The Year that was Hard

Here on the last day of the year I am putting things away, and it is not just Christmas decorations. I have been cleaning house both physically and emotionally. I’ve been collecting items into donation piles because I don’t want to carry them forward with me into the new year. I have been rearranging furniture because I plan to use spaces differently. I have been collecting pieces of writing from my blog, my newsletter, my private journals and nestling them all into place inside a book where they will sit together on my shelf with the year 2023 stamped on the spine. A record of the year that was. A hard year, but not a bad one.

The difference between a hard year and a bad one is that a bad year results in coping strategies that need to be dismantled because they are traps and traumas or injuries that need to be healed before growth can happen. A hard year was a difficult passage that sets us up  for future growth.

I first developed this differentiation in regards to my kids and their schooling. Because of their various neurodivergences and mental health challenges we had more hard or bad years than easy or good ones. Sometimes as we scrambled free on the last day of school it was as if we had been drowning for months and finally found a beach. Even when we were exhausted and not ready for future effort, I could tell if my child had grown or shrunk during the year. Often both grown and shrunk in tangled up ways. I would use the summer to try to heal or rest. Then in the fall we would try to set up a better situation in the hopes of having that elusive Good School Year where my parent teacher conferences could be moments of rejoicing rather than intense collaboration or negotiation. Now that my kids are grown, I’m a little sad that I so clearly remember the bad years while the good ones come to mind less readily.

I wonder if, when future me looks back, whether 2023 will feel significant or if it will be lost in the flow of time. I don’t remember much specific about 2005. It just sits there, but the years 1999, 2001, and 2020 all have weight in my memory. Pivot points in my existence. In many ways I think this year was the preparatory year and next year will be the one where I can really see the result of the slow pivots and changes that have been accumulating since the pandemic hit life like a rogue wave. Some of the hard of this year was ongoing pandemic clean up. Floods are like that, there is damage that can only be discovered and work that can only be done once the waters are gone and the deposits of silt and debris are cleared away. Some structures must be knocked down and built anew. Others can be carefully restored and rebuilt.

I thought about this as I collected my year’s worth of words. I read through them all. Sadly, the unifying theme for the year was overwhelm and stress. Even the cheerful entries were bracketed by the ones where I was processing stress by writing it out. The effect was rather like a movie where the shot of a sunny meadow is accompanied by an ominous musical theme. Bright scenes with music that makes one brace for the disaster which is surely coming. My whole year had anxiety as its soundtrack. Here at the end of the year, as I am putting things away, one thing I am certain of: I want a better soundtrack for next year.

I want a life where anxiety is not allowed to steal joy from the bright moments. I want a life where the harder things are only as hard as they actually are instead of also bearing the weight of a hundred possible future outcomes that I’ve imagined, most of them terrible. If I want that life, then I have to change how I cope with my days. This is one of the reasons I name 2023 as hard, but not bad. As a result of this year I am finally ready to dismantle some long held anxiety coping strategies and choose different ones. They were adaptive at the time I developed them, but they became a snare.

After a particularly bad school year, I helped my child unpack their school bag. It had been dumped into a corner and forgotten all summer. The bag was full to bursting because my child had begun hoarding supplies as a means of feeling safe. To protect against the possibility of forgetting their pencil, there were twenty pencils. Thirty pens, five spare notebooks, three books to read, yarn and crafting supplies, fidget toys, and more filled the bag. We unpacked nearly twenty pounds of stuff that my tiny-framed child had carried every day. There was no room for any of the textbooks or notebooks required for class. Those got carried in my child’s arms where they could be seen and double checked constantly to make sure nothing was missing. At the end of that bad year all of it seemed essential. After the calm of summer, my child could see how much simply wasn’t needed and we could talk through strategies to prevent such a burden from accumulating again.

I have spent the last years (at least two or three) with anxiety constantly accumulating things for me to carry. Until this year I was so burdened that every step forward felt like a slog. Pile on top of that medical appointments and expenses which stirred up decades old traumas that I didn’t even realize I still carried. Add large measures of parenting feelings stirred up by family events. On top of that I assigned myself to be prepared for every possible eventuality, which meant thinking up every possible eventuality. I accumulated a huge and exhausting burden of “things to be prepared for”. Until I had a full bag and a pile of things in my arms so that I could check them constantly.

