Being Called Back to My Writer Self

I keep a notebook where I write down my tasks sorted by days. I don’t write down every single thing. For house tasks like laundry or dishes, I rely on physical reminders to prompt me to do the thing (laundry basket is full, sink is full) so I don’t write those down. But appointments, phone calls I need to make, emails I need to send; these all end up on my lists. Life has been feeling a lot busier since about mid-May. I wondered if that was actually true, or if all the thinking involved with shipping just made my brain tireder. I pulled out a notebook from six months ago, back then my lists were 3-5 tasks per day. Now I’m averaging 8-10. Demands on my time and attention have definitely increased, and the increase seems unlikely to subside on its own. The pandemic gifted me with uninterrupted hours and very few expectations. Now I’ve returned to a world where I must defend the space in my schedule.

This week I was visiting with a writer friend during a weekly Zoom date to get writing done. She asked after my creative projects. All the things I’d been working on were business or shipping related. She nodded and understood the urgency of my tasks, understood that over the next six months tasks directly linked to earning money were going to absorb much of my time and attention because my family needs income. She was kind and accepting, but the mere asking of the question was a tether which tugged me into remembering that, for my own long term emotional health, I can’t always prioritize the endless list of tasks. Sometimes I need to stake out a space for the work which will help me grow, or which will make the world better, or which just brings me joy. I have to defend that space from all the excuses I have to use that time for something “more productive.” I have to defend it from the impulse to just knock a few more tasks off the list. On Wednesday mornings, for two hours, I need to be a writer first.

Also this week I hosted one of my monthly online Creative Check-Ins with a small group of fellow creative people where we talk about our projects, how they progressed in the past month (or didn’t.) It is really helpful for each of us to talk about how our projects interact with our lives. Life affecting projects, projects affecting life. We’d almost reached the end of our time when one of my friends reminded me that in all the discussion, I hadn’t talked about my projects. Again I talked about shipping, and tasks, and business. I talked about why I allow these things to overrun my creative spaces, shoving to the edges anything that doesn’t bring income. Again I received nods and acceptance. Again, saying the things out loud prompted me to reach behind all the logic of how I arrange my days. To reach past the ways that the endless tide of tasks is important to support my long term life goals. I was surprised to find myself talking about a minor creative rejection which had a larger emotional footprint in my creative life than I’d realized. Because my friends were there, I was able to process that emotion in ways that help me clear the way for me to create again. Once per month for two hours I have a window of time to commiserate and rejoice with others about the creative projects in our lives.

A third thing which happened this week was an email from a writer friend with whom I’ve begun swapping critiques. She had a new manuscript for me to look at and re-iterated that she’d love to look at something I have ready. I have nothing ready. I meant to, but I got swept up in the tide of shipping, barely able to keep my head above water. That tide has ebbed, but it is so easy for me to dive into more tasks. To become accustomed to living by lists. In many ways lists are easier. They are far less emotionally risky that putting my heart into a creative work which might be rejected or ignored. Tasks are also satisfying. I check them off and they’re done. Each tiny completion has endorphins, which means that even while I complain about feeling busy, there is an attraction to accomplishing things and being productive. There is also the illusion that if I can complete this weeks set of lists, that will somehow reduce the number of tasks for next week. As if most of my life tasks weren’t repetitive and cyclical. Yet now there is this email, like a thin line cutting through the water, tugging me back to a place where I can get my feet under me and remember the writing work I want to be doing. For this critique I will read a book, and engage my writer brain. Periodically an email will nudge me toward the projects I want to send to my friend because I am reminded how much I want to hear what she has to say about the stories I’ve written.

Three times this week I’ve been gently tugged back to my writer self. Each time I was pulled by a connection I have to a writer community. Those connections are ones I have carefully acquired and maintained in during the past several years. For me the key has been finding people who ask how I’m doing and give me the space to ramble past the surface response into the deeper concerns. It was also in learning to trust that people actually wanted to hear my answer rather than them just being nice to me because they are nice people. I have a tendency to hide in plain sight, to turn conversations away from myself. I am far more comfortable talking about the concerns of others rather than my own. So this week is evidence of personal growth. At this point in my life, I’ve managed to build community connections that truly support me and call me back to myself when I get a little lost. This is a joy to discover in my life. It is a joy I want to share with others so they can have it too. Fortunately, that is exactly how mutually-supportive community connections work.

Now I need to heed the calls and get back to the writing I’m meant to be doing. Conveniently, this blog post is part of that work. 🙂

Looking Back Two Years

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

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

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

Explaining My Work

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

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

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

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

Still Submerged

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

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

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

Down Periscope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the End of a Shipping Week

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

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

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

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

Befriending Blue Jays

We’ve had blue jays as visitors to our yard for years, but this year is unique. I think one of last year’s fledgling jays picked our yard for his home. Specifically, the pair of jays nested in this pine tree right next to our porch.

This has led to our cats watching out the front windows and the blue jays watching back.

