Life is not slow in the weeks before GenCon. It is also not slow when I’m in the middle of Kickstarter fulfillment. Particularly not when the first batch of shirts arrives incorrect and my contact at the manufacturer seems to have a magical ability to answer questions I didn’t ask and not quite answer questions that I did. It is like every communication is a near miss. I’d already decided never to do another t-shirt related kickstarter, I’ve also decided not to work with this particular company again. Which is sad because when we used them a few years ago, they were great. However, as of Saturday I have all of the items I ordered and 5/6th of them are correct. At least I think they are. Monday’s job is to carefully count quantities of colors and sizes.
In between dealing with shirts, I spent most of my week scrambling to put together promotional materials for GenCon. The last several years at the booth we’ve said things like “I wish we had Schlock URL cards” or “It would be really good to have a single sheet about Planet Mercenary that people could look at.” It is a lost opportunity to spend so much time, effort, and money to run a booth and then not have these basic marketing tools. This year we will have them. finally. They’re done and I just have to go get them printed up on Monday.
On the home front, one of my kids has finally decided to take their medicine (literally,) and their world has gotten measurably better. Which is what medicine is supposed to do. I’m still in the emotional place where I’d really like for the solution to be that simple, but I’m not quite believing that it is.
It’s also been about a month since we added a third cat to our household. His name is Milo and he’s a littermate of Callie, who we adopted last February. Last February the people who owned both of them planned to keep Milo as an emotional support animal. But this summer they realized that the ways their lives are changing, Milo would be happier if he could be reunited with his sister. He came to us on July 3rd. We’ve spend the requisite few weeks acclimatizing all the cats to each other. Callie and Milo hissed and growled at first, but now they get along great.
It is interesting to watch how the differing personalities of the cats fit different emotional needs in our household. Milo is the one who is content to be held and snuggled. Callie continues to be charming and a creature of instinct. Kikaa is less grouchy about the intrusion of other cats now that the younger ones pounce on each other instead of attempting to pounce on her.
All is going well, and I have a busy week and a half ahead of me before I depart for GenCon.
In preparation for my presentations at GenCon, I’ve been reading materials about breaking creative blocks and organizing a creative life. A thought I keep encountering is that my days should match my dreams. Any future with my words published begins with a today where I wrote those words. Any future where I am healthier begins with a today when I took time to tend to my health. I won’t have the life or dreams that I want unless I am willing to sacrifice pieces of today’s time and comfort in service of those dreams. The hard part is that every thing I want to do requires me to give up some other thing that I also want to do. Even worse, many of the things which carry me closer to my dreams require me to give up something that is comfortable/happy in order to do something that is uncomfortable/difficult. However if I just do a few things every day, over time they become easier to do, less uncomfortable, and I begin to see progress.
I shipped out the last of the RAM books this morning. That concludes a Kickstarter that began last October. I was also notified that the big shipment of shirts will arrive on Friday. Once that arrives and is shipped out, I will have completed the second Kickstarter. It is possible that by the time I leave for GenCon I will have zero pending Kickstarters. Even if we pull of an amazing scramble to get the next two Schlock books ready, I’m not likely to launch that Kickstarter until I get back from GenCon.
Right now our business plan and personal finances have us going from Kickstarter to Kickstarter. The landscape of ways that audience, internet, and software tools interact means that we have to constantly be evaluating what combinations are best to supply stories to our audience while also being able to pay our bills. One of the next experiments on the list is to try out Print on Demand products like shirts. Because I am never again planning to do a shirt based Kickstarter. The logistics on this one have been convoluted at every step. In theory POD products give customers more choices and me less inventory to manage. It is a worthwhile experiment.
Through all the business experimentation and shifting, both Howard and I are constantly aware that pretty much all of our income is based in Schlock Mercenary. We’d like to have other income sources, other books, other worlds. Unfortunately it is sometimes difficult for me to shake free from all of the administrative work so that I can focus on the creative work necessary to make other income sources happen.
When I was young and trying to picture my adult life, Small Business Owner was nowhere on the list. I did not know that to be an author also requires me to run a small business.
GenCon is looming large in my attention. I only have three weeks until departure. Most of the organizational work is done, but the writer’s symposium schedulers expressed an enormous amount of faith in me. I pitched five presentations expecting them to pick two or maybe three. They put all five on the schedule. I’m excited about this, but I have to make sure that I am up to speed on all of the presentations. I need to do this well, and that means brushing up in advance and making sure I have the latest available information.
