Things I am supposed to be doing today:
Finishing a short story draft so I can submit it to a writer’s group
Launching the process of designing Gen Con banners
Evaluating what needs to be done so we can run Planet Mercenary demos at Gen Con then making an enumerated list of things to do.
Pre-planning to pack up and run a booth at Spikecon/NASFIC next week.
Sewing a cushion for the chair we’ll use at Spikecon next week.
Observing and assisting the construction crew who are doing house repairs
Writing up some missing pieces of text for Big Dumb Objects
Locating some final margin art for Big Dumb Objects
Communicating with the bonus story artist and cover artist for Big Dumb Objects
pre-planning for the Big Dumb Objects Kickstarter
Going into my online store and readjusting pricing for a summer sale.
Sending out an announcement of the summer sale
Creating/planning new merchandise so that we have fresh items to draw people into the store.
Practicing running the Planet Mercenary Demo
Evaluating the status of Escape from the Friggen Jungle and the Precision Mayhem Deck so that decisions can be made about whether to scramble for completion pre-Gen Con.
Writing missing pieces of Escape from the Friggen Jungle.
Things I want to do:
Curl up, watch Netflix, and hide from all of the above.
“Are my church pants clean?” Howard called to me from the bedroom. At his words I remembered him asking me last Sunday to make sure that the pants went through the laundry. This was immediately followed by remembrance of the over-flowing laundry hamper which I’d thought of doing but hadn’t gotten around to. I bounced up from my seat to go double check.
“I don’t think so.” I said, “because this week…”
Howard interrupted me. “Yes. This week.”
It was a shared moment of commiseration for a week that had not gone at all according to plan. What we thought was a simple clogged toilet transformed into a massive home renovation project requiring a jackhammer, a pending home insurance claim, and two specialized restoration companies. Most of the actual work is still pending except for the hole that has already been dug through a concrete floor and the hole in my financial plans for the year.
I fished the pants out from the bottom of the laundry hamper. They were wrinkled and musty. Not something he could just put on and feel good about. I eyed the clock, ninety minutes before church. It might be possible to rush a single pair of pants through two machines into a state of clean wearability. I ran them down to the laundry room and dumped them in with soap. It was a last minute salvage operation that echoed many of my efforts in the past few days: Can we save this flooring that I love? Can I save my budget? Can I pull myself out of the hole of mourning that I fell into which seems as big as the hole in my floor?
It seems strange to mourn a solvable problem. We have the resources to cover the costs. We have contacts at the companies who will accomplish the work. The house will be better after everything is done. The only real impact is some schedule disruption and financial cost. Yet I mourned for days. I’m still not done, not really. I think what I mourn is the as-yet-unknown opportunity costs. We were making a push to pay down debts so that we would have the financial flexibility to help out our fledgling adult children with pending expenses. We were trying to do a kitchen remodel. I was trying to create more stability in our lives so that our creative choices were less constrained by financial needs. I can’t know yet which of these things are impacted or how badly. (Though thankfully I do know that we are at no risk of going hungry or without shelter. I’m aware I’m mourning a loss of luxuries, not living in fear of loss of necessities.)
In the middle of the mourning and uncertainty I also find myself besieged with self-doubt. Surely I could have planned better or made better choices in the past so that I’d have a better financial position to manage this sort of unexpected event. We could have spent less on eating out or on impulse purchasing. My mind seems happy to scroll through memories of recent purchases while making snarky comments (or disappointed noises) about past choices. And when I sit down to write, I find myself mired in thoughts about how the effort spent will likely never be rewarded financially. I know that life is full of things that are worth spending time and money on without expectation of financial return. Yet this week it feels like everything has dollar signs slapped on it, including my time. And then there are the parenting tasks which I’m supposed to accomplish this summer to help my kids prepare to launch, which aren’t getting done.
Naturally, I respond to all this mental noise by hiding in distractions. I’ve watched a lot of Netflix this week. If the show is compelling enough it drowns out all the noise except a thin thread of “surely you have better things to do with your time.”
