Managing Anxiety and Depression as Part of Life

Vines that have taken over a fence and a flower bed

In 2013 I wrote a post titled Finding Levers to Remove Anxiety and Depression. I asked my Patreon supporters if they’d be interested in a ten-years-later update on the things I said there. They said yes, so here I am thinking deeply about where I was, where I am (a much better place), and how I traveled between the two.

I feel so much compassion for my ten years younger self. She thought she was in a field with a few stubborn rocks (anxiety and depression) that she needed to try to remove. If she could find the right levers, they could be lifted out and life could continue smoothly.  Instead she was on the edge of a sinkhole that became a deep and treacherous pit full of tangles before we found ways out. March of 2013 was when everything started sliding, not just for the child mentioned in the post, but for the other three kids and me as well. At that time I did not understand how much depression and anxiety had formed who I was and how much more I had left to learn from it.  I could spend thousands of words on the details of the various meltdowns, collapses, attempted scaffolds, and dark pits that we traversed, but that long and winding tale does not actually address the deep questions I think my Patreon supporters hope to find an answer for, the reason they are interesting in a ten-years later perspective.

The big questions for anyone who suffers from anxiety and/or depression are variations on: “How do I get out? How do I find a place that is stable? How do I build a life where anxiety and depression do not constantly disrupt everything?” I wish my ten years of experience provided me with a one-size-fits-all answer. Instead what I have are a collection of accumulated knowledge or lessons that might be useful components for others to build their own path forward.

One thing I understand differently now than I did ten years ago is that anxiety and depression are the result of a survival mechanism turned invasive. Anxiety, when kept in bounds, is our ability to plan ahead for contingencies and respond to emergencies. Depression, when kept in bounds, is the self-protective impulse to curl inward and give ourselves space to rest and heal. If something throws off the ecosystem of our lives, these adaptive tools become like kudzu or wisteria that grows fast and strangles everything else. Like plants, anxiety and depression grow or shrink in response to actions their host takes or doesn’t take. They have roots or tentacles that may reach deep. And sometimes they even seem to fight back against our attempts to extricate ourselves. They resist dying when we attempt to extinguish them. Sometimes they become so familiar, so intertwined in our existence, that we ourselves resist the removal of our overgrown defenses. On occasion the anxiety and depression become so enmeshed in the very structure of our lives that the only way to remove them is to take down the wall.

Another thing that I now understand is that both anxiety and depression are symptoms, not the disease. Saying “she’s depressed” or “they have anxiety” is akin to saying that someone has a fever. A fever is normal body temperature regulation run wild. A fever is definitely a problem to be solved and it can be an emergency requiring rapid intervention, but ultimately a fever is a symptom it is not an explanation. Once the fever is under control, more information must be gathered before a treatment plan can be made to make sure the fever does not flare up again. A fever might be the result of heat stroke, or a bacterial infection, or a viral flu or something else entirely. If you apply the wrong treatment the patient may actually get much worse instead of better.

Our challenge as the gardeners of our own lives is to keep these prone-to-become-invasive plants bounded and contained. I’ve learned much about what throws my internal ecosystem out of balance and allows anxiety or depression to grow rampant.

Situational pressure: A bad work environment, caretaking responsibilities, high pressure environments, constant deadline pressure, grief, and lack of rest are all situational elements which can over fertilize anxiety and depression.

Chemical and Genetic factors: We all have different genetics and brain chemistry. Some of us are simply more prone to having anxiety and depression than others because our brains have incredibly fertile ground for it to grow. If depression or anxiety “run in the family” then it is more likely that your anxiety and depression has some roots in chemistry and genetics

New Trauma: This word conjures up mental pictures of combat veterans, domestic abuse, or vehicular accidents. If you haven’t experienced those, then you might not think this applies to you. But trauma can be much more subtle. Anything that shakes your world, causes upheaval can be traumatic in your life.

Old Trauma: These are things that happened to you long ago that maybe you don’t think much about, but they’re like pockets of buried fuel which can go boom if disturbed. Or sometimes they simply sit underground nourishing your anxiety and depression in ways you can’t see.

Ingrained life lessons: These are the internalized adaptive lessons from childhood that we’re still putting into our adult lives even though they don’t apply anymore. For example: Your first grade teacher taught you to crave recognition in the form of gold stars and you’re still subconsciously trying to get metaphorical gold stars from your boss. The lack of gold stars creates anxiety or depression because it is an expectation unmet.