But first I need to get past this week, which has a cluster of appointments for family related things.
If I were not worried about money, how would I spend today? It is a thought experiment. It isn’t the question of unlimited money and how that would transform my life, but just one of current needs met. If I could maintain my status quo, bills paid, with no additional effort, what then? The exercise is designed to help me see my priorities. Which work would I step away from because it is motivated by the need for money? Which work would I lean into because it is work I truly want to do? My answers change depending on the day. For today, I would spend the day more like I do when I’m on a writing retreat. I would go for walks in pretty places. I would read. I would think thoughts. And I would write. Other days I discover more of a desire to organize and improve my spaces.
With the thought experiment complete, I now need to figure out how to shoehorn into my day some of the things I would do if my day were unconstrained.
The number of blog entries that I partially write and then never finish is significant these days. It is increasingly hard to tease out stories I can tell on the internet from those that are too personal, too religious, too political, or simply not mine to tell. Would-be memoirists are told that they have to be bold and willing to give offense in telling their truths. I can see why when I read a memoir or blog and I am not given a full emotional picture because the writer has chosen to protect something. The words become vague rather than powerful when they are separated from full context. Yet there are relationships and duties that I prize more than I prize being a writer of raw truth. So I myself am intentionally vague at times. That likely limits my audience and reach. It also means that I will begin a post only to discover that the threads of thought are tangled up with something I choose not to share with the internet. So I leave the post fallow, incomplete.
I trust the internet less than I used to. In the past two years the level of anger and vitriol expressed on the internet has increased greatly. The algorithms of social media have had the unintended consequence of turning people I know to be good, into people who generalize and speak dismissively of others. I watch as people I used to enjoy interacting with either become unpleasant to read, or step away, drop out, vanish from the homes they used to inhabit online. I do not wish to vanish, but I have always been a person who falls silent when the conversation gets loud / vigorous / contentious. Yet on the internet to be silent is to vanish.
Every day on social media I see people shouting about causes that are important. Every moment has some emergency where I should signal boost, or send money, or lend my small weight toward swaying the choices of legislators. I could spend every penny and every minute on these causes. But then I would be in need of rescue. In scrambling to answer crises, I would have failed in doing the creative work which has the potential to heal on a larger scale. I am a teller of stories. I always have been. Stories are the most valuable piece of what I have to give to the world. Stories help us decide who we are as individuals. Shared stories are how we decide who to be as communities. So I measure out a portion of my time to crises, and a portion to daily maintenance, and a large share to the people who are mine to teach/serve/love directly, and a portion to the possibility of a brighter future. A brighter future that I help create by taking the time to craft words into stories which then move people, who then move society in better directions.
This is why I will come back to writing, even after a period of unintended silence. It is why, after dozens of abandoned blog posts, I will find the way to finish some.
This past week we’ve had workers in our house doing some construction. I sometimes feel self conscious about the conspicuous consumption involved in home improvement projects. I was raised in the “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” school of thought. However I’ve increasingly become aware that the way we arrange our living spaces directly impacts how we live inside those spaces. If I am constantly surrounded by things that are falling apart, it contributes to me not making effort to take care of my surroundings. On the other hand, if my surroundings are beautiful to my eyes, I feel more at peace in my life. Unfortunately, beautiful is often the more expensive option, so it has been a long time coming. In fact, we’re working to re-make our house a little bit at a time. This week we finally had the funds to fix up the stairs.
Here is what our front entry looked like before any work was done. The big blocky thing you see to the left was a coat closet. You may infer from the hooks with coats on them that this closet was filled with things which we rarely had a need to access. It was shove space. And it was taking up square footage at the entrance to our house.
About eighteen months ago I decided that the closet needed to be removed. So I dismantled it. Unfortunately right after the dismantling we hit a financial tight patch and we ended up living with bare studs for the next year and a half.
This is what the space looks like today.
We have beautiful railing where once there was a big block of shove space. obviously there is still work to do. The wall needs paint, the flooring has to be replaced, and there will be additional fittings to make this front entry way a better place to put coats, backpacks and other items that are taken off when entering the house.
