I was supposed to be sitting down to write a piece as part of the blog tour on Parenting and Creativity. My piece was going to be about coming to terms with the anger of discovering the feminist line of “women can have it all” that had been pushed on me in the 80s and 90s had turned out to be a complete and total lie. I’d spent 18 months or more being angry about it and then having to work through it. And I had lots to say on the topic. Instead, something parenting related happened to me that completely paralysed all creativity. For so far, a month.
I had a pregnancy related complication – nothing so rare that they didn’t know how to pick it up or what to do with it, and there are very safe treatments and tests. And I’m okay now (on maintenance and being monitored and managed) and the baby is fine. But it was quite the experience to live through. It turns out, it’s not very reassuring to have your GP call you after hours, send you to the ED and call ahead so that when you arrive, they triage you straight through and you already have 2 nurses setting up an ECG for you in the bed you are about to live in. I feel like you can judge how serious things are by how nice to the nurses are to you and they were all super nice to me the whole time I was there.
But bottom line is that what I had was life threatening and shit got really really real. You know when life suddenly tunnel visions and everything else is just a blur and you suddenly know exactly what is important in life, and to you, and therefore that everything else just isn’t? Yeah that. I was in that space for I guess about 48 hours and I learned a lot of things about myself. And about life. And even though, by the time I went home I was fine and everything was okay and had the best possible outcome, it was really hard to get my brain to change out of that gear and go back to Life. And you know, all the stupid little decisions like what carpark to choose and which milk to buy.
I also experienced some anxiety issues whilst in hospital. I discovered THE WORST place to be in a hospital is in the overnight observations ward called Medical Assessment. Especially if you’re a germophobe. Also, they don’t cope well with pregnant women who aren’t there for hyperemesis gravidarum aka they forgot to feed me for very long stretches of time. The lovely nurses did smuggle me out all kinds of tiny packets of biscuits and cakes. And once, whilst waiting for a nuclear dye scan, I got a airplane snack pack-like meal.
So, by the time I got home, my brain had been beaten about a fair bit. It felt like it had glitched into a hung screen or like it was buffering before it could stream again or something. It felt broken. I lost the ability to read fiction, to edit or proof, to slush read!, and even to sew or knit. And I couldn’t handle much TV above a cooking show. Normally my response would be to dive into a Gilmore Girls rewatch but I couldn’t face the speed of their dialogue and also the whole drama of that overarching plot.
Oddly though, I suddenly had great capacity for paperwork and book keeping. So weird. I think possibly because that kind of work doesn’t require any creativity and I suddenly had this new focus of being able to be ruthless and decisive about things. I was able to tackle two overladen and spilling all over the place in trays and just steadily work through it all piece by piece. I actually found myself using the GTD process of collecting, collating and processing the way it’s supposed to be applied. I still don’t know how someone who is starting from scratch can seriously get their whole life into GTD in just 3 days. I’ve been at it for 3 or 4 weeks now and I’m only just almost on top of it. But I’ve been suddenly able to pick up a piece of paper, ask myself what it is, decide if I can just bin it, actually delegate it if not, or do it if it would take less than 2 mins. And my onset of ruthless decisiveness has helped me just make calls on things. Like, say, if I no longer have the ability to answer a question (like, I didn’t record crucial information so couldn’t move it forward without knowing that), then I’m not suddenly going to have this information if I leave it in my in tray (leaving it there for 2 years hasn’t helped) and it’s likely to not even be relevant anymore. So I did this thing where I just filed it and moved on with my life. OMG. So liberating. And in so doing, I’ve managed to almost completely sort out all my paperwork, finances and royalty reports. Jobs that I would rather poke myself in the eye with a fork than do instead of anything else that is creative, normally.