These are not the only growth mediums for depression and anxiety, but they suffice to make the point  for the purposes of this discussion. 

For me, I definitely have some genetic factors (grandma was “a worrier” as was her mother before her, as is my dad, as am I). My depression tends to be situationally triggered. I get depressed when one or more of my people is in a full-bore mental health meltdown or if I am in a situation that matters a great deal to me, but I’m powerless to affect the outcome. My anxiety definitely has roots buried deep in old trauma and ingrained life lessons.

I can talk about all of it quite dispassionately in prose only because I did all the exploratory work to trace feelings back to their sources. I became a spectator of my own thoughts and actions. On the day I found myself sobbing at the trailer for Annie because I couldn’t believe the sun would come out tomorrow, I finished my cry and then the next day I started digging to figure out where that feeling was coming from.  Bit by bit I’ve cobbled together a comprehension of my particular anxieties and depressions. My understanding was greatly helped by many excellent friends, my husband who is quite insightful, and lots of reading. I benefited from conversations with fellow “gardeners” who were coping with their own anxiety and depression. Tiny moments of shared commiseration about anxiety over making phone calls changes the experience of having anxiety over making phone calls and sometimes allows the phone calls to get made.

Anxiety and depression are always complex and individual. Some genetic predisposition teams up with a bad work situation and a trauma until suddenly your life is completely strangled with depression and coping strategies both good and bad. Even worse, one aspect of life falling out of balance can cause others to go wobbly. Grief and trauma have been shown to cause actual chemical changes in the brain, literally creating a growth medium for anxiety and depression where none existed before.  Additionally, someone who is experiencing deep depression or anxiety actually has reduced capacity for rational decision making and executive function. It is literally harder to think clearly when you’re wrapped in depression or anxiety.

This is why outside help can be so crucial to bringing things back under control. It is why professional interventions for both anxiety and depression tend to be multi-pronged: medication AND therapy AND behavioral changes AND developing emotional self-management skills.  It also explains why some people are completely convinced that you can solve your depression by simply going outdoors more, because they had a situational depression that really was solved by simple behavioral changes. Which is like saying all fevers can be solved by sitting in the shade and drinking water because that was what resolved their incipient heat stroke.

If you are in the midst of a tangle of depression or anxiety, impaired in your ability to move or think, here is the most encouraging thing that the past ten years has taught me: It is all the same tangle. Even if your life feels like thousands of problems and challenges. If you find one spot to untangle and clip back, you will uncover the next small thing. Over time, those small things accumulate and you have cleared enough space to do bigger things. I have real world experience that this process does work on literal vines as I’ve spent the last year or so trying to tame some overgrown wisteria. The plant was winning for a long time. It grew back vigorously if I left it alone for even a week. Sometimes it felt like I was spending all my energy just fighting growth without making progress on the core. Yet eventually the plant was brought in line with my plan. I just had to be persistent. Simple persistence and not giving up is the beginning of so many mental health triumph stories. That and being willing to unashamedly celebrate the successes of such things as taking a shower on a bad brain day, or doing both the dishes and laundry on the same day, or making that phone call.

Anxiety & depression management is deploying tools as needed. Sometimes you need clippers, sometimes a shovel, sometimes electric hedge trimmers, occasionally a backhoe.  You might need to engage outside expertise or help. You might need a team or you might work best as a solitary gardener. Use the tools that are effective now, knowing you may switch up later. Some people need medication as an interim tool, a leg up. Others need medication as an ongoing regimen to maintain ecosystem balance. There are a wide variety of available therapies, perform experiments to see which ones are helpful with your particular tangle at this particular time in your life. Be prepared for some of your experiments to “fail” by not getting the results you hoped for. Each “failure” provides you with data about what doesn’t work for you and informs the experiment you try next.

When you are gardening, one of the best ways to control invasive plants is to cultivate other plants. You can spend a lot of energy beating back and rooting out anxiety and depression, but if the result is only bare dirt, they’ll simply return to fill that gap. If you spend some energy growing other things, then those other things will naturally help to keep the invasive anxiety and depression in check. In my life I carefully cultivate writing, an array of friendships, community connections, three cats, religious practice, and an actual garden with green things in it. Maintaining all of these things (and others that I haven’t mentioned) takes a lot of effort. Some days I feel tired with the work of all of it. But I can clearly see that the work I spend maintaining this healthy abundance means less work spent on fighting invasive anxiety or depression.

