Thank you for being a devoted follower. I hope this change doesn’t cause you too much inconvenience, and I look forward to seeing you in the future on The Weird Blog!
Changes can be Good
This move allows us to optimize our blogs for better, more seamless content delivery without sacrificing so much of my writing time! Artdog Adventures has been a project of my heart since I started it in 2009. Moving away from the name–and from my own author website is difficult.
I’m also still making fine art fantasy paper sculpture–although I must admit I’m not making as much of it as I used to! But believe it or not, I’m working on a couple of new series that I hope will see the light of day pretty soon.
So please follow the Artdog’s ongoing Adventures over to The Weird Blog! There’s plenty more to come!
DemiCon 34 may have been my last DemiCon. I have a lot of great history with DemiCon as an institution, and as an eagerly-anticipated annual event. I’ve blogged about it in this space for the last several years, as veteran readers of this blog may recall.
But DemiCon 34 may have been my last DemiCon. At least for a while.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
I figured we were off to another great start last fall, when I received an invitation to attend with a guest as a professional guest (this means the membership fee is waived because I’ll be “paying for it” by appearing on panels. It’s a normal-enough procedure, and I’m always happy to agree). I responded quickly to say quite truthfully that I was looking forward to it.
After that, however, crickets. (Okay, it was winter. But still). Finally in March I figured I’d better find out if they’d forgotten me. As it turned out, they kind of had. There’d been a reshuffling of the con committee in some way. My invitation and acceptance had gotten lost in that shuffle. But Amanda in Programming said of course I’d be welcome, and she’d find ways to fit me onto panels. No author reading, though.
Um, okay. Well, things could still work out. It didn’t have to be my last DemiCon. But unfortunate events and disappointments gradually accumulated.
I couldn’t find Art Show information online. Turns out it was on their website and they did (let the record show) have an Art Show. It was listed under “Venue” in dim type at the bottom of their index page. I found “Dealers Room” on that drop-down menu, but somehow my eyes kept skipping over “Art Show” (second down after “Anime Room”).
I guess I was always in too much of a hurry to search the fine print. And, perhaps because of the concom shakeup, I also never received a contact from the Art Show Director. Usually I get a cheery email a few months out, asking if I’ll be showing art again this year. That really would have saved me, this year.
So, I didn’t bring any art (thought, “what’s the point?” and we were tight on space). Then, to my dismay, I discovered there was an Art Show after all. I tried not to be too upset, but I never could quite bring myself to go inside and see what was there. I suppose it should be no big deal in the grand scheme. But I was crushed.
Granted, a mistake I made shouldn’t be used as a justification to make this my last DemiCon. But it was one more, particularly searing disappointment on the growing pile of them.
A Very Tight Squeeze
The Big Convention Experiment for this year is a quest to answer the question: Can Weird Sisters Publishing present a profitable Dealers Table at sf conventions? Didn’t have to be super-lucrative, but at least breaking even would be nice. We tried to vary our offerings (and increase the odds of selling things) by including the work of selected Kansas City Author Friends Dora Furlong, Lynette M. Burrows, Randal Spangler, Karin Rita Gastreich, and M. C. Chambers, as well as my books and my sister G. S. Norwood’sDeep Ellum Duet. Happily, we did sell something from almost everyone. But did we break even? No.
Our first challenge was squeezing ourselves into the space. To say the Dealers Room was “cozy” . . . well, check out the photo above. There wasn’t room for our banner. In fact, it’s a good thing I’ve lost about 30 lbs. over the course of the past year (thank you, NOOM!), or I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze through to work the table.
Unfortunately, the aisle space was almost as constricted as the space behind the table. ADA compliance? Ouch! Not so much. The aisles were consistently congested each time I came in, but that doesn’t mean there was room for a lot of traffic. Yes, it was a small con. But as a semi-frequent visitor to the dealers rooms of many conventions, I can tell you I personally would have looked at the congestion and thought, “Nope.” Was that the experience that made me question whether this would be my last DemiCon? Well, no. Not by itself.
The Best Bright Spot: My Panels
For me, the highlight of this convention was the panels. This is often true. For one, I love to talk about our genre(s), writing, art, and related topics. For another, I generally love working with the other panelists. Most are interesting, knowledgeable, and intelligent people, and would be so in any setting. A well-moderated, intelligent discussion with such people is a delight I relish.
