Fixing the Floor in Howard’s Office

Last summer we had flooding and I had to replace flooring in Howard’s office and our family room. Because of deductibles and various other expense, the vinyl plank flooring we chose was on the cheap end. In the family room space this has been fine, but in Howard’s office, where he was rolling over the flooring with an office chair, a problem developed. The planks started to slide and gaps opened up.

Some of the gaps were large, more than half an inch wide.

I took an afternoon and tore up the problem section. These flooring pieces are flexible enough to allow this where more rigid pieces would have required tearing apart all the way to the wall. Of course their flexibility is also why we had a problem in the first place. So there is that.

In order to prevent this problem from happening again, I took two preventative steps. The first was to push some blocking pieces underneath the dry wall and up against the wall stud. this meant that there wasn’t a space for pieces to slide into anymore.

The second was that I used flooring glue to attache the pieces to each other. It would provide just enough additional friction that the pieces stick instead of sliding. Or so I hope. This sort of flooring isn’t supposed to need glue, but I used it anyway in the interests of prevention.

The job was fiddly and at times annoying, but I got it done. Now Howard has a functional floor again.

As an added protection, we purchased an office mat designed for hard floors. It’ll be just one more layer of defense. If the problem happens again, then the only real fix is to tear out this less expensive flooring and install something that is higher quality. Not really what we want to spend time or money on right now. It feels good to have an annoying house problem solved. I like that.

Writing in the Winter

Today I find myself missing my hammock. I brought it indoors and stowed it for the winter a few weeks ago when the weather turned cold. The patio with it’s fire pit is still available, but sitting out there is not ideal for writing. Typing with gloved hands doesn’t work well and the smell of wood smoke permeates handwritten pages in a way that lingers. I’m left seeking an indoor setting that invites me into a writing head space.

I began the work of setting up such a space late last winter when I acquired a faux-fireplace heater for a corner of my office. It does make the spot feel a little cozier, but the minute I photograph it, everything feels shabby, dated, cobbled together.

Even worse is what I’m looking at when I sit in that chair.

It is a jumble of clutter that needs to be cleaned up, remnants of completed projects, storage, and piles of to-do items. Considering the insights I gained while watching Stay Here on Netflix, I’m absolutely failing at creating a space where my writer self can enter and instantly feel welcomed.

So I have work to do and I have some limiting parameters for the project. My ideal writing space would be a room with a large window, flooded with natural light. It would be a room that is fully mine, no one else in my house would use it for anything. In the short term I have to work with what exists rather than wishing for what doesn’t. So, my options are: 1. The pictured basement office which is mostly mine, but has no windows and is a passage way for some family members. 2. My bedroom which has a window, but no room for a chair/desk and is shared with Howard whose work process often includes taking naps mid-day. 3. The front room which has a window, but which is in the middle of everything and people frequently wander in and start talking to me. Each of these options require compromises away from my ideal and other compromises so that I don’t cause problems for the other people living in my house. The best option to create a space for me to focus and be less interrupted is my basement office.

Having identified the work to do, and having written a blog post about intending to do it, I need to acknowledge that none of the above counts as actual writing of fiction. So for today I’m putting a pin in the project and going to my novel to try to remember what scene I was working on.

Unfocused

I am distracted today and for no easily discernable reason. Yes politics, Covid, and social media tug at my attention, but most of the time I’m able to step away, reset, and get work done. Today I keep frittering from thing to thing. Perhaps that means my mind needs to NOT focus for a while. That’s okay too. I just need to step away from trawling through my internet places which give me the illusion of focus without actually allowing me to really rest.