And in being ruthless and decisive, I’ve managed to learn how to delegate. So much so that I want to get even better at delegating. Sometimes, it’s just admitting to yourself that you’re procrastinating on actioning something because you have feelings related to that – an email you have to write or a question or favour you have to ask. I’m really lucky to have an awesome and enthusiastic team of peeps at TPP – I wouldn’t have been able to get through a lot of what’s been going on this year if I hadn’t been able to rely on them for help getting things done. And it turns out, it’s not a negative to admit the ships too big to be run by just one person these days. When you suddenly take ill, it’s actually really useful to not be the only person with access to the email accounts and other admin things as well as not being the only person who knows what’s going on. Up til now it’s been both scary to let other people see the warts and all and also, I’ve not wanted to ask people to do boring jobs. And all that does is slow you down and sabotage the potential. As you can see, I’ve really jumped on board with this delegation thing – because it also turns out, it’s easier to write someone else’s scary email for them when you don’t have the feels. I knew this, having been other people’s admin person before. I guess I just felt bad asking other people to do things for me that I was personally capable of doing (if I actually had 48 hours in every day).
So suddenly things are moving forward at TPP in several directions at once. It would normally feel scary but doesn’t because I completely trust the team. And this being immersed in the whole paperwork thing enabled me to do some things like set in place spreadsheets for calculating complex problems for ongoing bookwork upkeep rather than reinventing the wheel each time. Something I might have been doing until now, ahem.
I am now just slowly feeling like my brain is unlocking from its screen freeze. I’ve managed to get back to some editing. I’m almost completely on top of all intrays and inboxes. I’ve not yet got back to crafting or reading yet but I think in the next couple of weeks that will happen. I’m very keen to maintain some GTD processes though. In preparing for a newborn’s arrival in about 4 months, I’d like to have as much as I can be on just ticking on over processes. I definitely learned with my first one that writing things down and preparing as much as you can when you have the time available in order to be able to pick up and action a small thing later in a small window of opportunity, you can kinda stay on top of things. If you can not sweat the small stuff!
, mental health
After I blogged how I was feeling (was it last week?), I realised that you tend to be ready to talk about things when you feel like the tide is finally turning. And truthfully, I have been starting to feel like I am dragging my sorry arse up out from the pull of the abyss. Basically I got stuck into actioning my management tools – and they are these tools because they work. And they do. Every time.
I feel better about myself when I feel productive. So when I feel like I’m struggling, one of my personal management tools is to look around and find low hanging fruit to get some quick productivity runs on the board. Things that might be included in this is easy housework – putting on a load of laundry, which leads eventually to getting on top of the laundry. Likewise the dishes. Or clearing off some surfaces and tidying up parts of the house. Or my handbag. Or running a bunch of errands that are easy but I’ve been procrastinating on so they feel so very hard. Answering email. Filing. Etc. Basically, my management tools are all about faking it, til I make it. And this one is about making myself feel like I am useful and achieving things.
So two Sundays ago I was thinking about the last time in my life that I felt like my to do lists were organised and productive and actually felt like they were assisting and not hindering me. It was back when I was in postgrad and a friend of mine and I developed the Red Tick List System. It worked on a monthly timeframe for goal setting and you’d sit down and figure out the big picture goals you wanted to have done by the end of the month. You’d pick say 10 big things. Then you broke each of these down into all the tasks and subtasks that you needed to step through to complete the goal. Sometimes the hardest thing about achieving big goals is seeing the way. Like “write an essay on 19th century italian wines” might actually require you to read up on the subject first. And that requires you to find the reading. And then do it. Etc. So the sitting down and breaking each largeish goal into the steps to get there is sort of a planning exercise in hiding. When you finish you think “oh look! Now I have a plan!” And then, a broken down list of small tasks (google “19th century italian wines”, go past liquor shop and buy samples, visit library etc etc) become much more enticing to pick off one at a time, especially if you like multitasking as much as I do. But the thing about the Red Tick List System was that for each thing you completed, you got a red tick and then when you hit a certain number of ticks, you got a prize. Oddly. I am all about the rewards (others would say differently about me).
So I decided to bring back the Red Tick List System. But work it on a weekly time frame to start with. And with rewards for 70% completion of list and then full completion of list – a good list will mean you get about 70% of it done so I never really expect to hit 100%, but you never know!