Most of my panels teamed me up with either Steven Southard or David J. Pedersen. The “A.I. Meets SF” panel on Friday 5/5/23 included all three of us. I had a lovely time working with both of them. They’re bright, thoughtful men. I’d met and been on panels with David before, but a major high point of DemiCon 34 was meeting Steven. Our panel discussions were lots of fun, and we had large, intelligent, well-informed audiences. It was a mix of elements practically guaranteed to be both stimulating and fun.
I was on five panels. By the time we got to the final one on Sunday afternoon (where I joined Author Guest Rachel Aukesto discuss “Who Will We Meet in Space?”), I think everyone was exhausted. The audience barely outnumbered Rachel and me, and they seemed little disposed to talk much. But that somewhat “flat note” certainly wouldn’t have been enough, on its own, to make me ask, “Is this my last DemiCon?”
My Last DemiCon?
In my first book, What’s Bred in the Bone, there’s a chapter titled, “A Combined Weight of Awfulness.” I wouldn’t ascribe “awfulness” to my DemiCon 34 experience (with one exception). But disappointment after disappointment built up through the weekend. The convention committee seemed disorganized. There weren’t many panels that looked interesting to me, outside of the ones I was on. Readings by friends were mostly scheduled against my own panels, so I couldn’t attend them. I didn’t get many other networking opportunities.
But our discovery in one of our rooms would’ve sent us home immediately if we’d been there strictly as fans. A rash of distinctive red bumps rose on several sensitive square inches of my son’s skin. Then he found a rather distinctive little brown bug in his bed. And when you find one, you know there must be more. De-con efforts have continued since we got home, to make sure none infiltrated our luggage.
We had a dealer’s table. I’d made promises to be on panels. We’d bought a program book ad. So we accepted a change of rooms and stayed. But combined with all the other issues and disappointments, this was definitely the nadir of all my convention-going experiences in the more than three decades I’ve been going to conventions all over the country. So DemiCon 34 is likely to have been my last DemiCon. At least for a good long while.
For me, this past month has been one long (exhausting) experiment in pushing the envelope. You may know this phrase, which originated in the aeronautics field. It passed into more common usage after Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book The Right Stuff (about supersonic aeronautics and the early US space program) was made into a movie by the same name in 1983.
In aeronautics “the envelope” means the limits of an aircraft’s performance capability. Pushing past it is risky. But people (being humans) quickly generalized it to meanings beyond the aerodynamics field. So, no. I haven’t been out there test flying high-performance aircraft. The performance capability I’ve been testing is my own.
In my newsletter last month, I listed the major things I do for Weird Sisters Publishing, to help keep it moving forward and growing. “My job as Chief Cat-Herder and Manager of Weirdness for Weird Sisters Publishing boils down to Art Director, Copywriter, Production Manager, and Marketing Director,” I wrote. And as you might guess, when I try to embody all those roles I work a lot of long hours. Pushing the envelope becomes a way of life if I’m not careful!
Pushing the Envelope is Not a Good Lifestyle
Some of you will read that subhead and think “well, duh! Of course it isn’t!” Others may frown and think, “But I do that all the time!” Sad to say, “I do that all the time,” even though “Of course it isn’t!”
I suspect that working long hours and testing our performance capabilities – pushing our personal envelopes – is endemic to running a small business. I know I’m not alone when I end the day thinking, “I could have done more!” or “darn it, I didn’t finish it all!” Part of the reason I’m a “night owl” is that ever since I was a kid resisting bedtime, I’ve never wanted to stop when prudence demanded it. There’s always so much interesting stuff yet to do!
But recently I’ve rediscovered that when I’m so stressed out that my fingertips tingle, it is a very bad sign. It’s hard to see this fact in the moment, when I’m yawning my head off but still “in the flow.” But it’s actually more efficient – and I’m more effective – if I’ll stop, put it down, and go TF to bed! Or take a break. Or stop and refresh/reframe.
In this Case I’m a Slow Learner
Every few years I have to re-learn this lesson. That isn’t just my guess or impression. I have hard evidence! Exhibit A? A blog postI wrote in 2020. Back then, I was juggling weekly posts on three different blogs (with different content) and trying to finish production on a publishing project.