News Articles Today

This happened today

Image of Washington Post headline: Joe Biden projected to be nation’s 46th president

It is a political development which makes everyone in my house glad. I’ve skewed liberal for decades and I never felt as appalled by a republican president as I have for the past four years. He did so much social damage. His existence combined with the pandemic brought so many simmering problems to the surface. Possibly that is a good thing for us in the long run, because now we see the work we have to do. There is a lot of work. This election means being able to settle in and do that work without having to negotiate with a leader who denies the work needs to be done. I am happy to work with people who disagree on how to solve the problems, but I can’t work with someone who denies the problem. Racism is a problem. Income inequality is a problem. The level of poverty in our country is a problem. How to handle immigration is a problem. The pandemic is a huge and urgent problem. The current state of policing and incarceration is problem. The cost of healthcare is a problem. We have lots of social discussion to do in order to figure out how to address these problems. We have a much better chance at actually having those discussions when we’re not constantly fighting a landslide of denial and misinformation from the very top.

This also happened today:

Utah Covid graph from 11/07/2020

I do not like the way that this week’s spike isn’t a lone day reaching high. It is solid and sustained across three days. This means the low is probably not going to dip down much, and next week we’ll have another set of new records. Particularly since the state guidelines haven’t changed and the weather is going cold. We still have kids going to school in person. Church meetings every week with up to 100 people in attendance. I got an invitation to a wedding reception (which I won’t attend) that had no information about quantities of people invited or safety measures. Sports events are happening. Youth activities are happening. People are planning to gather for Thanksgiving. Restaurants are open for dining inside. Gyms and fitness centers are open. None of that will shut down unless someone in government states clearly that they must. Until some of those things shut down we will continue to see increasing cases. The deaths have begun to roll in as well. I have friends and family who have tested positive.

So today I feel relief tempered with caution and an awareness that the work has only just begun.

Thinking on Four Years Past

I just went back and re-read blog posts from election week in 2016. The sinking-despairing feeling which permeated that week in 2016 is alluded to lightly by the words I wrote, but not fully expressed. I remember it so clearly, but I didn’t write it publicly because I was focusing my public face on finding ways to move forward. I reserved the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of anxieties for my private journals where I was free to say all the thoughts without hurting anyone else. That is always my instinct in the face of difficult things. I would rather say nothing than say a thing which would cause more harm. Yet much growth has come from those depths of emotion I felt four years ago. I learned that sometimes saying nothing can also harm. That I have to be willing to speak up for those who don’t have as much power as I do. The discovery of my own power was a revelation in itself, particularly when contrasted with how powerless I felt. We can never control everything. We’re always at the mercy of forces larger than ourselves. Yet that is not the same thing as being powerless. The situation is very rare where we can’t make choices to steer ourselves, our lives, our families, our communities. The river may be large with a strong current, but we still have a rudder on our boat. And of course, my mind immediately supplies “but what if the rudder is broken?” which is definitely a thing that can happen via disability, mental health challenges, abuse, etc. Every metaphor is broken by special cases, we sometimes have a tiny rudder, or no paddles, or maybe we have a giant rudder and gorgeous large sails. The key thing is that we almost always have some sort of choice about how to respond to our circumstances, even when we have no control over the circumstances.

The thing that strikes me most about 2016 and all the events that came after both personal and public, is that I am here in 2020, made stronger, surer, and more ready to face whatever is next. I’m also feeling a dawning hope that, when all the votes are counted, my country will have a president who will listen to advisers, who will make a coherent plan and stick to it. I may not always like the plan he makes, but he’ll behave as an adult leader who considers his words and actions rather than as a reactive, self-absorbed, person. My country still has to contend with deep divisions between people, many of those divisions were created in part by that selfish man in power who benefited from people being angry and scared. So part of my hopeful feeling is that his social power will wane along with his visibility. Yes there are plenty of other politicians who attempt to hold power in the same ways, tackling them is what all that learning in how to be strong and speak up is good for. I feel hope, not because now I get to relax, but because my country has some additional traction and less head wind for the further work that needs to be done.

Being My Own Guest

In the past week I’ve watched a couple of episodes of Stay Here on Netflix. It is a show that hits several aspirational living sweet spots. It shows before and after renovation, it has education about how to run a good vacation rental, and it teases with interesting travel destinations. It really succeeds at making me want to go stay in the places that are featured on the show, which I can’t do mid-pandemic with my current tight finances. However I can watch the show and dream about getting to visit, so the show falls into a comfort watch category.