A very important lesson I learned is that the work isn’t done when I’ve achieved a life state where anxiety and depression are under control or even seem completely gone. Life will always change. Those changes affect my emotional and mental ecosystem. Part of my ongoing work as the gardener of my own mental health is to recognize the subtle signs of ecosystem strain. I’m not just on the watch for imminent collapse, but also for the precursor behaviors that emerge before I’m even consciously aware of anything being wrong. Just as I’ve mapped and understood where my anxiety and depression have their roots, so I learn that precursor A tends to indicate imbalance B. When my email inbox gets out of control that means I’m not tracking and managing tasks at full capacity and I should figure out why. Flashes of anxiety accompanied by intrusive thoughts usually means I’ve overtaxed myself socially and I need serious introvert time. Dissociation via scrolling or binging are symptoms of many things, sometimes I just need to rest, sometimes I am emotionally processing something, sometimes I’ve no idea why, so I just need to increase my efforts to grow good things. Balance correction is much easier when I catch it early.

I am so glad to be where I am instead of where I was ten years ago. I am grateful for the knowledge I gained in traveling over all of that rough ground. I would not be the person I am today without it. This is not the same as having no regrets, because I have lots of decisions where I wonder if I picked the right course. Particularly over parenting. Could I have done better by my kids? Dwelling on such questions is one of the ways that I can throw myself out of balance, fertilizing my own anxiety. Mostly it is best to let the past rest and focus instead on where I am now and how I want to move forward from here.

My learning process is far from over. I will be quite interested to see what I have to say about anxiety and depression in another ten years.

The topic for this post was chosen by my Reader and Creative Community level supporters of my Patreon. If you have a topic you’d like to see me cover, becoming a supporter allows you to participate in the choosing of my next topic. Thank you for reading!

Water Lantern Festival

A single paper lantern is lovely with light reflected on water in the dark. But lovely turns to magic when there are hundreds of lanterns floating together on open water. It is what I hoped for when I bought two tickets to a local water lantern festival and I was not disappointed. This particular magic requires community. It requires an organizing force of people to say “come here at this time on this day, buy a ticket, we’ll supply the lanterns.” Then people have to flow into that framework willing to bring their hearts and write on their lanterns. At launch time hundreds set their small lights afloat and the water doubles the light, reflecting twice as much back to all of us on shore.

The scene is even more beautiful when you glimpse some of the lanterns. Each was specifically prepared by someone who hopes, or someone who grieves, or someone ready to let go. It is not just lights on the water, but expressions, thoughts, words, pictures, a part of the person who set it afloat. All completely unique, but glowing in common.

I spoke to no one while at the festival other than my companion that I brought with me. The organizers did try to get everyone to connect with each other. They built a framework of group activities, a “meet people” scavenger hunt, and packs of conversation cards. But I was content with my thoughts and my one person. It was a well run event, and I say that with life experience in running large events. They had clear instructions that meant nothing ever felt chaotic, not even at launch time when everyone went down to the water and people had to maneuver their way to launch around others who were busy taking their photos for social media. I too took photos, storing up the experience in pixels of light that will glow at me from screens and remind me of my experience.

The crowd was noisy and inconvenient. There was no solitude to be had. Part of me would have liked solitude. I would have liked to sit with the floating hopes and dreams without all the inconvenient humanity that set them on the water. But I can’t have one without the other. I can’t have hundreds of lanterns carrying wishes and fears unless I also have the people to launch them. People are messy, noisy, and often annoying, but there is beauty that simply can’t exist without them. Without us. Because those messy inconvenient people includes us. We create problems for others as much as they do to us. We can choose to move through the world graciously rather than demandingly, but we still get in each other’s way. There is beauty in that too.

I love that a core human impulse is to organize ourselves, to draw hundreds of people together into one spot where we can spend time drawing on paper and floating lights on water simply because it makes us happy to do so. It made me happy to be there.