Fast-forward to now. I’m trying to pre-schedule social media posts on four different outlets each week. Produce a bi-weekly blog. Consistently publish a monthly author newsletter. And also finish production on FIVE publishing projects. Oh, yes – and simultaneously write a new novel. On a deadline. Well, actually, they’re all on deadlines, aren’t they?
Sure. No pressure. Piece of cake, right?
Continuous Improvement vs. Pushing the Envelope
I’ve gotten more efficient over time. I’ve developed much slicker systems for drafting and organizing each of those aforementioned functions. Each is a far smoother process than when I first started doing them. That’s because I frequently take time to reflect on what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and why I’m doing it. Basically, it’s my take on the business concept of continuous improvement. And it works pretty well for me.
But nothing can be improved forever. Eventually we hit the ceiling, the apex of what’s possible, working with the given limitations. We can expand our envelope, our capacity, our limit, only so far. Pushing the envelope beyond that carries guaranteed problems, plus ever-greater risks of disaster.
But unlike with Chuck Yeager’s “Glamorous Glennis,” the risks to a person running a small creative business don’t include physically exploding, breaking up, or falling out of the sky. Our risks from pushing the envelope of stress lie more in the realms of disaster to our health and relationships.
What’s the Answer? Or is that “What are the Answers”?
I certainly don’t want to bring on disaster to my health and relationships. And thank God I’m not forced to make a toxic choice. If I can just pull my head up out of the cycle and get a broader perspective, I can find a better way forward.
The first step is realizing, “oops, I did it again.” What’s needed after that is (1) getting perspective and (2) yet more “continuous improvement” – but of a different sort. Instead of optimizing my systems for doing specific tasks, I need to re-center on my ultimate goals. Are all of the things I’m doing still central to my primary objectives?
I often find that some of them don’t yield the same benefits they once did. I can stop doing them, or maybe adjust their requirements and do them less often. Is filling out a checklist that I’ve consistently neglected for a while still helpful? Or was it once a learning scaffold that I no longer need? Maybe it’s now busywork. Have I found that a certain measurement gives no helpful information, so I can stop measuring that thing/aspect?
Business needs – like life itself – are always changing. Pushing the envelope can create a powerful momentum if it’s well-targeted. But every once in a while all of us have to stop, back up, and review what we’re doing.
It’s not pushing the envelope alone that yields success. It’s (briefly, and only when needed) pushing the right ones.
This week I’m packing up for Archon 45. I’m set to depart on Thursday, and I have a very full weekend planned. If this blog post is a little shorter than some, it’s because this week, of all weeks, time is of the essence. In addition to all of the “necessary maintenance” stuff there is to do on any given week, packing up for Archon tops the priorities!
It’s a broad-spectrum effort. If you’ve followed this blog for the last several months you’ve been a secondary witness to a recent change in my approach to conventions. In May, for ConQuesT 53, I decided to Try Something New. I dipped my toe into the idea of spending part of my time at a dealers table, and it worked out better than I expected.
Testing My Hypothesis
When it came time for the next convention, SoonerCon (#30 this year, in Oklahoma City, OK), I decided to test that hypothesis some more. Had my initial experience been a fluke? I had A Very Busy SoonerCon, and discovered that, no – it wasn’t just a one-off. That was a good experience, too. Nothing of that sort worked out for me with Chicon 8, the Worldcon in Chicago. Indeed, I actually ended up not going (“too expensive” headed a list of reasons), more focused more on Using My Time Well in other pursuits. Thus, I couldn’t test it further.
I am packing up for Archon with some new equipment: A custom-made table cover (its design is based on a nebula image I licensed from Chaz Kemp, and I think it looks wonderful) and a 71-inch-tall banner to back up my end of yet another dealers table. This time we’re calling it Hollingsworth & Weird – once again, I’m depending on a trusted partner (who’s also a “morning person”) to make sure the table is staffed as much of the time as possible.
Introducing the Hollingsworth Part of Hollingsworth & Weird
In this case my intrepid partner is a Kansas City-area science fantasy writer, Aaron Hollingsworth. He’s worked with me before, and I know him as a trustworthy go-getter with a strong work ethic. He normally stakes out a place in the dealers room at the conventions he attends. He tells me he prefers to interact with readers individually, face-to-face, rather than participate in panels.
Unfortunately, it’s a fairly small pile of books. In my opinion, it’s still too small to justify taking up a whole table, plus covering the membership and time of a dedicated “morning person” to run it. I’m eager to fill out the Trilogy next year with Bone of Contention, and to start offering Warren’s books. But I’m also very pleased that in the meantime I could find a tablemate who’s as reliable and proactive as Aaron!