The part of the show that keeps lingering in my mind is the section where the home owner is taught about how to create a setting that is welcoming and intriguing to guests. It had me thinking about my own home and how I might make it more welcoming. Of course we aren’t having any guests right now, probably not for a year. But I’ve always found it sad when someone fixes up their home so that they can sell it instead of fixing it up so they can enjoy it. I find myself thinking the same thoughts about these guest-welcoming amenities. How much lovelier my life would be if I treat myself as my own guest. If the me of today takes time to make the surroundings pleasant so that the me of tomorrow can be happy to walk into them.

It is a form of self care, this planning ahead to make my life pleasant. It is a form that previously puzzled me. On shows I see women setting up candles and an elaborate bath in order to relax, and it all looked like so much work. If I wanted to rest, that meant I wanted to stop, not plan ahead and organize a big display for myself. I misunderstood something in that process. If I wait until I’m in need of a break to set up one for myself, then I don’t always make the optimal choices for how to rest my mind and heart. Just like if I wait until I’m hungry to plan food, I’ll choose the things that are easiest rather than the things which are healthiest for me. Instead self care is planning ahead when I am at a high-energy part of day. It is me taking some of my focused time to plan ahead for when I am tired. This is the true form of self care. So that tired me can reside in a place of welcoming rest that is already prepared for her.

Setting up to make a guest of myself is going to take some time and planning. Some of it is clearing space by getting rid of superfluous possessions. Some is the remodeling we’re doing to make all our spaces more beautiful and functional. Some is re-imagining our rooms with “being welcoming” in mind. I’ll progress toward it a little at a time. It was what I was doing with our back patio without being conscious of it, because I was deliberately creating it as a space to welcome guests and in the process made a space that welcomes me. Now I just need to do the same for the inside of the house where the only guests will be people who live here.

Mental Health and the Coming Weeks

This next week is an anxious one for members of my household and my online communities. The election looms large and everyone is trying to brace for the fall out without being able to predict what that fall out will be. It could be anything from relief to doom. Not surprisingly messages about mental health and seeking help have been common. This is good. It is impossible to know which message will be the right tool for a person in their moment of crisis. All we can do is scatter tools in the hope that people will have one handy when they desperately need it. I’m worried about November on multiple fronts, (election, Covid, mental health, darkening days, cold weather) but I’m trying to focus my attention and energy on accomplishing things rather than sitting in the waiting place. It is a worthy effort even when I don’t always succeed.

This has been a year full of unexpected life shifts and grief for everyone. The result has been an upsurge in the need for mental health services. I’ve spent my share of hours laying still unable to do anything but cry. Yet I don’t think I’ve had it as hard as those for whom this level of emotional wrangle isn’t familiar. Depression and grief have been residents in our house since 2013, prior to that they were frequent visitors. I know how to live around them, contain them, process them, and move forward despite them. I’ve felt a lot of peace and happiness in the past months. I even made the decision to wean off of my anti-depressant because it was contributing to insomnia which led to fatigue-induced depression and anxiety. Sometimes the meds are essentially helpful. Other times they are counter productive. Mental health is a complex social, emotional, intellectual, and chemical system. Changes in one of the axes can require balancing shifts in another.

My battles with depression are almost always situationally driven. I become depressed when I expect myself to carry an over-sized emotional load, when my loved ones are depressed and I can’t help, when the finances are strained and I feel powerless to change it, when grief rips through my life and I have to process it. If these situations persist long enough, then it unbalances the chemicals in my body, which might require medication to get things right side up again. I’ve been various levels of depressed since 2013 because of situational elements in my life. In contrast, anxiety seems to be chemically endemic in my body or psyche. I can find balances that make depression a non-issue, anxiety is always with me. I have family members for whom depression seems to originate in the brain chemicals and persist long enough to seriously disrupt the social and emotional components. They may always need some sort of medication so that they aren’t constantly pulled off-kilter. Or so that they don’t have to constantly spend energy adapting for the weight of chemical depression.