Compiling my list was revealing in and of itself. Firstly I discovered why my lists weren’t working – I had too many! I never referred back to any. I never updated. And I just started new ones. So it took me some time to compile all the to do lists I had floating around, that I could tell. And I decided that the most important thing is not the stationery but the constant consulting and updating and so on. So I just threw everything into a small ring notebook. A different page for different lists – I have Things I want to Do now I don’t have Swancon, Moving House, Crafting, Twelfth Planet Press, Galactic Suburbia etc etc. Anything I want to keep track of gets its own page and a small post it marking it in the book. And one page for the Red Tick List System. And at the end of the week, I transfer what is left over from one week’s to the next and rip out the page. And I constantly consult and update pages and then will rewrite and remove older lists. Keeping the whole thing familiar and current.
I tried to keep it to 10 largesish goals and then a few quick runs on the board like errands etc.
But I really struggled with what the rewards would be. Last time I used things like buying yarn or Body Shop products. I tried to have those on here this time but I don’t know if I just don’t want things like that anymore or if it’s more, moving and seeing all the crap I have makes me reluctant just now to acquire more. I really and truly struggled with rewards (like a $15 reward basically). In the end, I went with coffee. An odd thing but … I discovered my favourite coffee The Five Senses, has a website that you can buy from so I don’t need to wait til I’m up in North Perth next time. And I can finally sort out my coffee issue at work (buying coffee every day at $4 a pop and adding caramel shots to it because the coffee is so foul when we have an espresso machine in our office and if I liked the coffee, I would not add sugar to it. Been meaning to stop being lazy about this for a while.) AND if you check out the site, they have a bunch of awesomely looking blends and single orgins that I don’t think you can buy in the store. And OMG! I fell in love with the Ethiopian – Sidamo Reserve (Ok. fine, its because you can only order it on Tuesdays) AND the cleanskins AND the Single Origin of the Month (Tiger Tiger used to feature these and I loved trying them out when I worked in the city). AND this is an spoiling myself without it being junk food thing that is perishable and thus not recluttering! It’s a Win Win Win Win.
But see, I’m not that nice to myself. I’m in counselling for that. For four years now. And so I had on my list Pack House. As one item. And there we are in my place on the weekend, madly packing the house, C and I. And he turns to me and says, “How many ticks do we get for this?” (I love that man) and I said, “Well, firstly you don’t get any and secondly, one.” Yup. For three days straight of about 18 to 20 hours of physical labour, and lots of emotional torment, I got one lousy tick for the week. Sigh. I came in 5 ticks short of the reward this week (had to get 19, got 14) but decided to cut myself some slack and get the reward anyway. I’ll report in on the coffee when it arrives! SO EXCITED!
, management tools
, mental health
, red tick system
Yesterday I got a phonecall from reception informing me that I had “received an urgent parcel” and could I please come down and collect it right away? Reception is a fair walk across the campus here and I spent the time wondering what in the hell I’d received that could possibly be urgent? I hadn’t any proofs from printers coming, I couldn’t possibly be being served for anything, could I? Maybe, just maybe, somebody sent me flowers? Though really? Why would they do that to work? I freaked out, just a little, cause I’m a bit sensitive at the moment. But I headed down and behind the reception desk, I did spy some flowers. And then I told them who I was and the flowers were indeed for me! And the “urgency” was that they would otherwise have snaffled them home for themselves! I think they loved being in on the conspiracy. And to add to it I said, “I have no idea who they could be from!”
Which in fairness, was kinda true in the moment. I’ve been sent flowers before – lovely friends and aunts who knew I was feeling down, or when I was sick in hospital, and wanted to show me how much they love me. And receiving flowers is always a special treat! But I’ve never been with anyone who sent me flowers before. And as I was walking away with my beautiful bunch of flowers, I opened the card and found the most romantic and meaningful words inside. Of course C sent me flowers! He knew how sad I’d been the night before and how I’ve been feeling. Of course he was thinking about me and wanted to tell me how much he loves me. (That I actually get to have love in my life still surprises me) And his card made me melt. We’d had a meaningful conversation the night before and the four words he wrote spoke back to that. And reminded me that I am loved, by a great man who sees me, really sees me, and loves me still.