Learning to Waste Materials and Time in the Service of Joy

When my children were small I filled my house with paper and crayons. The crayons outlasted the boxes they came in, so I ended up with a plastic bin full of loose (often broken) crayons. Construction paper and tape entered our house in bulk packs. There were even craft boxes deliberately full of interesting bits and bobs. These things existed in my house not because I looked forward to the results of my children’s crafty endeavors, but because making things was a source of joy to them and they learned from each thing that they made. Fine motor skills, cutting skills, learning to visualize 3d structures out of flat materials, all of these things helped my children to grow, to expand, to learn. I cheerfully tossed crayons and paper and tape and scissors onto the altar of that growth. The growth was the point. It was worth the expense. I’ll admit that I did at first go for the cheapest materials, so that the day my child discovered that crayon melting was creatively more interesting than drawing I was able to smile and hand them the bin of broken half crayons. (And also show them how to put down some wax paper so the melting didn’t stain the table.) But the stains were also part of the learning, both theirs and mine.

As the kids got older, the materials got more expensive. There were pastels and oil paints and construction sets and blocks of wood. Rented musical instruments came and went in my house. As did dance shoes and sports gear. Lessons were paid for and the end result was not gymnasts or equestrians, or musicians, or soccer stars, it was people who had learned from their curiosity and then moved on to something else.

I wonder why we as adults can’t grant ourselves the same grace to explore as I gave to my children. Somehow we get the idea that that the determining factor between “waste” and “well spent” is the result rather than the process. Partially this comes from the fact that we now have to pay our own bills and the creative materials must come from the same funds as food for our tables.  When resources feel scarce, we are wary how we spend them, making sure each resource is optimized and carefully used to purpose. But what if the purpose was “personal growth” instead of completed and useful object. I love the idea presented by twitter user @mykola  in this thread  about being curiosity motivated instead of completion motivated:

“Your projects are your way of asking the universe a question, and then digging and digging and digging until the universe answers. You are motivated by curiosity, and that is a blessed gift, not a source of shame. Your unfinished work is the testament to your growth. Those aren’t abandoned projects — those are the remaining scaffolds from the the space ships that they launched. It was never about finishing the thing.”

A scaffold is not wasted, even if it is completely abandoned, but also perhaps we can reclaim the resource of empty space in our homes and brains by dismantling the scaffolds for parts, discarding and letting go of the pieces which can’t be salvaged or that we don’t want to take time to salvage. Even if we hold onto the scaffolds because maybe we’ll finish them later, we can certainly let go of the guilt around them. Because carrying guilt is a use of brain energy that is far more wasteful than any use of materials could possibly be.

Some projects are cathedrals meant to stand as a beautiful monument for many to admire. Other projects are sand castles where the result is inherently ephemeral and the point is the creation rather than the result.

Pulling this back to the very idea of waste, the dictionary definition of that word says “waste: use or expend carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose”.  When we use materials or time or money for something that we enjoy, that is not a careless expense, though it may be extravagant. Joy often is extravagant, but it is definitely not “to no purpose.” Joy is purpose enough. Personal growth is reason enough. Just because we’ve become adults and exited formal schooling doesn’t mean we should stagnate our growth. Exactly the opposite. Be the sort of parent for yourself that buys piles of crayons and paper merely because you want to grow. Feel free to make a creative project out of sourcing materials in ways that don’t strain your budget nor make you worry about the environmental costs of your creative work.

Always remember that growth requires taking up more space and more resources than you did before. It is a good thing. Materials used in the service of your growth are not wasted. Enjoyment and growth are sufficient outcomes. Your growth is reason enough to spend resources on. Your enjoyment is reason enough.

The topic for this post was chosen by my Reader and Creative Community level supporters of my Patreon. If you have a topic you’d like to see me cover, becoming a supporter allows you to participate in the choosing of my next topic. Thank you for reading!

Casting Lights Forward

Yesterday I had a long conversation with a friend for his podcast (airing in August) during which we discussed partnership and care work. Since his partner is coming up on some heavy medical treatments, there was a moment where I reminded him to plan ahead to take care of himself as well. Fortunately he already has a plan for that in place, but in our discussion we talk about how, if you know that you have to walk through a dark dark patch, you should throw some lights forward on the path. Things that you can look forward to and aim for. Even if life takes a left turn before you get to the light, aiming for it still gives purpose and focus to your travels.