But I’m so glad that visitors to my house are no longer greeted with this view.
Instead they get to see this.
And when I’m sitting in my kitchen I don’t see this anymore.
Instead I have a view of beautiful railing and the front door.
These railings are only the beginning. They define how we want our main floor to one day look. They are a promise to ourselves that bit by bit we will make our primary living area into one that makes us glad to enter instead of one that constantly frustrates us.
Sometimes I read an online article and I want to keep track of it for some reason. I might want to write a blog post. I might be planning to send the link to someone else, but now isn’t the right moment. It might be any one of a dozen things. What I tend to do in a case like this is paste the link into an email draft then close it. I was doing some digital housecleaning and noticed that my drafts folder had topped 50. Keeping links in email drafts is a sloppy way to store them. So instead I’m going to put all of them into a blog post with an easily searchable title. This is something of an experiment to see if this works as a long term link storage mechanism. So here are things I wanted to keep track of in the past several years, roughly sorted by category.
A checklist for making sure your business is GDPR compliant.
A guide to getting started setting up a Shopify Point of Sale.
A list of crowdfunding options that can be linked to a website.
A detailed set of instructions on how to correct identity theft and credit problems. This was very thorough and explained not just what to do, but why doing these things was for your benefit.
Things about Mental health or parenting
An article saying that the increase in teen depression is probably caused by screen use, which I want to site in an eventual blog post talking about how the picture is far more complex both societally and personally than “screens are to blame, take them away.”
A concrete guide for parents who want sensible (not fear-driven) ways to guide their children’s tech use. This is written by a woman who has spent her career studying the interactions between tech and teens. She knows her subject.
An examination of race and emotional labor in the show Mudbound. Gave me some new thoughts to think.
Looking into the future for a child with autism. Key quote: “Your future should look like the best parts of your present.”
A powerful piece of writing on the interior of grief. Quote that particularly struck me, “There are some things in life that can never be fixed. They can only be carried.”
Thoughts from Jay Lake on grief. Key powerful thought: ”
It’s so damned hard, being careful of my own emotions and others. The people around me don’t feel free to express their negative thoughts for fear of upsetting me. I don’t feel free to express my negative thoughts for fear of upsetting my loved ones, family and friends. We all dance this strange dance of toxic consideration like elephants on ice, slipping and occasionally crashing.”
Things with religious content
An article for Mormons talking about how maybe we shouldn’t claim sole ownership of all truth. Which I’ve saved as a potentally useful link for helping some expand how they think about the religion we share.
A blog post about making religion more than a checklist of things to do. We shouldn’t be just aiming for checkpoints without examining why.
An article on making a prayer book. I’ve since discovered that writing prayers is a useful mechanism for me to focus my devotional thoughts.
A twitter thread with links to articles about the weird stuff that birds do. Potentially useful for worldbuilding.
The way that schizophrenics experience the voices in their heads depends on the culture they were raised in.
An article on why idle time is crucial to creativity. Grabbed this one to show to my son who lives most of his life with a screen in his field of vision.
Social or political topics
A woman examines her reactions to MeToo accusations, specifically where her own desire to minimize comes from. This is a fascinating glimpse into psychology and why we sometimes get defensive about things.
A woman examines the idea of redemption in the era of MeToo.
Words from Mike Rowe on following dreams. “Don’t follow your passion, but always bring it with you.” I thought I’d disagree, but discovered that I don’t.
A list of specific things to do to fight hate. This is from the Southern Poverty Law Center and helps deconstruct why some of our first instincts to fight back against hate speech are ineffective at best and harmful at worst. They instead give concrete, useful ways to redirect energy from empty confrontation into useful action.
A woman of color discusses cultural appropriation vs creative synthesis.
A woman who is tracking the abnormal things in the current US administration. This one is from week 10. I’ve been meaning to go check and see if she’s still making lists more than a year later.
An article on the problem of liberal bias in science.
You can’t actually boil a frog by heating it slowly.
The word Howard and I created to describe how fun it is to smoosh words together in the German language. wortrauchenvergnugen, literally Word smushing pleasure.
School did not end so much as it faded away. My two school kids opted out of the last week of school because none of the teachers were taking attendance, neither of them ever used their locker (and thus had no need to clean it out,) and they didn’t care about year books. So there was no point and they didn’t go. Officially school ended yesterday. My kids celebrated a week ago.