I’ve had a really rough month. And months before that I spose. Speaking to a lot of people who have gone before me, I understand that it takes months to recover from running a convention. I’m at least glad that the nightmares have finally ended. I’m very slowly recovering back to something resembling who I was two years ago before I started out on this particular journey. Though I have learned a lot along the way – most of it not pleasant, or if not that, then hard lessons learned the hard way. Those of course are the ones that stick the best but still, why do I always have to choose the hard way? But now as I start to get some distance, and hopefully some perspective, I’m thinking a lot about all that happened, wanting to glean what I can, learn from it and make the pain worthwhile. Because it was painful. And a lot of hard work. And it can’t be for nothing.
I think possibly the single most important thing I’ve learned is that the only thing you can control is your reaction. And this alone is a very very powerful tool. When you’re the public face of an entity, be that a convention or a publishing house, then how you behave represents that entity. That means that no matter how much you want to shout and scream or argue, those may not be the most productive ways to resolve or fix a situation.
I learned a very important skill these last two years, and I owe this one to my friend Amanda, that the best way to respond is to not respond in the moment. To go away and cool off and think about it and to come back and always always be polite and diplomatic. No matter how you were addressed or what was said about or to you. (I think I drove her a bit over the edge for a good six months before I got the hang of this.) I can’t count the number of times that my initial response would have been one out of defense or justification or matching in rude/terse/blaming/inflammatory/critical tone but a cooling off day later became a polite response and or offer to help or fix, which _then_ moved the whole issue positively further along.
I learned that much more can be achieved by giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, by trying to resolve an issue in a generous way and by choosing not to respond in kind even if the “in kind” was not itself so. I learned that I need to have the final word on everything and that actually lots of things don’t need or deserve a response. That in the past I have done so _in order_ to have the last word. And doing so achieves very little. Most people can see the elephant in the room. I don’t need to point to it and call it so aloud. And not needing to have the last word helps reduce the email inbox _a lot_ (who knew?). Wins for the sake of winning aren’t really worth the energy of the fight. And I also learned that not everything can be resolved. Sometimes there are no solutions, there is no compromise and some things are irredeemable.
And I learned who my friends are. These are the people who I want to be like when I grow up. That they weren’t always who I thought was a very painful and hurtful process. Of course. But that’s life. But the flipside to that is that I discovered who my friends are and how truly awesome a group of people they are. These are the people who push me, inspire me, energise me, celebrate and cry with me and fuel my creativity. They are why I do what I do and are the how I do what I do too. Because no one could do all the things I’m involved with alone! And every day I am blown away by the amount of support I receive – the people why buy and read the work I publish, the people who lend a hand or offer advice and the people who just are there, smiling at me in the rain.
This month has been truly mentally grueling. There have been days of great struggle for me. There have been days when I truly questioned why I was here, why I do what I do, why it was ok to be attacked like an intangible idea rather than a person with feelings and why, after all was said and done, no apology seemed necessary for my hurt, distress and harm. This month has had me thinking a lot about bullying and victimisation. And where the line lies between these two. That if the only thing I can control is my reaction, then … how do I learn to control my reaction?
Because the truth is, with all this grappling with why do I do this anyway?, I realized/remembered why I do. I love science fiction. I love reading it, I love finding new talent, I love being confronted by new or uncomfortable ideas, I love being stimulated to think about things deeply, I love working with writers on new projects, I love the synergy and creation and the coming together of a vision. I LOVE publishing. And I love the privilege of talking about it and working on it with the brilliant, talented and inspiring people I get to work with and hang out with every single day. I love every part of publishing from the conception of the idea, to the development of the project, to the production of the work and the marketing and promotion of the finished product. I love keeping up with what everyone else is producing and from that being inspired to work on my own next project. The answer to where do I find the time to do all this is simply that – I love it. My soul feeds off it. And I grow every single day by being a part of it and by contributing. I love getting to be involved. And the more I am, the more I want to be. And the more I learn, the more I take with me to everything I do, not just science fiction but my life at large.
This month I had to dig deep and backpedal hard against the pull of the abyss. There were moments where I wasn’t sure who was going to win. Really really rock bottom moments. But in that struggle I forced myself to look for the light, and I found a lot of it, shining all around me. Thank you to those of you who turned on a light. It’s meant a lot to me.
, mental health