I’m thinking about this as we’re in the last few weeks of prep before Gen Con. Having that event to plan for has given focus and structure to our entire year in ways that are really beneficial. But I’ve also been doing the same thing for myself on a much smaller scale. I’ve discovered small, local (usually free) events that I can attend and look forward to for a few days or a week. I’ve been meaning to write each of these up in detail, but life keeps slipping by me.

One of them was a local African Heritage Festival in the courtyard area of our local mall. There were vendors, performances, and food. I got the chance to bruise my hands while participating in the joy of a drum circle. (I need better drumming techniques.)

I also took myself to a new art museum in my town. It is hosted by Utah Valley University and resides inside a mansion that was donated and renovated for the purpose. The current exhibit is a deliberate celebration of multiculturalism.

And sometimes I simply go out into my garden to discover the small beauties that exist there, like this thirty year old fence that has managed to grow lichen.

Next week I get to see friends during the Writing Excuses Recording sessions. Soon after that I’ve found a local Water Lantern Festival that I have tickets for. Then Gen Con looms large.

I’m not currently in a truly dark patch, but even in a life that is good, there is value in bright lights to aim and plan for. I’m going to try to retain the practice even as the seasons change.

Quietly Working on Many Things

Decorative image of pen and paper

Each day is carefully considered and full of things, I am so absorbed with each one that I fail to notice how many of them have passed since I wrote here. One of the troubles is that I am writing in so many other places as well as here. Like this Patreon post about Wasting Time and Materials in Service of Joy. (Free to read even for non-patrons.) Or the multiple Kickstarter updates for A Little Immortality. Or the emails to manufacturers telling them there are quality control issues with what they sent us. Or emails to friends. Then there are the social media posts, and the text messages, and the Newsletters. On top of that I have been doing a concerted push to complete my Structuring Life to Support Creativity Resource Book. (So close!) It feels like I am spilling words into the world all day every day.

Then I come here and discover it has been nearly a month without posting, and that feels like a failure, or some sort of neglect. I begin to wonder if I am spread too thin. If I should consolidate my words into fewer places, make them easier to find. Or perhaps put the same words into more places at the risk of being repetitious to the people who may follow along in more than one way. One of the necessary tasks of my life right now is “get more lines into the water.” If opportunities are fish, then the more fishing lines I have in the water, the more likely it is I will land some. If I didn’t need some of my words to help generate income, I would apportion them differently.

I’ve been granted this lovely space, summer of 2023, where I get to have the life I want, where my time is focused on my house and my projects. I’m not currently employed for a company that I don’t own. That may need to change in the fall depending on the outcome of the next Schlock book crowdfunding. On top of that, we’ve employed my son as our warehouse manager which means my time is not being completely absorbed in shipping tasks. No one in my household is in crisis. So in this wide open space, it is time for me to be expansive. To lay groundwork for a foundation that has capacity to hold up work that I may have to create in more constrained circumstances. This means writing more words in more places. Building up my Patreon, cultivating my mailing list, accepting teaching opportunities, scheduling interviews. If I do enough of all of them, perhaps I’ll net enough income generation so that my long-term future doesn’t contain “Sandra goes to find employment.”

Not that seeking employment is a failure of any kind. I did it last year to my great benefit. I can do it again as needed to push forward on my priorities. But seeking a job isn’t what I want to have happen next. I want to get to have long days where I alternate writing and reading. I want to putter in my garden and try to picture the plants I want to put in the ground this fall if I can afford them. I want to think up fun Schlock merchandise and make it real. I know what I want, I don’t know what I get to have in the long term. So I’m doing my best to dwell in a grateful space rather than an anxious one. I get to have this span of time with a lot of writing in it. That is a gift. The financial results of this time have yet to play out. Trying to imagine all of the possible futures is an exercise in creative anxiety which only siphons energy away from other creative things I could be doing instead. So when I discover myself in an anxiety tangent, I do my best to bring myself back here, to gratitude. I get to have this lovely summer where we’ve had beautiful weather and I get to finish a book that feels timely and important. Then I get to take that book through several rounds of revision and bring it forth into the world. It is going to be real, and I’m looking forward to that bit.

While I’m making that happen, things might be a bit quieter here on the blog, but even when I have gone quiet, I haven’t gone far. Just imagine me puttering away in the corner of the room, keeping you company, but so absorbed in my own project that I forget to speak. Until I do, and suddenly we’re all a little startled to realize we aren’t alone here after all.