I need to dump out my bag and re-think what I choose to carry. Perhaps I am not always the crisis response team for every loved one with a need. Perhaps I’ve been treating things like crises that actually aren’t. Perhaps my over-preparedness prevents moments of serendipity which I should embrace, moments when someone else gets to step up and be the hero instead of me. Or when they get to fumble through and figure things out for themselves learning and growing in the process. Perhaps the answer is not always I step up and handle it.

This is how I can tell it was a hard year and not a bad one, I am able to decide to manage things differently for next year. I can look at how I carry each of the burdens which I need to keep. I can remember a recent conversation with a friend about my role as household financial manager. She wisely told me that redoing the math several times per week doesn’t change the numbers. It just means I’m stewing in my stress about the numbers. “trust past Sandra.” My friend said “she’s pretty smart and you don’t need to re-do her math. Until there is something new to calculate, leave the numbers be.” I’m going to listen to my friend and put the finances into the bag instead of carrying them in my arms.

A thing I’m going to attempt to abandon entirely is the cloud of self judgement that surrounded so many things. What if when I say “sorry we can’t afford that this month” it is a statement of fact instead of the beginning of an emotional guilt spiral about how I’ve failed in my role as steward of finances. What if I say “sorry I can’t do that” without the massive spiral of social guilt at telling a friend no. What if I just do (or don’t do) tasks without carrying a cloud of anxiety about each one.  What if I put down the extra pencils and trust that I put one in my bag or that a friend will have one for me if I didn’t.

I’ve wandered through a trail of metaphors in this post. Some of them are fighting a bit. I’ve had a theme, a flood, a soundtrack, and a bag. I suppose those are a lot to juggle in a single post, but it’s been that kind of year. The artistic thing to do would be to wander backwards along the same trail, collecting and connecting them as I go. If I could connect all the dots and land this neatly, that would be very satisfying both for me and possibly for you. But 2023 has been messy. It defies my attempts to entrap it inside a single metaphor. (I didn’t even deploy the one where I talk about how I want the story of next year to not be stress-themed.) So I’m going to let all the metaphors stand as they are, each expressing a different aspect of the meaning I’m trying to convey.

Standing here on the edge between last year and new year, it feels like I can make the new year different. Better. Not all at once, but day by day I can choose to set down old coping strategies and pick better ones. Day by day I can craft a year with less disaster clean up, brighter music, a lighter load, and a more hopeful story. The year just passed was a hard year, but I feel ready for the next one.

Carefully Healing

Twenty days ago I twisted my ankle while stepping off a stair. It is the stupid sort of injury that sometimes happens with an action that should not be injurious. I wasn’t even doing anything interesting enough to make it a good story. Surely if I suffer this much I should get a good story out of it, right? And maybe I am now, I mean, I’m writing it up. Except the story isn’t the misstep nor the alarming popping noise inside my joint. This story is about healing as a process.

Within minutes I was fairly certain nothing was broken. It hurt, but I was able to talk and to limp my way back into the house. Elevation and ice packs were the story of the first twenty four hours. The four days following were an ankle brace, swelling, cautious limping, and sitting down a lot. It was when the swelling started to go down that I started thinking about how swelling is the body’s natural immobilization protocol. My brace was an aid to that natural process, but as the swelling receded, I began testing the available motion in my ankle. I was finding what motion I could regain, what motions were uncomfortable in a stretchy way, and which motions were instantly painful in a way that said “Don’t do that!”

Healing was steady. It felt slow as I was passing through it, but in hindsight twenty days is not that long. Within two weeks I had stopped needing to move carefully through my day to adapt for my ankle. The swelling ceased around the joint, but there remained a stiff swollen feeling to the joint itself. I realized that I could choose “good enough” and just live with that residual stiffness. Instead I chose to pick up my yoga practice again, deliberately stretching and moving to find the edges of which motions were stretchy and which were hurty. Day by day I discover that a motion which was hurty yesterday is only stretchy today. Slowly my hurt ankle is coming back into alignment with the capabilities of the uninjured ankle.

It has been a deliberate and slow process of listening to what my ankle is telling me about what it can do, what it shouldn’t do, what feels uncomfortable now but will create capacity later, and what might create new injury. At the moment I write this, there is an ache in my ankle from the yoga stretches I put it through this morning. I’ll go easy on it until the ache subsides and tomorrow we’ll decide again how much to stretch.

