow up question of: what are you going to do differently going forward to prevent this from happening again?

The thing about accountability is that it has to apply to all levels of power, even my tiny pebble level. We may all be pebbles, but we all participated in the sequence of events that let up to the deaths of five people and the riot at the capitol building. We are all accountable for the things we say, the memes we share, the “jokes” we let pass unchallenged, the times we didn’t speak up because we didn’t want to upset anyone. We must each examine how we move through the world and ask ourselves if our small daily choices are really consistent with who we want to be. If we want to be healers, we must put in the work to heal. If we want to be anti-racist we must make ourselves and others uncomfortable by pointing out systems that keep us all mired in racism. If we want to be inclusive, we must actively look to see who is missing from our spaces and do the work to invite them in and empower them. Accountability work is hard and it never ends. We will have periods in our lives where we need to rest from pushing ourselves to be better, but after we rest we must pick up and work at it again. Particularly those who inhabit positions of privilege, which is almost all of us in one way or another. (Most people also inhabit places of disadvantage simultaneously with their priviledge. The one doesn’t cancel out the other, nor does it negate our responsibility to be accountable for our power. But that is an additional essay.)

As I watch the aftermath of the riots unfold, I have to remind myself that no amount of doomscrolling will give me a control rod on national-level events. However holding myself accountable does give me power. I must seriously consider how I affect the things and people I can touch. In my case, I’m going to stay politically engaged and communicate with my elected officials about my opinions. I will continue my personal anti-racism education. I will be more willing to speak my thoughts about the world at large, even when (or perhaps especially when) I think those thoughts will bring criticism. I will work on speaking up against the small incidents because challenging bad behavior on a micro-level is actually a kindness to everyone. It allows people to correct their bad behavior without there needing to be An Incident. Incidents create hurt and defensiveness which leads people to entrench in bad behavior. I’m more likely to choose the “pull person aside and discuss behavior” route than the “public confrontation” route, but I also need to be willing to deploy public confrontation if it is called for. I’m sure as I go forward I will find additional ways I can be better as I move through the world. And on that thought I want to borrow the words of Maya Angelou:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I hope whether you’re a US resident contemplating the current mess, or a resident elsewhere seeing it from afar, you use this opportunity to recognize the power you do have to make the world a better place, and that you choose to use that power wisely.

All the best,

Sandra