Building Context

I am reading Me (Moth) by Amber McBride which is a novel written in poetry. This is the third or fourth poem novel I’ve read recently and I’ve discovered I love the form. It strips away so much noise from the emotional content of the book. But a novel in poetry requires an accumulation of layers of meaning. I reached a few lines on page 80 that struck me:

“Steps in new directions are hard to take
& it is hard to be sure if Sani is the moon
or just a dumb light bulb”

Me (Moth) by Amber McBride, pg 80

Looking at those words, you may wonder what in them was powerful. I’ve pulled that quote out of the book and dumped it here for you to read. In doing so I have ripped it free of the context which gave those words impact for me. Through eighty pages of reading I learned how my protagonists’ name is Moth. How she is in the process of cocooning after a soul-deep injury. How she meets a boy name Sani who is as injured as she is. And now she wonders if them traveling together is a path toward healing or just endless and deadly circling of the moth and the porch light. Context gives the words their power.

I think about this when I scroll through social media and see endless thoughts and snippets ripped from their contexts for easy sharing. One descriptor for this experience is Context Collapse. The tricky part is that sometimes snippeting works. Sometimes it is incredibly useful to share a pull quote or a meme to spread an idea or to share sorrows and joys. There are twitter threads and social media graphics specifically designed to carry their context with them packed tight.

But even the best-packed meme still arrives in a head different from the one that created it and the one that shared it. The new mind and heart carry their own context built out of a lifetime of experiences, fears, and joys. A context that is built and informed not only by their own life, but also by what appears before and after the snippeted meme in the feed. The new person reacts based on the context they carry in ways that are baffling or feel very tangential to the conversation that the snippet was intended to spark. Even people who are in fundamental agreement on problems and solutions can end up arguing because we’re having multiple conversations instead of a singular one. A cloud of possible conversations sparked by the same snippeted meme, shaped by individual contexts.

We all end up shouting at contextual ghosts that we’ve made up in our own heads. If we are not careful to actually build context with the person we’re attempting to converse with, we can end up holed up in defensive bunkers, terrified of the straw men we built for ourselves.

Pausing to build context is the key. It is taking those lines I pulled from Amber McBride’s book and asking me why they mattered to me, what impact they had. Not just finding out the context that the book provides, but also what are the resonances in my own life that make them ring like a bell for me. Even after all of that, you still may not see why those lines matter, maybe they fall flat for you instead of ringing, but at least we will have had a shared conversation. And likely will know more about each other than we did before. Building shared context is how we connect, how we learn to love, how we heal.

But context building takes time and patience. It takes using social media tools against their built-in purposes. It requires us to add our own context to the things we share instead of just sharing them. It takes all of us learning to hold space for each other.

Addendum: You should definitely read some of Amber McBride’s work. It is beautiful. If you want, feel free to use my affiliate link to pick up a copy of Me (Moth).

Shifting Employments

A year ago this week I learned of a job at Writers Cubed Inc where I would be the Director of Operations helping run conferences and other events for teenage writers and support teen and child literacy. I applied and got the job. This week I am winding down the last pieces of my employment with them. It isn’t the outcome anyone wanted. They wanted to build me into their structure for years to come and I liked being a core structural element in making events happen. Unfortunately finding funding for non-profits is complex and often difficult. They’re experiencing a funding gap and they can’t afford to pay a Director of Operations for the next year or more. So I’ve been carefully closing up files, finishing off email chains, and logging out of programs. I’ve also been observing the emotions of job loss as I go through them, even while part of me is glad to have my time less constrained. My work for them went on hold more than a month ago, and I haven’t been any less busy.

This often seems to be the case. As if tasks are just waiting in the wings to flow into any available space. We got our copies of A Little Immortality delivered from the printer and that has moved us into Shipping Season with its attendant raft of tasks. Every shipping season is a little bit different. This one is the first time we’ve had books delivered from our local printer, it is the first time orders will be waiting on the arrival of coins instead of books, it is the first time my son is being trained in all the shipping tasks with an eye to him fully taking over the job the next time around. All of this occupies my time while I’m contemplating how my life will be shaped when my schedule is no longer bent around working 10-15 hours per week for someone else. While I’m also contemplating how I can fill the income gap that not having an additional paycheck will cause. I can see my way through August. Between now and then I need to figure out additional steps.