My ankle isn’t the only injury I carry. I’ve been working on my annual One Cobble book where I pull together public blog posts, private writings, and journal entries into a written record of my year. This process helps me evaluate the year I’ve just had and lay it to rest so that I can start a fresh year in January. I stalled out on the process by the August writings. I found myself tired, knowing what was coming and not sure I wanted to wade through all of it. I’d found “that might cause reinjury” for emotional wounds that felt remarkably similar to the “don’t move that way” messages from my ankle. I paused for several days, gave myself rest. I carry emotional wounds from my medical adventures that are very similar to my sprained ankle. The events didn’t seem like they should cause injury, and yet I have odd over-reactions, stiffness, and avoidance happening in similar ways to my limping gait around my house.

Then there are the larger, deeper, and older injuries that I still carry around motherhood experiences. They’re getting stirred up now from watching my daughter have her first baby. I find myself wanting to warn her of things that might be coming in much the same way I’ve been telling people to watch their step as they go down stairs. I stepped wrong once and am still dealing with painful consequences. As the ankle stops hurting, the impulse to warn people about stairs will also fade. The impulse to warn tells me I have something unhealed, a residual stiffness or pain that I haven’t worked all the way through. I do my best not to spread the contagion of my anxieties to my daughter. She is mothering a baby and has a sufficient supply of her own anxieties. She doesn’t need my unprocessed emotions even if they’re couched as helpful warnings. (An actual warning of an imminent possible harm is a different thing.) She has her own joyful, painful journey to take. She is growing so much from it, they all are, parents and baby together. Which is a beauty I lose track of when I focus on what might hurt.

I created a careful yoga regimen for regaining use of my ankle, perhaps I can do the same for regaining access to the joy I felt while parenting or to allow me to participate in my ongoing medical care as a routine part of life instead of an ongoing trauma. I just need to figure out the emotional equivalent of finding the motions that are stretchy but not hurty. Writing this post is one of them, but I can’t simply re-write this post each day. I’m considering whether outside assistance might be required. I’ve managed my ankle injury without needing a physical therapist, it feels like my emotional processing is of a similar low-level injury. I’m emotionally sprained, not emotionally broken. Yet I’m holding the idea of seeking out professional therapeutic help as a possibility.

Honestly, If I could just grant myself rest, that would resolve most of it. I’m tired. The first and most urgent need for an injury is always rest. My ankle is always worst at the end of the day and best after a night’s sleep. My review of 2023 shows me a year where I had transition after transition after transition with no stabilizing spaces in between. Working on event organization pivoted to Kickstarter fulfilment pivoted to major convention prep pivoted to medical adventures piled on top of writing conference, followed by Kickstarter funding, followed by my daughter having a baby, and another convention, and holidays. On top of that, the whole year had a soundtrack of omnipresent financial anxiety and urgently needing to create more. And here I am. Tired. Depleted. Depletion is also a sort of injury requiring slow and careful recovery.

The first few months of next year are not going to have fewer things in them, but perhaps I can turn off the anxiety soundtrack. I can definitely put some slow and deliberate practices into my life (yoga, scripture study, reading, walking, gardening) that will rejuvenate me and help me build strength and resilience. At the beginning of this year I caught the idea of wanting to be able to do handstands. I began doing some skill building exercises into my yoga practice. My practice was very sporadic and often neglected. Yet I managed an unsupported headstand yesterday. Even a sporadic and often neglected practice can create strength and skill. Perhaps next year I’ll sporadic myself all the way into a handstand. Perhaps I’ll sporadic myself into healing and joy. Perhaps life and injury always go hand in hand. Maybe hurting is part of wholeness. We’re always healing from some hurt. To live and to walk is to exist with the possibility of a sprained ankle. There is a thought there that I want to tease out further, but this ramble has been long enough I think. For today I’m going to be kind to my ankle, and my tired brain. I’m going to make sure I rest both.