And Speaking of Bone of Contention . . . My Reading!
I normally request to have my reading scheduled later in the day on Saturday, or even on Sunday of the convention. That gives me a good part of the weekend to promote it. But that doesn’t always happen. At Archon 45 it’s scheduled at 7 p.m. on Friday night. That makes it my first scheduled Programming item. No chances to promote it on panels before that! So I’ll have to rely on social media to alert people to it, and hope enough notice it to bring some listeners in!
Depending on who shows up and what they prefer, I have a number of options. There are a couple of scenes from Bone of Contentionthat I could share (I read an early version of Chapter One last time). I also have fun scenes from a couple of short stories I wrote as exclusives for my Newsletter subscribers (each month I offer them a free downloadable story or XK9-related project).
Which Shall I Choose?
Which story would you choose, if you attended my reading? Use the Comments section of this post if you’d like to weigh in with opinions. Can’t attend the reading, but you’re interested in one or more of these? Subscribe to my Newsletter!
Packing up for Archon, I Added Another Idea to Test: QR Codes!
As partial compensation for fact that the early reading has truncated some of my publicity efforts, I’m also trying a different “test project.” We’ll see if it turns out to be a good idea or not. You may have noticed that QR codes, those funny-looking splotchy square or circular patches, have started turning up in more and more locations. Some people find them irritating or inscrutable, but more and more of us have started using our smartphones to scan them for a fast link to a web page or other online material.
Earlier this year, Weird Sisters Publishing created downloadable versions of Chapter One for each of my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy novels that’s available so far. But it only just recently dawned on me as I started packing up for Archon that I could create QR codes to take people to those “free samples” even more quickly and easily (I know: Well, duh! Right??). So I generated a QR code for the downloadable first chapter ofWhat’s Bred in the Bone and added it to the label on my postcards that I give out at the convention.
But Wait! There’s Also Art!
Yes, I’m also bringing my paper sculpture to Archon 45. Lucy A. Synk will be there too, with most of her “Welcome to Rana Station” display from Worldcon (other than the artwork she sold there). You’ll probably see lots more about the Archon 45 Art Show in one or more future posts on this blog.
Am I using my time well? It’s been my most persistent self-question this summer. I “wear a lot of hats” these days, which means I’m busier all the time. I’m quite possibly doing more things and being more productive than at any other point in my life.
But am I using my time well?
I’m the Chief Cat-Herder and Manager of Weirdness for Weird Sisters Publishing, which means I’m not only an author, I’m also involved in editorial oversight, I’m the Art Director, and I’m also the Director of Marketing. That’s a fair number of “hats.” As more projects come together, it’s on me to package and market them. As well as (in many cases) to create them in the first place.
Thus, if I’m using my time efficiently to accomplish a defined set of goals, I can hope I’m using my time well.
Am I Busy with the Right Things?
I’m busy for sure. But am I busy with the right things? We never get it “all the way right,” I think. I remember sometime back in the 1980s or ‘90s sometime the business concept of “kaizen” or “continuous” improvement” was the buzzword of the moment in American business. I guess it had jumped the Pacific at some point not long after WWII, but somehow it took a while to be the Next Big Thing. We didn’t hear so much about it here on the Plains after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997.
But the underlying concept is the basically-sound principle that you try something and learn from it. Did it work? Okay, do it again. Did it flop bigtime? Why was it such a failure? Where was the flaw in our thinking? Did it semi-flop, and there are things we can salvage? “Learning by doing” is what teachers and parents would call it, and it works in all kinds of concepts.
That does mean I have to continually interrogate my practices. Am I busy with the right things? Am I using my time well?
What you Need to Do Depends on Where you want to Go
The Big Question all self-employed people must answer each day is: how shall I structure my time? How do I figure out what’s the best thing to be “busy about”?
My son and I have been freelancers for years, so we’ve been refining the way we use time for a while. On the other hand, my Beloved just recently retired. People and events have been filling his time ever since, and I have a sense that he’s been feeling “drowned in stuff to do.”
Ty and I have tried to offer suggestions, and I think he’s beginning to get the hang of this self-time-management thing. But his struggles have given me a new chance to re-evaluate my own time-use habits and practices.