Just because I have been depressed doesn’t mean I fully comprehend the internal emotional landscape of someone else’s depression. One of my loved ones lives with a constant existential nihilism which I can intellectually understand as they explain it, but I don’t viscerally get. This is why the best support I can be for a loved one with mental health issues is to sit with them and make space for them to express the thoughts that come to them. It can be a delicate balance to accept all their feelings as valid, but then to gently challenge the distorted thinking that mental health issues can produce. That’s the hardest bit. Depression is a lying liar who lies. And the longer someone lives with it, the more plausible those lies seem, the more ingrained into our habits of being.

Some people are having their first encounters with depression or other mental health issues this year. Some have been living with those issues, but have been forced to confront them in new ways because their old coping strategies were stripped away. Some people will need more medication and help. Others will discover new balance and need less. Some, like me, cycle through both. I’ve been both better and worse in 2020. My family members retreated hard for months, but now seem to be emerging and finding ways to inch forward. November may be a mental health setback. Yet one thing I’m slowly learning is that sometimes the best thing that can happen to a person is to have a setback, to be forced to stop and re-calibrate. In so many ways this year is a year of setbacks and re-calibrations.

Today I’m feeling hopeful that all the reverses and changes of this year are teaching us how to be stronger and more proactive moving forward. If enough people learn that lesson, then the world gets to have a shift for the better over the long haul. I can choose to be that person no matter what the outcome of the election and the mental health fallout may be.

Winding Down and Moving Forward Post-Conference

There is this point at the end of a convention or conference where all of my responsibilities are complete and the conference itself is winding to a close. It is the point at an in-person event where some people have left and others are still lingering. I could either leave or linger, I just have to choose which I want. The trouble is that I want both. I’m tired and my inner introvert is ready to crawl someplace cozy and not talk to anyone. Yet I’m also aware that some of the most precious moments at an event are those lingering moments. All of this still exists for an online event, at least until the moment that the host shuts all of the Zoom rooms leaving us all to connect through non-conference channels if we want to keep in touch.

It has been a really good conference. I’m left with memories of fun conversations. I got to give three presentations and people have told me that they got useful information from them. I learned that teaching can still feel rewarding in an online format. I’m convinced that I need to set up my own teaching spaces so that I get to teach more often than a few times per year. I also need to find ways to socialize with my writer friends on a more regular basis. However it is okay if I take a few days doing nothing in particular before I launch into all of that.

The weather turned last night. Instead of being warm/cool post-summer, we’re now having chilly/cold pre-winter. Trees are dropping their leaves in earnest and I’m discovering that many of the get-this-done-before-it-is-cold tasks have been shifted into the take-care-of-this-when-it-warms-up-again column. It is possible the weather will warm up again in a couple of weeks. That happens sometimes, but for this week it means I can put them down and focus more on indoors and on writing. Writing was a little neglected as I pushed on house projects. I have a pile of presentations from the conference to watch before they expire in 30 days. I want to use that learning and enthusiasm to push writing projects forward.

I want to cling to the conference happy and enthusiasm to learn because I have a looming awareness that November (and all of the November things I’m worried about) are only a week away. But I don’t have to think about those yet.

Mid-Conference Check In

I’m halfway through my week at an online writer’s conference. In many ways the experience is being quite similar to when I’d travel to a conference. I’ve felt camaraderie and the particular exhaustion that comes from joyous socializing, learning, and teaching all day long. My master class presentation went well. It was the one I was most worried about because the three hour time slot called for a deep dive into the topic (Marketing as Storytelling.) I was surprised to discover that once I got rolling I had no trouble talking to the camera and believing that there were people on n the other end listening. (Webinar format doesn’t show audience faces.) I missed having the micro-feedback of seeing faces nod or look puzzled, but it didn’t hamper my ability to teach the material. When we got to the Q&A section, having the questions written out was really nice, however that was also the moment I most missed seeing faces because I was unable to gauge if my answer had resolved the particular person’s puzzlement. I resorted to ending most answers with “If I’ve failed to give you the answer you need, please re-submit your question and I’ll try again.”