When All the Days are Busy

I have been busy since July. I am supposed to slow down in December, but not this week. Which makes me the epitome of that meme where adulthood is saying “things will slow down next week” over and over for decades. The problem is that this week was full of wonderful things because the Writing Excuses crew were in Utah for a recording retreat. The first priority is getting enough episodes recorded to post an episode per week until we reach the next recording retreat in mid summer. Part of getting the recording done is scheduling breaks and making sure that everyone has the necessary calories. I work logistics and craft services, providing groceries and helping plan meals. Dinners are social.

Since the AirBnB was in Orem, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between home and working on the retreat. On one day I was doing a grocery run where I bought groceries for my house, the Writing Excuses folks, and for my daughter who just had her baby. Juggling three lists and three deliveries was a lot of thinking work. The joy of the retreat is being here. I’m sitting quietly upstairs right now while they’re recording downstairs. Hearing them all laugh together brings me joy. We had some bonus activities during the breaks. They arranged with some local falconers for us to have a day standing out in a field watching gorgeous birds fly. I met Krista and Skye:

Skye flew hundreds of feet in the air and then caught a pigeon right in front of us. Then she was very cooperative with lots of photography.

During the falconry day we met with a photographer Danielle Lore and quickly developed a plan to do a photography outing for professional photos. (I very much need new photos) So there was a second outing for that. Danielle is amazing and you should all go peek at her Instagram.

I am very much looking forward to sharing the photos when they arrive. In the meantime I have this selfie. Given a cobblestone bridge I had to that a cobblestone selfie.

I love this group of people. I love the opportunity to spend time with them, even though after this week my introvert self is going to need to go and hide in a hole for a while. I’m also going to have to pick up the slack on dozens of tasks that have been sliding this past week while I went full-bore into being support staff for getting the recording done. At least I can claim a small personal triumph in that I have made some progress on SLSC even while busy with everything else. Even while healing from spraining my ankle on December 3rd. Even while coping with cats having litter problems, catching mice, and locking themselves into rooms where they weren’t supposed to be. Even while managing customer support around holiday shipping. Even while carpooling between houses, and checking on my daughter with her son. Even while writing the weekly church newsletter and helping with the church streaming. So many things happening all at once, and still I managed to sneak in time to write. I feel very good about that.

It has been a week of very busy days, but they were all good ones.

Thanksgiving Landing

I had a plan for Thanksgiving Day. I was going to write up some lovely and beautiful words on the subject of gratitude. I wasn’t sure what those words would be. Perhaps I’d talk about the fallen leaves and the abundance of life. Food and family would likely be topics. I wanted it to be a moment for me to pause in a particular moment and be grateful. The pause felt all the more important because we weren’t doing our big Thanksgiving meal on that day. I knew I couldn’t pull off a meal of that complexity with only a single day between a big convention and the holiday. There are elements of the Thanksgiving feast which require pre-planning and multi-day preparation cycles. So I sat on Thanksgiving day feeling a bit empty and brain fogged, with no celebratory food. I didn’t have the energy to feel grateful, any brain power I had available went into unpacking and cleaning up convention mess. I call it “convention mess” but really it was the accumulated mess of months. I’ve been living at a dead run since early July.

Clutter accumulates in such circumstances. The corner of the room gets stacked with things that require decisions. My To Do list becomes overfull of undone tasks. Emotions pile up in the edges of my mind waiting for me to process them. Often I experience Thanksgiving weekend as a beautiful respite from urgency. I want that for this year, but I haven’t laid the groundwork for it. So I spent Thanksgiving day slowly trying to clear away mess in preparation so that perhaps I could have a sliver of peace on Saturday when we planned our large meal.

I did find peace and gratitude in snatches, but also there was the cooking schedule. And the couches, which are important and will let us arrange our living space in much more comfortable ways, arrived at exactly the hour I planned to serve dinner. The plan was to eat and then crash and watch a show. If the packages full of couch had arrived before Saturday, I would have already assembled them. If they’d arrived on Monday we would have made do with existing furniture. Instead we had to assemble couches before sitting because there were boxes everywhere. It turned into a group effort, which is family togetherness of a kind, but not what I’d pictured. The arrival of the couches is emblematic of how my life has gone since July. None of the events and tasks arrive with space around them. Everything is on top of each other while life feels over-full and cluttered. I want to fix that. I need a life that contains more breathing space and less accumulated clutter both physical and mental.