Holding still and hiding are normal, instinctive responses to a wound. This is as true of emotional/mental wounds as physical ones. It is an adaptive response to help us survive. We have to hold still so the pain can die down and so that the natural regenerative capabilities of the body have a chance to begin the process of healing. I actually think this is one of the functions of a depressed mind state (which I’ve had since last Tuesday.) It exists to get us to hold still long enough to heal. Of course like any other process, it can malfunction and linger far longer than is useful, particularly if we don’t recognize it as a response to a wounding and don’t do the things necessary to find and tend the wound. And of course there are some people where the response goes haywire, constantly triggering even though there has not been a wound. That is a whole different can of worms.
The salvage operations of this coming week begin with me forgiving myself for the hide-and-collapse of the past days. I need to extend to myself the same compassion that I would to others and remind my harrying thoughts that it doesn’t matter whether purchases I made in the past were wise or not. I can’t change them. All I can do is pick up from where we are now and move forward. I also need to reign in the catastrophizing lines of thought which would have me making contingency plans for all the ways that the events of last week (obviously) spell our permanent financial downfall.
The pants were clean in time for church, and for once there were enough of us there to fill an entire row. I sat there with my people and had a moment of peace. For a moment I was overcome with a feeling that everything would be okay. This is what church gives me, quiet space and a framework in which I can talk to God and get answers. I sat inside that calmness and peace as the meeting continued. Eventually it faded and my worried thoughts returned, but they weren’t as loud. And I have the memory of reassurance. Sometimes I think that is the core of faith: remembering those moments of clarity in the midst of all the other moments.
We’ll make it through, mend the holes, and continue building from there.
My budget plan for the year
Flooring and cabinets with damage from water seepage
My schedule for the next month or so as contractors are in and out
Getting to be on TypeCast RPG where I played a halfling cannibal ranger named Toki’Pobo
Coming home to discover that there was a spontaneous LAN party in my absence
This week eggs hatch twice as quickly in Pokemon Go
Finally hanging family portraits on the wall
The morning began with a quest. I’d only been up for a few minutes when Howard wandered into the room and said “you want to go get crepes for breakfast?” The crepe place is down in the Riverwoods shopping area, which is full of Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms. This fact is relevant since our entire family has taken up Pokemon Go in the past month. So we gathered everyone who felt like questing and off we went.
The weather was lovely, the food was good, and most of the stores didn’t open for another hour or two. We wandered along the paths collecting Pokemon and spinning stops. Almost everything about Pokemon Go is designed to get people to leave their houses and walk to different locations. It has certainly worked that way for our family. We now have people randomly deciding to go for short walks, even though we’re walking the same paths over and over, it feels new because we never know what surprises the game will throw our way. Going outside to stare at our phones and play a game is healthier for us than staying at home to sit in a chair and play a game.
I posted the above picture on twitter, and multiple people commented on the snow-capped mountain in the corner of the frame. It is so easy for me to forget that not everyone has vertical landscape looming over them at all times. I so often fail to notice how beautiful Utah is. I need to pause and admire the mountains more.
On the return home, I still had almost a full day ahead of me. For once, the most pressing deadline was on a writing task. I have a short story due at the end of the month and it isn’t fully drafted yet. I’d so enjoyed being outdoors in the pleasant weather, that I decided to sit on my back porch in my red bistro chairs to find the right words to tell the story I had outlined. Milo saw me outside and was so forlorn that I put on his harness and brought him outside with me.
Writing is a strange process. After forming a scene in my head and then writing sentences to convey that scene, I hit a point where I don’t know what sentence comes next. That’s when I pause and open up twitter or do a quick stretch. I have to pull my brain away from the task at hand so that I can circle back around to it with renewed vigor. It is rather like getting a muscle cramp in my hand and taking a moment to shake it out and stretch.
During one of my twitter breaks, I had a series of thoughts about writing, happiness, and goals:
A thing I’m trying to make a habit: instead of focusing on the thing I want and can’t reach yet, focus on the thing I get to do today which may eventually help me to that goal.
My writing career may never make significant money nor have much audience, even though I’d like it to have both. But neither of those goals will ever happen unless I put in the work.
And doing the work is much easier when I learn to love the work for itself rather than treating it like a chore to get me someplace else.
Today I get to sit on my porch with green things all around (and a cat) while I write a short story. That is a beautiful thing to get to do, even if the story never sells and is never read.