When I ask, “Am I using my time well?” what I’m really asking is whether the things I’m doing are helping me achieve my goals. As my Beloved has begun to learn, to achieve them, first you must envision them. After that, it’s easier to set priorities to reach them.
A good, achievable goal is both a vision and a commitment to act. “I want to be rich and famous” is just a pie-in-the-sky dream without a plan full of specific steps and a willingness to work one’s butt off. Also: fair warning from people who’ve been there. Being both rich and famous is a hazardous quest that may or may not be worth the prize at the end.
Am I using my time well? I believe that yes, you really can be “too rich and too thin.” You also can be too famous – certainly, it’s possible to be too famous to keep (or even legally expect to keep) your personal privacy. So, ditch the clichés. They’re not helpful. Each of us must decide for ourselves – specifically – what “success” looks like for us.
Charting a Course Based on Goals isn’t Straightforward.
Setting priorities helps answer the question of “am I using my time well?” However, they’re not the whole answer. I still have to get from “here’s my vision of what I want to accomplish,” to “I’ll get there by doing these specific things.” And now I’d like to add one more, very important note. What you want, and how you think you’ll get there, will change.
My sister wrote a great blog post on how she found that out the “long and interesting way” in the course of her career. I won’t call it “the hard way.” That puts a needlessly negative spin on the journey of discovery that is everyone’s life. It can be hard. But it can also be joyous and rewarding (pro tip: how you look at it determines what it will be for you).
So, like everyone, I must define my goals. Use them to refine and hone my priorities. Then prepare to be flexible. G.’s vision of “what she wanted to be when she grew up” evolved over time, and so will anyone’s. The more we explore and learn, the more we’ll be able to judge whether we’re still on a good course for our personal lives.
It Still Gets Messy
Even then, it can get messy. It’s possible to pull up short at any moment in the journey and realize, “Oh, rats! I made a mistake! That’s not using my time well at all!” A process I envisioned as easy or productive turns into a logistical nightmare. Or maybe it takes, like, ten times longer than I expected – and unfortunately the learning curve wasn’t the only reason it took that long!
No one is immune – certainly not me! Anyone who thinks they have all the answers is fooling themselves. I try to remind myself: Kaizen, Jan, and hold fast to the reminder that no, “kaizen” is not the giant kaijurising up out of the Pacific to destroy my schedule and spoil all my dreams.
Instead of despair, what’s needed is what my son’s kindergarten teacher called a “learning take.” Oh, yes, and patience. Lots of patience. Maybe also some humility. We must be willing to admit we called it wrong and try again. Take a run at problems from another direction, and it might just unlock new insights.
And really, isn’t gaining a new understanding that unlocks a better way of doing something valuable in its own right? Yes, learning from a failed plan or a bad idea is frustrating. But gaining new insights and improving how I do things most definitely qualifies as using my time well!
Once again, Quotefancy made it much easier to develop this post than it might otherwise have been. Many thanks to them for the two illustrated quotes from Stephen R. Covey, as well as the one from Anne Sweeney (see individual URLs in the cutlines). The Henry David Thoreau quote came courtesy of Rescue Time. Many thanks to both!
We owe particular thanks to two different sources for the cartoon montage. First, many thanks to cartoonist and “Psychotactics Blog” author, the talented Sean D’Souza. He created the “To-Do List”-busting dragon cartoon (read the blog post, while you’re at it!). Second, we really appreciate Doghouse Diaries, the original source of the much-reposted-but-seldom acknowledged cartoon about how one’s plans too often stack up against “The Universe’s Plans for You.” Thanks, Will, Ray, and Raf! We at Weird Sisters and Artdog Adventures appreciate you!
The other day I happened across a list of suggestions from Good Housekeeping magazine on how to maintain a spotlessly beautiful home. The list outlines all the things I should clean every day, once a week, once a month, or a few times a year, so the house stays lovely, with only a little effort on my part. It read like one of those hopelessly outdated articles from the 1950s on how to make your husband happy, or how teachers should manage their classrooms. Clearly the list’s author was delusional.
Still, I thought I’d put the list to the test, to see how it would work into my daily routine. Just for fun, I added in some of the other helpful suggestions experts in the fields of health, nutrition, beauty, and fitness offer up to make every day my Best Day Ever. Spoiler alert: it’s not going to be pretty.