And yet I am grateful for this busy season. All of the things which have filled our hours have been important progress. I am glad for how far we’ve come in the last four months even though I’m tired from running so fast.

Baby!

Life changed on Friday. It transformed completely for my daughter and son-in-law as their whole lives now revolve around this infant boy who needs so much care. In the five days since he arrived, I’ve been active support crew for the new parents as they adapt. The support crew job is going to calm down a lot in the next week as they’re already finding patterns and getting routines established.

Because life isn’t cooperative, baby’s arrival landed right on top of me needing to shift into high gear for Dragonsteel prep and also colliding with my latest scoping day for my EOE. So I’ve not had much down time or spare bandwidth in the past six days. It crossed my mind how wonderful it would be for me to write something to this baby about the week he was born, I haven’t had two coherent thoughts to rub together, so here is a random collection of thoughts: Baby is really cute and tiny. So much hair! Holding a sleeping baby is as snuggly as I remembered. I wish I could devote my full attention to one thing instead of constantly jumping between. I wonder who this baby will grow into. Who will he be a month from now? A year from now? Ten years? At six day’s old, he’s more proto-person than person it is hard to tell personality yet. But I like him. And his parents are doing really well at adapting.

Written In Fingernails

The story is written in my fingernails. If I turn my thumb just-so in the light, I can see the ridges. That same light reveals the wavy edge as the nail is brittle and flakes have torn off. The ridges smooth out toward the cuticle. Evidence in keratin of the medial changes three months ago, when I stopped taking a medicine I’d been on for years. When I changed the food I ate. I like to believe the lack of brittle ridges is a sign that I’m headed in the right direction for my health. But the more important thing is the reminder to approach my health with patience. I would like to hurry and find solutions, flip the switch and make things better. My fingernails tell me that this is a long slow game. It will be six or eight months before the last ridges are trimmed away. Other systems, other portions of my body need time to heal as well.

I wanted to fix it fast, be done and move on, but I need to listen to my fingernails. They are the historians of my health.

There is a book called The Body Keeps the Score, which I have never read, but the title felt like a blow when I first heard it. Ever since I’ve carried with me the idea that bodies remember trauma even when we’re not consciously aware that we’re carrying it. I’ve cried far more tears over my current medical choices than a mild chronic condition really merits. An outlandish quantity of tears, that has spilled in embarrassingly public ways. An appointment in a wrong location should be an annoyance, not something that makes me sob at the poor admin trying to do her scheduling job. I like to think of myself as an emotionally stable and rational person, but evidence accumulates that in this case, with this medical adventure, I am neither. I am like the Marina District in San Francisco where all the structures were built well, but the ground they stood on was fill rather than bedrock. When the earthquake came in 1989, everything collapsed because of ground amplification.

I did not realize I had faults in my ground. Fissures left by my experiences of surgery and radiation therapy twenty-five years ago. Medical trauma that I thought I was done with, but which is being stirred up now. This is one of the sources of emotional amplification. I can show up for a scoping, chat with the nurses, be cooperative and personable with the person stabbing my arm for an IV. For them it is all routine, they had similar patients before me, and the rest of their day will be exactly this. I pretend it is routine for me as well. “Oh yes, this is my third scoping. I know how it goes.” A veneer of cooperative normality. I even try to pretend to myself. Almost successfully. Except if any information is unexpected, I am upside down, flailing for balance, emotional. Knocked flat by an unexpected amplification from a trauma by body remembers and wants to protect me from.  Trauma I didn’t even realize I had.

I began to see it on the day Howard and I watched a show where a medical person had to do an emergency intubation and camera down a patient’s throat. I jumped out of my seat and left the room, unable to watch without feeling that it was me. My throat with tubes and cameras. When I was out of the room, waiting for the scene to be over, I puzzled at the odd, instantness of the reaction. It was not rational. It was a trauma response and I couldn’t unknow that I’d just reacted to trauma I was carrying.

Trauma is not written in my fingernails. There are no ridges where I can track the moment I began healing. I wonder if it would be easier if trauma healing could have a progress bar or graphs. Instead what I had was the day after I cried at the poor desk clerk. The day I realized all my emotions were overwrought, and that my emotional state was actively interfering with my ability to collaborate with my doctors about a chronic medical condition. That was the day I recognized I had to stop trying to hurry. I had to find ways to create stability and prevent emotional amplification.