Despite being at home, I’m very conference focused this week. Lots of home tasks are slipping out of my mind and off my schedule. That’s okay, I can pick it up again later. There are only a few things that would be harmed by waiting another week and I think I’ve managed to catch and do those. It is really nice to turn all my focus and creative energy toward participating in a writer community. When I’m not actively engaged with people, I’ve been actively resting by watching Lizzie Bennett Diaries (which I’d never watched in full before.) Or I’ve been actively working on prepping presentations. There has been a lot of “actively” which probably explains why I hit the wall pretty hard last night. In this case “hit the wall” meant staring at left over pizza that needed to be stowed in the fridge and feeling ready to cry because the problem was too complex to be solved. Good thing Howard was nearby.

It is almost time for me to go to a class, but I wanted to catch a few of these thoughts before the moment completely got away from me.

All the Thoughts of Today

My head is full of things today and I’m supposed to be focusing on preparing a presentation for WXR at SIWC, the online conference that is going to occupy so much of my time for the next 10 days. I’m really excited for it, and if you want to join at the last minute, you have until noon Pacific on October 17 to sign up. Events for the conference start that same evening. Tomorrow.

This morning I had conversation with a long time blog reader who had no idea I have a Patreon. I do. You can sign up to support me here. I also have a newsletter that I send out once per month with a thought-filled letter, similar to one of my more extended blog posts. Also project updates. You can sign up for that here.

I’ve put a lot of energy in the past few weeks into setting up an October sale in our online store. I’m thinking about how messed up package shipping got for awhile in spring and early summer, and how clogged up the mail gets during a regular holiday shipping season. The mess is going to be epic this year and it is going to start in mid November. Add to that the fact that I think mid November is when the increase of Covid cases will force municipalities to start enforcing lockdowns. People will be stress buying online and at grocery stores. I expect to see shortages. Nothing dire, just increased inconvenience for various items. Mid November is also when I expect people to start realizing that maybe they don’t get to have all of the holiday traditions they’re accustomed to. You probably don’t get to travel home to see parents or grandparents this year. Or at least you shouldn’t. We’re having to evaluate whether to gather with a single pair of married kids who don’t live in our house. We’ve already ruled out all of the extended family and my parents. Those hard emotions of grief and anger are going to spike right along with cases and restrictions. Not looking forward to all of that. So we’re encouraging people to please shop early. Things are going to shift this holiday season, no one knows how yet. So maybe plan ahead?

Also driving sales is vital revenue for us because we can’t feel good about running another Kickstarter until we’ve fulfilled on this one. And while we’re continually making progress, Howard’s breathing issues have come back a bit and we’re waaaaay behind schedule. We’re okay for short term, but my job is to pay attention to medium and long term as well. With that in mind, I just sunk some money into a Schlock themed holiday ornament. I hope to have it in hand and make it available in early November. A new shiny thing in the store helps to drive sales.

Sometimes I sit in a quiet, peaceful place in my house or garden and think about how lovely it would be to be able to just make interesting and beautiful things without having to worry about promotion, sales or bills. That is not the world I live in.

Howard is breathing reasonably well today, but he needed supplementary oxygen a couple of days ago. We can’t prove that is ailments are post-Covid syndrome. He was sick in January, supposedly before the illness was local. When we finally got an antibody test, it was too late. Any antibodies he had were already gone. Yet his ongoing symptoms match those described by Covid long-haulers. So on top of the “what is going on medically and how do we fix it” we have to wonder if what we’re dealing with is post-Covid at all. It is so much better than it was last spring, but there are still regular impacts on our life and capabilities.

This week I had a lovely volunteer to help me test my intake system for consulting. I’m tooling up to hang out my shingle as a consultant for creator-owned small businesses. With her help I’ve already learned a lot, I expect to have to learn more. The best news is that I really enjoyed the hour I spent doing the actual consulting. That is promising that this source of potential revenue is a good one. Work I can get paid for, where I feel like I’m helping others, and where I come away feeling energized.