On the day that school officially ended, I began the summer schedule. This process merely means that I stick a list to the front of their computer screens at bedtime. When they wake up they do the things on the list before using their screens. It is a workable system. It went beautifully yesterday, less well this morning. Weekends don’t get morning lists. Instead the residents of the house may get dragged into a project if I have one going. For tomorrow I’m eyeing the garage. There are things in there that we haven’t used in years. It is past time to evict them. Also, we need to fix up their bikes, because one of the goals for this summer is that the kids spend more time outdoors, preferably active. Also, if they aren’t going to use their bikes, then the bikes are among the things which should go.
I have felt much calmer and happier these past few days. I hadn’t realized how much psychological space school was taking up. I’m paying attention to that, because there is a cost/benefit analysis to be done between public school and home schooling. Next school year needs to be different, even if that means ditching public school. For now the plan is to do a mixture. And I can’t make final decisions until I have more than two days of data on how the list-in-the-morning plan goes.
When I was a teenager headed off to college. I was firmly of the opinion that I didn’t want to raise kids inside the Utah “Mormon Bubble.” I had Utah-raised cousins, and my California-raised self saw patterns in their thinking and attitudes that I felt indicated they were out of touch with reality. Because life is not always what we plan when we are 18, I’ve spent my entire parenting life raising kids in Utah. I did what I could to broaden their perspectives, but my kids are totally bubble raised.
Except, so are everyone else’s. That’s the thing I did not realize at 18. I’d grown up in my own bubble. I lived in a town where a significant portion of the kids where children of parents who worked at a National Laboratory. These parents were gung ho on education and demanded opportunities from the school system. There was a series of honors classes at the school, and there was a group of us who took all of them. It created a bubble of “honors kids” who pretty much had the same people in their classes from elementary school all the way through high school. We all shaped each other. And we were shaped by the teachers, and the town, and a dozen other factors we shared. All of this combined to create a sense of “this is how the world works and how we should view it.” I could clearly see the ways that my cousins participated in their cultural bubble. My own cultural bubble was invisible to me.
This weekend I’m back in my home town. I’m sleeping in the bedroom that was mine when I was a teenager and then was my Grandma’s, and now is guest space. All evidence of my residence is erased, but my Grandma’s existence is still evidenced by the wall decor and furniture that remains in the room. In this space I am definitely outside my usual life. I’ve stepped out of my usual way of living and I’ve stepped into patterns that are familiar-but-not-really-mine. I went for a walk in a park where I used to run cross country races with a woman I’ve not seen since we both graduated high school. Talking with her helped me see and remember the bubble I grew up in. Thinking about our conversation helped me pause and identify the bubbles I live in now.
My life is venn diagram of bubbles. I suspect many lives are. Yes I have a Utah Mormon bubble that consists of a neighborhood of fellow church goers who function as a small town inside the larger city. I also have a speculative fiction writer bubble which exists in my online spaces and at the conventions I attend. I know there are other bubbles: political, familial, etc, however these first two bubbles were the ones that became visible to me as I talked with a friend who shared neither one.
The thing about bubbles is that they are necessary. Human brains can’t hold all possibilities equally all the time. We have to decide what we think is acceptable and what we think is wrong. We have to find ways to spend time with people who share those attitudes and allow us to relax into them. We have to develop a sense of “I fit in” and “this is normal” Maslow’s hierarchy of needs teaches us this. We need to belong. We need periods where we can rest and be comfortable, because if we’re never able to rest that does things to our brains which are often expressed as anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Of course the risk of cultural bubbles is that the walls are reflective. It is sometimes hard to see outside them. And when we do sometimes we get baffled and angry at the lives and choices of others. Their choices make sense in their bubble (which we can’t see) but not in ours.
This is why it is good for me to step outside my usual bubbles. It is good for me to remember that the world is full of ways of being human that are different from my well-worn and familiar paths. This is particularly useful to me right now, since I’m taking specific steps to reduce anxiety in my life. I’m changing my physical spaces to disrupt some of my habitual patterns. I’m trying to bring in new ways of thinking about my life. Traveling outside my bubble gives me new perspectives and a reinvigorated desire to make changes, to shift my bubbles and expand them. I can take that desire and perspective home with me to view my habits and patterns in new ways.