It began with a meditation. Possibly the first real, deep meditation of my life. It was only eight minutes by the clock, but felt much shorter. I breathed and then formed clear thoughts and intentions about my grief and how I wanted to interact with my doctors going forward. (Less crying. A lot less crying.) I visualized a rock in the waves, a rock in deep water. The ocean is vast, it can absorb anything. So I pictured my own calmness as vast as the ocean, as firm as the rock within it. I went deep into the muffled calm of being underwater.

And then I prayed. I gave thanks for this body that is trying its best to protect me. All my troubles are protective systems gone out of bounds (this is the core irony of autoimmune illnesses). I thanked my throat for it’s service. I handed over my long-term fate to God and asked God to carry it for me. If I put the future in God’s hands, I don’t have to live in an endless branching contingency tree with plans for all the twigs at the end of numerous branches, connected to possible trunks. My mind is too small to carry so much. The strain of carrying it adds to the tears. While I was at it, I handed over my daughter’s pregnancy health and the coming baby. I handed over financial concerns as well. Both of which were amplifying factors.

Prayer pulled me out of the deep. I rose up brown rather than blue. Light instead of compressed. And then the time was gone.

I’ve no illusion I am all healed, trauma is not so easily resolved, but the next day I did not cry at my doctor’s appointment. Then I was able to catch up with a friend and tell the story of my throat without crying. So something has shifted. If there were fingernails for trauma, would that be the beginning of ridges smoothing out?

I have to be patient. I have to let things grow. Eventually I will be able to see. This is a long slow corrective process, body, mind, soul. Recognizing the slowness is the beginning.

Grandmotherhood Impending

My oldest child is 38 weeks pregnant. When I tell people this, I get the question that friends and family have been asking for the past eight months, “So how do you feel about being a Grandmother?” I rarely have a ready answer for this question. On one level the answer is irrelevant. This birth will happen no matter how I feel about it. I am confident in my ability to love a child once he is here. (Yes, a boy). But before I can take on the task of forming a Grandmother relationship, I need to tackle the ongoing mothering task of helping my daughter with her pregnancy. I’m support crew for labor and delivery as well. Then there will be helping a pair of new parents during the first weeks of baby. These mothering tasks are more imminent than the grandmothering ones. The mothering tasks will not stop. I will continue to be a mother to my daughter even as I begin forming a grandmothering relationship to her son.

I remember a time when my mother listened to me managing a pre-teen crisis for one of my kids. After everything was settled my mother said to me,

“I’m so glad all of that is your job. I just get to enjoy them.”

Later that same day I listened to my mother make a series of calls to doctors and pharmacists to manage medical care for my Grandma and I felt the exact same thought. I just got to enjoy my Grandma without having to manage her.

So the grandparent and grandchild relationship is about enjoyment, finding joy in each other. I like that thought. I’ve thought about it as I’ve moved through the world these past few months. I’ve paid more attention to the children I pass in grocery stores and in neighborhoods. I see the stages of development and know that those are coming for this baby. The baby who isn’t here yet, but will be. I will get to read to a child snuggled on my lap. And I will get to help manage tantrums over broken crackers. I will blow bubbles and take a child to parks. I will baby sit. I’ll probably spend some hours walking and jouncing a colicky baby. Sometimes I will gleefully hand the baby back to his parents when his diaper is stinky. Other times I will collect the stinky baby from an overwhelmed parent and say “let me do that for you.”

I’ve pictured all of this, held the possibilities in my head. The reality of it will be different I’m sure. And reality will show up sometime in the next two weeks. Baby will have a face I can see and a name I can call him.

Some of my friends when they ask me how I feel about being a grandmother are looking for the small talk answer. They want me to say “excited” so that the conversation can move on. Others are leaving a deliberate space. They know, possibly because they’ve also crossed the grandmother threshold, that feelings can be complex and deep. That it is possible to be excited, ambivalent, and wary all at once. There is an oddness to picking up the title of grandmother at a mere 50 years old. I had my kids young, so I am young for grandmotherhood. I rather like that. I can begin this role with some energy and let it wear on me until it is as comfortable as my skin.