I wish I could always cultivate that mindset instead of getting tangled up in grief and worry. Of course the realities of money and bills mean that many days I have to set aside my personal writing in order to do the tasks which actually earn money. Some day those two things may come into more alignment, which would be nice, but I’m also aware that it would change my relationship to the words and the process of making them. Having a dream job often means turning something you enjoy into work, and it isn’t always the best way to balance life. But all of that is in the future. For today I sneak time to do writing which I love and which pays for nothing. And I try to pause and recognize when I get to have a beautiful day full of breakfast quests, pokemon, and writing. No matter what comes next, it can’t take away that lovely day I had.
We’re on day two of our summer schedule and I’m still trying to find my footing in the schedule shift. This is strange because the shift isn’t as big as it was in past years. My recent high school graduate actually finished her credits early and thus hasn’t been to school in more than a month. My other high school student was partially home schooled and so he was at home half the time anyway. On top of that, the home schooling portion of his education continues into the summer. So the lines between school-in-session and school-is-out are really fuzzy. Yet I still feel like catching my balance is necessary. Two and a half months stretch out in front of us before school schedule imposes again. I feel the pressure to make good use of the time.
In organizing my business focus, I’m struggling with project conflict. There is a long list of things I should do and I’m having trouble clearing my head to focus on just one of them. If I attempt to focus on one, the others tug at my attention whispering “but I’m important too!” The trouble is that some of them are important emotionally and creatively while others are important financially and stability-wise. Therefore the weight I should give each project varies depending on whether I’m in a moment where I’m focused on immediate finances or if I’m in a moment where I’m trying to work toward long held aspirations. All the values and importances shift from hour to hour and minute to minute, until I feel lost in a swirl of thoughts.
I keep thinking that if I can establish a predictible schedule of daily/weekly events, that might quiet some of the noise. Of course establishing such a schedule requires me to decide which things get scheduled time and which should fill in the gaps, which lands me back in the evaluation/value mess of thoughts.
I did get some good news on the college financial aid front, so there’s one clear bright spot for the day. Tomorrow I take my newly-minted college freshman off for their orientation day. Hope that goes well.
I had a plan. I was going to step outside my usual round of things for a week. I was going to put down the host of regular tasks and that was going to open up space for me to think writing thoughts and write words.
Ha ha ha ha ha. (<---- me laughing at my own naivete)
This was a trip in two parts. The first was a convention where I was support crew for my daughter. While I did have long hours of mostly-solitude, sitting at a table fractured my attention just enough that I couldn't write much. I did accomplish some brainstorming, so I guess that is something.
The second part of my trip was visiting my parents and helping them with some household projects. This included helping sort through boxes left by my Grandmother, painting a porch, organizing papers, taking a tour of the Oakland Temple, and untangling twenty years' accumulation of tangled computer cords. When I list it like that, it doesn't sound like much listed in a sentence like that, but I was fully occupied, body and mind, for the entire four days I spent here. I love organizational work. I love taking a jumble and turning it into a functional space. And my parents have such interesting jumbles full of memory and fascinating accumulated objects.
It has been a good four days, but today I get to go home and for that I am very glad. Usually when I'm on a trip, I fold away my home thoughts and don't feel much active homesickness. This time home kept tugging at me, my thoughts were with the at-home folks quite a lot. The largest portion of today will be spent in transit, but by evening I will be back in my house and seeing my own jumbles with new eyes. I will get to set things to rights, but only after I've hugged all my people and pet the kitties.
I’ve attended a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy conventions. Some of them energize me, others are draining. Often the energy or drain have little to do with the event itself and more to do with my emotional state as I arrive at it, or how I engage with it once I’m there. However the people who are at an event can change it from draining to energizing or vice versa. The one I attended this past weekend was draining. Some of that was that I spent the vast majority of the con running a table for my daughter who was off being on panels or teaching workshops. The dealer’s room was cold and because I’m far from my house there were few familiar faces in the crowd. The best hours of the show were when friends sat with me, either at the table or over food, and we talked for hours. Such conversations are the reason I do conventions at all. when my writer friends stopped by to talk, those were bright spots in long hours of keeping myself occupied while not really speaking to anyone. Actual solitude tends to reinvigorate me, but the isolated non-solutude of being behind a dealer table where I can’t fully tune out because I need to be ready to engage people at a moment’s notice; that is draining. The weekend turned out to be worthwhile in an educational sense. An education for which we paid tuition rather than turning a profit.