One of the things I am doing is plowing through drafting books, so that I can get feedback on books, so that I can move closer to getting more books on the table. Working an outside job on top of the work for my own business taught me stamina in a new way, I’m using that stamina and habit-of-work to make words happen. Then once I have feedback, I’ll have a better feel for whether anything I have written is viable as something that can be published. I’ll have a feel for how much more work there is to do. Perhaps when the first rush of shipping slows down I will be able to get some videos posted to Patreon. Perhaps after I’m done drafting entire books I can turn my attention back to shorter fiction. Or perhaps when I reach August it will become apparent that I need to be looking for another job.

Usually this sort of uncertainty makes me anxious. I suppose I am a little, but I’m also feeling fairly calm, like this is a good path, that I have good plans, and that between now and September further paths will become more clear to me.

Growing for the Future

My clover is growing. It is now recognizable and visible from a distance.

Of course the weeds are also growing, since the conditions which allow my clover to thrive are also beneficial for a number of weedy plants. However as the clover establishes, I should have fewer weeds to pull.

Seeing the brown patch fill in with green is very hopeful. Later this week I will pay a sprinkler company to fix several sprinkler problems and that will hopefully help me keep things green.

Fixing the sprinklers is part of a much more involved process that I’m undertaking in several areas of my life where I’m expending resources now in ways that will let me conserve my resources of time and energy better in the future. The past several months I’ve been training my 20yo to take over the tasks of warehouse management and store fulfillment. This week I’ll be training him on Kickstarter fulfillment as we start sending out the first shipments of Schlock Mercenary A Little Immortality. I can see a future where I’m no longer handling fulfillment and am able to focus my energy on making new things. I see a future where this brown patch is green.

Visiting My Bookshelves

In this quieter space with fewer appointments on my schedule and fewer admin tasks for me to track, I have been doing some organization and clearing out. This is how I ended up standing in front of my bookshelves. One of my bookshelves. I have shelves in multiple locations which serve different portions of my library collection. This time I stood in front of the shelf which is mostly full of children’s books from my own childhood and from when my kids were young. I accidentally stood there for half an hour, reading spines, occasionally pulling out a book to leaf through. I was remembering, not just the story contained in the book’s pages, but also the story of how the book came to be mine, the story of why the book mattered to me, the story of who I shared that book with. These physical objects contain so much more than what is printed on their pages.

Books have shaped so much of who I am. They continue to do so both in what I’m reading and what I’m creating. I could write my life history simply by going to my bookshelves and telling the stories of me and each of the books on the shelf. I don’t think everyone stores and processes their lives in this way. Howard does to some extent. He has shelves of his own. One of my sons definitely stores memory in objects, but his objects are more likely to be video game cartridges. My other kids, less so. Books matter to me deeply, which is why making them is a large part of my life’s work.

The Hope of Clover

Last summer a large section of our lawn died. A combination of heat, drought, misaligned sprinklers, and inattention (my personal resources were over-tapped) turned it from thriving green plants into a crispy yellow dirt patch. Every time I went outside I felt the weight of failure as I considered the results of my poor stewardship. Months later, I still feel that failure. It it is an indictment of my gardening, and somehow also a commentary about the world at large. As if the ecological disaster of the drought were playing out small scale in my yard. I can grant myself compassion and grace over the situation. I really didn’t have any attention to spare, but that doesn’t change the dirt patch.

I’ve found myself in a season with a few more resources to spare. Not a lot. I can’t pay a landscape designer to come in and reconfigure my entire yard to be more drought friendly and correct all my sprinkler placements. But I can take tiny corrective steps. So, I bought clover seeds and scattered them. Thousands of tiny seeds in a vast swathe of dirt, each seed carrying the hope of green abundance later. Green clover will thrive better in dry circumstances. A clover lawn will be better for local insect life as well. Clover moves me closer to a garden that will feed my soul with greenness in the height of scorching summer while also moving all of my landscaping closer to plantings that require less effort and less water to keep alive.

Today my patch of dirt has thousands of tiny sprouts.

They’re pretty much invisible from more than a foot away, but they are there. Tiny specks of hope that I can recover from failure. In fact, perhaps, the existence of this failure has laid groundwork for something which may be much better for the long run. If I can kill a lawn, grieve over dirt, scatter seeds, and then grow clover; what else can I recover from?

I crouch down to admire my tiny, tiny plants and feel hope for what comes next.