My House is a Mess

My house is a mess. It isn’t just the normal accumulation of clutter which happens to us every time we need to move things around to make space for a project. Furniture gets shifted. Piles are stacked in corners because we don’t quite know where the things belong in the shifted space, but at least over there they’re out of the way. Temporary piles linger for months or even years. They gather dust. Dust turns to gunk. Until every place I look feels like an indictment of our housekeeping.

I can trace the map to explain how we arrived at this place. The decisions and compromises we made because of how fast we needed to move and what we were able to carry. My house is a mess because I was busy with an endless stream of tasks that were higher priority, more urgent, more anxious. We’ve been living reactively for years now. Beginning with the summer of 2019 which felt five years long because of plumbing disasters and needing to reconstruct half of the house. Then the pandemic and the multi-year scramble to adapt to the shifted world, Howard’s disabilities, and inflation with rising interest rates. Everything in our world seemed tighter quarters. No space to really see anything.

Gunk accumulates in those conditions. Clutter accumulates. And we don’t even see it because we’re focused on important and urgent priorities. Yet over time we begin to feel frustrated and dissatisfied with all our rooms. Then comes the morning that I finally see the shower, the sink, the floor and think “wow, that’s disgusting. How do we live like this?”

I sat with that thought for weeks. It percolated in my head waking the voices of self-criticism that live there.

This summer added a new burden to contend with, one I won’t get to put down for the rest of my life. Going forward I will always have diet restrictions and/or medications to manage my EOE. I responded to this with my usual crisis management instincts: dive in, cope, grieve efficiently, plan thoroughly, perform all the experiments, do all the research, move everything as quickly as possible into a stable state. Three months of that approach ended with me sobbing in the doctor’s waiting room because a cluster of clerical errors delayed a treatment and an appointment. Annoyance is an appropriate response to these sorts of errors, not sobbing. My approach had to shift if I was to be able to collaborate effectively with my doctors about ongoing care. I needed to shift myself out of crisis-sprint mode and into something that could be sustained day after day for the rest of my life.

Making that shift while in the middle of running a Kickstarter, which is 100% energetic sprint, has been tricky. I is like I imagine carding wool to be. Pulling and separating strands that were entangled, slowly creating order out of knots. I have to run at the Kickstarter as hard and fast as I can, because every penny we bring in during this 31 day run buys me breathing room for everything else. So each day includes Kickstarter pushing. Then I have to step away from the Kickstarter and find a way to move that isn’t running. There are deadlines and writing goals that I set for myself which I’m blowing off right now. I’m not going to get SLSC mostly edited by the end of October. My newsletter is late. I owe two posts to my Patrons. All of those require focus push energy and that pulls me in the wrong direction. I have to spend all of my non-Kickstarter moments in a slower space. I need to pause and recognize that fast and efficient isn’t always better. Sometimes it is just exhausting.

If managing my EOE needs a slow and steady pace, perhaps the answer to my other messes is the same. It is kind of all the same mess really. My house is the physical manifestation of how I’ve been thinking and organizing. The piles and detritus are the results of my decisions. Perhaps untangling one will make sense of the others. So this week instead of pushing at writing, I am picking one thing in my house to de-gunk each day. It’s fine if I do more while I’m working. As I’m cleaning I notice ten or twenty more things which also need de-gunked, but I do not make a list to keep track of them. I do not assign them to myself. Lists and tracking are a focused-energy burden. They engage “get things done” sprint energy. Instead I pick one thing for the next day, trusting that I will notice the other things again. In fact, as some areas become cleaner, I will notice the messy spots more. A little bit of daily de-gunking will go a long way toward improving my habitat and perhaps will help me approach my health in the same way.

I’m on day 3 of the de-gunking initiative. Small spots in my house are better. I’m feeling good about it so far. Two more days of Kickstarter push and then I can do all the math to figure out how much breathing room we have.

New Kickstarter!

We’ve launched funding for MANDATORY FAILURE: Schlock Mercenary Book 18

I love this book. Of all the Schlock Mercenary books that we’ve created, this one is my favorite. It is a self contained story which means you can pick this one up even if you’ve never read the comic before. It has emotional growth, found family, explosions, trauma healing, important apologies, and adventure. I’ve been re-reading it as part of my editorial work to prepare this book for print and I still love it.