Now I am at my parent’s house and much happier. I’m here for three days to help my parents accomplish some house projects that can be better done by backs and arms which aren’t slowed by arthritis. Tomorrow we’ll be re-painting their porch. Today we sorted through boxes of things left by my Grandmother. I love this kind of organization. In the boxes were things that were puzzling or fascinating or beautiful. We got to look through all of them and then haul more than forty boxes of things to various thrift stores. On Thursday we’ll get to tour the Oakland Temple which is currently open to the public after a major renovation. I’m really looking forward to being there again. It is the temple I visited as a teenager for many church-sponsored activities. It is where I got married almost 26 years ago. On Friday I get to go home, and by then I will be more than ready. I miss my people and my house.
This past week I had the opportunity to talk to a young man of my acquaintance about his life and where he would like to be in comparison to where he is now. During that conversation I said “You are larger than the space you have been living in.” The words came out of my mouth because in the moment I felt the truth of them. But the phrase keeps wandering back through my thoughts in a way that asks me to pay attention to it, not just in relation to this young man, but also in relation to myself.
Unless we are in a period of active self-discovery and self-definition (or re-definition,) we dwell inside a set of invisible rules for ourselves. Most of the time we aren’t even aware that we have them. If we are happy in our lives and self-identity then we wear the rules like comfortable clothes that don’t restrict our motion. However the one constant in life is change. Who we are at twenty is different than who we are at thirty, forty, or fifty. We grow and shift, so if we are not conscious about changing our personal rule-set we can find ourselves constrained, trapped.
I came face to face with some of my unrealized personal boundaries yesterday. This same young man with whom I had the conversation got me and my entire crew of kids to go with him to an air sports gym which features professional grade trampolines, air bags, trapezes, a climbing wall, and giant foam pits. Once there, he demonstrated his considerable expertise in using trampolines to defy gravity doing flips and tricks twenty to thirty feet in the air. After which, he patiently and kindly helped my crew work on backward summersalt/flips right next to the surface of the trampolines. It was a joy to watch.
For decades I spent my outing time as a lifeguard and safety monitor. In a place like this gym, it was my task to know where my children were and whether they were following the safety rules. I had to be alert and not distracted, which meant sitting off to the side and watching while the kids played. “We go places and mom sits to the side and watches” became one of the hidden expectations of our lives. So much so that one day when I got on a bike and took a turn around our cul de sac, my kids were astonished. They gaped at me in as much disbelief as if I’d been a fish using a bicycle. I remember the feeling of having them gape at me and wondering if I’d failed somehow by becoming so boring. When they were babies I wanted to be the cool mom, the one who still did cartwheels and ran around with her kids. But somehow I’d become a spectator mom instead.
My kids are all adults now, or nearly so. They don’t need my supervision. Which meant on our trip to the gym, I wore jumping clothes fully intending to use the equipment. Yet the first moment I got on a trampoline, I could feel the eyes of my kids on me. Except it wasn’t really their eyes that were the problem. It was my own mind. I was watching me. With every bounce I hit thoughts about being too old for this, about what if I get hurt, about looking ridiculous, about doing things wrong, about being sore for days. During one of the breaks between jumping, I listened to my young aerialist friend talk about how he went about learning things. One of the critical things to learn is that you get hurt when you attempt to abort a trick part way through. I witnessed that happening around me. People would run up to an obstacle they intended to leap over and I could see the moment when their brain said “that’s really big, we can’t do that” The thought caused a fraction of a pause that changed their trajectory into a collision instead of soaring over. It is the fear of getting hurt that causes people to get hurt.
I pondered all of this as I gained confidence in bouncing. I got better at feeling the flows of the leaps. I landed more surely. I was better able to correct errant motions. I felt all of this in my body and I remembered being a younger person, who did things for joy of motion and impulse instead of pausing for a mental calculation of cost/benefit/social consequences. The ability to analyze and make considered decisions is one of the gifts of age. I have a lot more experience with life and consequences which helps me to be wise in my choices. However that weight of experience can also slow us down as we age. I could feel the weight of it in my head, telling me to be cautious both physically and socially. I had a constant awareness of risk, not just of physical injury, but also the risk of looking ridiculous attempting tricks and failing at them. Except the only way to learn to do things is to first fail at them ridiculously.