So our house is filled with the sounds of jays yelling at cats while cats chitter at the jays. Even when neither is making noise they still keep an eye on each other.

It is hours of solid cat entertainment.

The jays are less concerned about humans. In fact they seem calmer if a human is in view along with the cats, as if they know that the humans will control the cats. However on the day when I was photographing flowers near the nesting tree, the jays expressed loud opinions.

They kept a close watch on me to make sure I wasn’t going to find their nest.

However it is also possible that the yelling was less about the nest and more because they wanted me to go get some peanuts for them. So I did that too.

Blue Jays are noisy, pushy, bossy birds. I like them and am happy to befriend this pair. Sometime in the next few weeks their babies will be ready to fly and then they’ll stop guarding my front porch so closely. I will be glad to have the yelling and chittering be a little less constant, but I also hope they still come and visit.

May Slipping Away and the Return of Shipping

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

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

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

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

Prompts and Personal History

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

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

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

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

Touchstones in My Parenting

Mother’s Day is drawing nearer and I’m watching it approach with some trepidation because I’m never quite sure what emotions will hit me on that day. As I was trying to figure out how to feel, I went spelunking for a twitter thread I wrote a few years back that I thought would be a good reminder to put in front of people. (This one) Yet during that dive, I found some things I did not expect, like this post on The Endgame of Motherhood, written by me eight years ago. In that post I was facing my oldest leaving for college and the grief I carried around that life shift. By itself, this post would have been a moment of nostalgia, but the next thing I found was Walking the Spiral, a post written two years later. Those years had been transformational and painful in ways that I hadn’t even imagined when I wrote Endgame of Motherhood. To quote from Walking the Spiral:

2012 was before. It was before all the transitions that our family made stepping all the kids up, one to college, one into high school, one into junior high. It was before my younger daughter had panic attacks. It was before my older son began his long slide into depression. It was before we recovered from that. It was before I discovered that our recovery was a limited one. It was before my younger son also had panic attacks. It was before all the appointments, therapists, doctors, medicine, and meetings. It was before something in me broke, or gave up, or grew too tired. The person who visited the spiral in 2012 could honestly look her depressed son in the eyes and promise him it would get better. The person I was when I returned wondered if that was true. I wondered if I had been lying to him. I knew I had to keep going, taking the right steps, but somehow I’d lost touch with the belief that we could pull out of the emotional mire which kept reclaiming us. We’d seem to be out, but then the troubles would come again. My feet stood at the opening to the spiral. The last time I’d been here was before. I didn’t know why I needed to come again, nor why I wanted to cry at being there. I stepped forward and began to walk…

…Finding and walking the spiral seemed such a silly thing. I still don’t understand how so much meaning got attached to it. Yet in that step out from the open end of the spiral I felt like I’d left some grief behind and took something hope-like with me in its place. The spiral helped me remember that there was a before, and the existence of a before heavily implies that somewhere ahead of me there is an after. I just need to keep wending my way along the path until I get there.

I realized that I have now, eight years after the first post and six years after the second, arrived at the after which I posited must exist if I could just keep moving forward. After took a lot longer to arrive than I would have hoped for, and if anyone had told that me who walked the spiral that she had six years of struggle ahead, it would not have felt like good or hopeful news. And it wouldn’t have been. Even with all I’d been through, the hardest bits were still ahead of that younger me who sought out a spiral without knowing why. Yet here I am, with all four kids still alive and beginning to thrive. And I can see all the ways that progress needed to be slow and steady. The ways that we had try and fail and try again. (and fail again and try again and…) Now I read these words from my eight years ago self who was facing one grief without knowing a multitude was coming for her.

I don’t miss the baby and toddler years, though I enjoyed them while I was in them. Right now is what I will miss. I’m going to miss four at home, two teens two kids, all of them running in different directions, squabbling over the cat, and the incessant sound of video games. This is my heart’s home and just now it feels like I will spend the rest of my life missing home.

I would not trade positions with her for anything. Yes that all-the-kids-at-home time is a treasured memory, but now I get to have all-my-kids-are-adults-and-their-lives-aren’t-my-job-anymore. I loved that stage and I love this stage. There were a lot of things between there and here which were heart wrenchingly difficult, but I wouldn’t trade those away either because most of the best things have happened as a direct result of the hardest things. I have a new heart’s home now, and it is a good place. More than that, I can feel that future heart’s homes exist out there for me. This one is good. The next will be too.

Right now my primary task in relation to motherhood is to make peace with myself about all the things I did and did not do, to find kindness in my heart for the choices made in difficult circumstances. I still have mothering work ahead of me, a role to play in the lives of my adult children. Depending on the long-term needs of my young adults, I may never be an empty nester. Also, they are not the only ones I will nurture, I’ve turned some of my (joyously surplus) mothering energy toward helping other creative people grow. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but it is far less intensive than what I’ve been through, for which I am glad.

I still don’t know how I’m going to feel on Sunday, but whatever feeling shows up, I’ll give it a space to exist for a time. Then I’ll move onward.