The results of this Kickstarter funding defines what is possible at Chez Tayler for the next six to eight months. Right now we’ve fully funded this project so the book will be made, but there are stretch goals soon to be announced and if we reach them we’ll have breathing room for other projects to grow and flourish as well. I’d love to be able to focus on writing and then crowdfunding for Structuring Life to Support Creativity. So I hope you’ll take a look at this project and consider backing it.

An Alaskan Journey

Summaries are always difficult. Particularly when attempting to summarize a week’s worth of overlapping experiences in travel sight seeing, conference participation, disability management outside of regular coping strategies, long-time friendships renewed, new friendships sparked, wildlife sightings, and the extravagance of a cruise ship coupled with many thoughts about the ecological and sociological morality of it all. I mean I suppose that sentence was a summary with many commas, but it catches no depth and living it was deep.

I wish I had pictures of the whales. They were unseeable except with binoculars and tiny even through magnification, but I saw them leap from the water and splash. Giant humpback whales spouting in circles, slapping their tails, and flinging themselves airborne. For fifteen minutes I watched as our ship sailed further away and they became too small to be seen. I know they were not playing, they were hunting or communicating, yet I imagine the whales get a thrill from being airborne. I hope the splash brings them joy. I felt kinship with them as a creature who sometimes does things because they make me happy rather than because they contribute to my survival.

I’m so glad I got to see the whales while cruising past Alaska.

The whales came after the alpaca sweaters purchased in Juneau made from wool in Peru. The sweaters are much more expensive than clothing I usually purchase or wear. I’m sure some of the cost is tourist tax, but most of it is simply the cost of quality and craft. They came on the morning after a very hard day where all the world felt too much. Disability felt heavy and like it stole all the joy from the trip. Howard had so much pain he could barely see past it and there were no comfortable chairs. I’d been worn down by hundreds of evaluative decisions about every food I ate to make sure it aligned with my newly acquired dietary restrictions. But the next day Howard felt better, and we caught Pokemon on the dock, and I bought sweaters, and a street vendor had delicious Cambodian meats. So I traveled far north to Alaska to have South American and South East Asian joy delivered to me.

Everything was better after the sweaters. I had energy to turn outward again. I got to talk more with my fellow writer / travelers. I got to teach three times. I got to put on my sparkly dress. There was even a glorious meal at Izumi where the waiter was pre-notified about my diet restrictions and did a beautiful job of guiding my choices without making me feel like I was missing out on anything. He even conjured a layered berry mousse and sponge cake that was somehow delicious while being both wheat and dairy free. After so many “sorry we can’t make that dairy free” after scanning the buffet and seeing so many delicous-looking options that I clearly couldn’t have, after actually being brought the wrong meal and having it whisked away again, after the head waiter assured me that he would personally deliver all my meals in the future which was a lovely gesture but also meant my meals were slower to arrive. Food was complicated in dozens of tiny ways at every meal. And then there was the miraculous cake, which I did not think to photograph, but I can still see in my mind’s eye, lavender and yellow-white with berries atop.

It was on my flight home that I scanned through all the pictures on my phone. I’m so glad I took as many as I did. There were highlight moments even on the hardest day and they were all right there, allowing me to rescue the beautiful memories from the tangles of emotion. If you’ve brought any emotion with you, a trip is sure to stir it all up and bring it to the surface. I arrived to this trip with an abundance of emotional baggage that I didn’t know how to leave at home.

It is easy to think that a trip such as this one should be such an unmitigated joy, but the reality is that travel always comes with downs as well as ups. So it is left to me to decide what the story of my trip will be. I could create an instagram version of joyful photos, or I could allow the emotional mire of the hardest day to dominate my memory. I pick the whole thing. The bright moments in contrast with the other ones. The impromptu tide pooling that happened because my longed-for birding excursion got cancelled. The Pokemon caught in short walks off the ship because Howard couldn’t venture farther and Pokemon caught from the ship itself despite the frustrating Wifi. Laughing together over the first apology steak offered by staff for food mistakes…and about the second even fancier apology steak followed by a note on my account that got me extra attention for the rest of the trip. Laughing about how awkward I felt about the extra attention. Possibly the most valuable thing is an awareness of how thoroughly my friends will show up for me when they see I’m having a hard day. There was so much kindness.

It was a beautiful trip. I’m so glad I got to have it. All of it.