Had a tweet thread about helping an ADHD and depressed adult build a system to take their daily meds. It got a lot of positive response and I had a dozen tiny conversations as a result. I really liked making the thread and feeling like I’d put something helpful/happy out onto twitter. I want to post a follow up later, because the system I created has built in problems for long-term use. We haven’t even begun to address the challenge inherent in my kid learning to manage medication refills. I also have a set of thoughts around having my adult kids living at home, which is always pitched as a massive failure in media. “Living with mom” is failure at adulting. I want to write something to challenge that concept and to talk about building healthy interdependence with housemates where one person’s strength can help answer another’s need without anyone being taken advantage of. And without anyone being co-dependent.

I have election anxiety. I’ve had it for months. But now there is a filled out ballot sitting on my table waiting for me to take it to the drop box. The ballot represents the tiny amount of control I have over the outcome. I’m working to make plans to manage no matter who is declared president. However I suspect that if we get four more years of Donald Trump at least three close family members are going to crash hard into fear and despair. I am not looking forward to helping people navigate that, especially not with the other emotional load I’m expecting to hit in mid November. Theoretically we’ll know in just a few more weeks. I’m trying not to hyper focus on it.

Local races are also weighing heavily on my mind, particularly since I’m not impressed with the ways that the overwhelmingly republican local governments have been reluctant to impose restrictions. They’re waiting and hoping for people to exercise personal responsibility. I, too, believe that people are mostly good and want to do the right thing. However we are all social animals who use context and checking on our neighbors to figure out what is appropriate/good for us to do. We’re all reluctant to be the one to rock the boat or make others upset. This means that if there is a social plan that is a bad idea in a pandemic (say a pancake breakfast at a restaurant for fifty people) and 60% of invitees think it is a bad idea, the thing might still happen because no one speaks up. If there is a top down statement from the governor saying “No social events with more than 10 people” then those people who are concerned can point at the governor and say “Maybe we shouldn’t do this.” And the event organizer when calling it off can make the governor the bad guy instead of having to be the bad guy. Clear leadership and regulation is important to change social norms and to fight our innate desire to gather. The Utah spike has become less spike-y and more surge-y, but in both cases people end up in the hospital, or with post-Covid syndrome, or dead.

My fall projects are winding down to a close. The patio is finished and I even did the plantings in the patches of dirt so I can have pretty greenery going forward. I’ve made significant progress on pulling wisteria vine out of the pine tree. There is more to do and probably a blog post to write about it. I have a plan to use reclaimed hardwood flooring to create a table top to go over the firepit that I repaired using sheet metal. That should probably get a blog post too. Kitchen remodel is currently paused because the next step is to start dismantling the old pantry. It is a “making a mess” step, but right now I’m enjoying having our new pantry wall done and the kitchen being nicer. Also I want to finish up some other projects before launching into another one. I need to finish removing nails from hardwood flooring so it can be donated or reused. Then the jumbled pile of hazardous wood-with-nails can be turned into a neat stack in the garage. There are other clean up things that need to be done in the garage as well. The space needs to be cleared out and organized so that I can manage the next stages of project. Clearing the garage is also a bit time sensitive because it gets cold out there in the winter and winter is coming. I’ve finished all of my fall harvest tasks. We have grape juice, grape compote, grape jelly, and raisins from our vines. I’ve frozen pumpkin to make pies next month. We’ve also got pear jelly and pear butter. I carefully marked the grape vines according to which kind of grapes they grew. This means next spring when I’m cutting back the vines I can offer cuttings to friends and tell them which kind of grapes they are getting. There is also a plan for an arbor and increased height supports along the run of vines. I’m actually planning to use some of the lumber from the dismantled pantry for that. One project always leads to the next. Oh, and I have a plan for spare lumber to be turned into a compost bin as well.

I haven’t been writing fiction as much as I want to be. I’m hoping to correct that by winding down some of the house projects and not picking up as many new projects. However I’m not good at preventing myself from thinking up new projects. So.

… That might be all of my top-of-my-head thoughts for right now. Maybe now my head can be quiet enough to focus on presentation prep. My head is really noisy some days.