The gym had a climbing wall over a foam pit. I knew I wanted to try climbing it. So I waited for a moment when my people were all distracted with their own activities and I headed over to the wall. It seemed a good balance between avoiding outside commentary on my capabilities and not letting fear of commentary prevent me from doing the thing I wanted to try. To my surprise, the grips felt natural under my hands and feet. I traversed sideways across the wall, not daring to go high. Then I tested falling into the foam pit. After a rest, I tried the wall again and climbed all the way to the top. I liked the way climbing felt in my arms and legs. I liked the moment of apogee at the top of a trampoline bounce. I liked stepping outside of my usual sedentary activities. I liked leaving my usual observer mode to be a participant.
There was a moment after nearly two hours of play when I sat on the floor with three of my adult children and our friend. All of us were tired but happy. I was aware of an internal tension. I don’t feel old. I remember being young and energetic. I remember dancing to music in public and splashing in fountains even though I wasn’t supposed to. I remember running just for the joy of it. Yet there I sat with three adult humans that I’d raised from small. My mind couldn’t quite compute how I got from youthful me, to that spot on the floor with my people around me. Somehow in that moment I was both teenage me and middle age mom me. And I realized that I can be both, so long as I’m willing to collide with my hidden self rules and, through that collision, alter them. I can still be the mom who is active and participates instead of watching. I haven’t run out of time. All it takes is a willingness to be ridiculous.
Sitting here on my couch the morning after, my arms and shoulders are sore. Yet when I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still feel apogee in my core and the grips of the climbing wall in my hands. I can take up a different space than the one I’ve been living in simply by going back to that gym again. I can change my creative existence by being willing to write bravely and risk rejection. I can change the patterns of my family by welcoming new people into the house and by altering our physical spaces. Sometimes we are trapped by situations outside our control, but more often we are trapped by our own unwillingness to take a leap and risk change. I’m going to try to be more conscious of the boundaries in the life I have and the changes I need to make in order to get a life I want more.
I’ve written my fair share of Mother’s Day posts that talk about the emotional complexities of this celebratory day. I’ve gotten philosophical about mothering and pondered how I came to terms with being a mother. Some years I posted nothing about it at all. Those were the years where I was doing my best to dodge the holiday and try to forget it was a thing.
So I think it only fair to acknowledge the actual happiness of this year. It seems like Mother’s Day acts as a magnifying glass, amplifying and bringing into focus how I’m feeling about my life and my parenting failures or successes. The good mother’s days are the ones where my kids are thriving and/or demonstrate that they learned some of the lessons I worked so hard to teach. Because if they’re growing, then all the sacrifices of time and emotional effort are redeemed. If they are faltering all my self doubt comes into sharp focus. I know that Mother’s Day isn’t supposed to be a score card. I know I should not use my children’s lives as a measure for my success. I work at not doing those things, but the self doubts creep in, especially during the hard years.
On the joyful years, like this one, I’m not feeling self-congratulatory. What I’m feeling is grateful. I have four amazing children with bright futures ahead and they’re finally stepping forward into those futures. I have Howard, who sneaks out of the house to buy a flowers and an assortment of fancy cheeses because he loves me. I have my mom whom I’ll get to visit in two weeks and who I’ll call tomorrow. I have a yard full of plants that are blooming and about to bloom. I have writer friends who nurture my creative efforts. I have so much in my life that is beautiful and good. Mother’s Day seems as good as any for me to pause and fully feel grateful for all the things I have.
If you are among those who are having a difficult day today, I offer this hope: I’ve had a lot of difficult Mother’s Days, and this year I’m not. Perhaps in your future you’ll also have a day where you feel nothing but happy and grateful.
Today one of my kids had a panic attack at school and he stayed at school instead of coming home. Then after school, he went to a friend’s house, which he hasn’t done in several years. Another of my kids voluntarily left the house to go for a walk in the sunshine. A third had a meeting with a potential mentor and left the meeting excited about possibilities. The fourth spent most of the day head-down in creative projects, calmly working to get them all done.
All of it happened without fanfare. They are growing and it is beautiful to see.