Just A Simple Morning Routine
This is how the suggestions shaped up. The time estimates are my own.
6:00 am Wake up—instantly. Bound out of bed with lots of energy. (Which I don’t do.) Make the bed because, c’mon, it’s right there and you’re not getting back in. 10 minutes.
6:10 am Pee/Dress for dog walk: The experts don’t actually include this in the things I must do but, trust me, I must do this. 5 minutes.
6:15 am Take dogs for 1 mile walk. Do this twice, so all four dogs get a walk. 45 minutes.
7:00 am Sweep kitchen floor. Ten minutes. Okay, eight minutes because it’s a small kitchen, but I also have to feed the cats.
Don’t Forget Your Health . . .
7:10 am Cook a healthy breakfast—oatmeal and such. Allow 20 minutes, because it’s steel cut oatmeal, plus we have to have fruit, which may mean washing each grape individually if we’re to get off all pesticide residue as the food purity experts recommend.
7:30 am Eat said healthy breakfast while reading the paper—20 minutes, particularly if you get your morning caffeine hot, since it has to cool down to drinking temp. (NOTE: You won’t finish the paper in this time, let alone work the puzzles.)
7:50 am Wipe down the electric kettle, put dishes in dishwasher, wipe down kitchen counters, sanitize kitchen sink. 10 minutes
. . . Or Beauty!
8:00 am Shower (because dog-walking is sweaty business) 20 minutes, including hair wash and shaving. We’ll credit the health and beauty experts for this next part.
8:20 am Blow dry/style your hair—10 minutes
8:30 am Wash face/Put on makeup—15 minutes
8:45 am Wipe down bathroom surfaces, squeegee shower, sanitize bathroom sink—15 minutes
6:00-7:00 pm Evening commute—60 minutes (assuming there are no backups)
While my drive into work happens just slightly after the morning rush hour, my drive home hits the rush right in the fat part. I am continually astonished by the number of people who crash into each other during this sacred hour. And the number of people who slow down to look at the roadside carnage. They might call it rush hour, but trust me, nobody is rushing anywhere. Sometimes I bail, just to run a few errands and—okay, mostly I shop for books.
7:00 pm Stop for groceries/drug store stuff—20 minutes
Home Again, Home Again
When I hit the door at home, a lot of things happen at once.
7:20 pm Potty break/change into home clothes—15 minutes
7:35 pm Take dogs out for a second walk—45 minutes
8:10 pm Dinner prep—25 minutes
8:35 pm Feed animals—15 minutes
8:40 pm Throw in load of laundry—5 minutes
8:50 pm Take load out of dryer/fold—10 minutes
8:55 pm Put laundry away—5 minutes
9:00 pm Serve/eat dinner—30 minutes This is the first time I’ve sat down (not counting the potty break) since I got home from work.
9:30 pm Wipe down kitchen surfaces, put dishes in dishwasher—10 minutes
9:40 pm Clean the cat box—5 minutes (Again, not on the expert list, but trust me.)
9:45 pm Take dogs out again—45 minutes
10:30 pm Pay bills—30 minutes
11:00 pm Bedtime prep—30 minutes
11:30 pm Fall asleep instantly, suffer no insomnia, and sleep 8 restful, peaceful hours.
7:30 am Awaken in a panic after that 8-hour sleep, knowing I’m already 1 hour and 30 minutes behind schedule
A Spotlessly Beautiful Home?
I couldn’t help but notice that the schedule laid out by Good Housekeeping’s cleaning expert made no allowances for drinking those eight glasses of water a day recommended by the health experts, or the potty stops which come with all that fluid intake.
Nor was that the only obvious flaw in this neat outline for keeping my home spotlessly beautiful. The schedule I outlined above is for a single woman, living alone. In making it, I gave no consideration to married women, who might have multiple children on different day care/band/sports/school/after school schedules. And forget about taking time to have sex with that brilliant and talented life partner some of you might be fortunate enough to have around the house. No time for so much as a 2-minute quickie there.
Nor do you get a break on the weekend. That’s when you’re supposed to be mopping your kitchen and bathroom floors, scrubbing all bathroom surfaces, and cleaning the mirrors. Because you really, really want to see the haggard wreck you quickly become on this schedule. Don’t forget to dust your furniture, vacuum your floors and furniture, change the bed, clean out the fridge, wipe down all your kitchen appliances, clean the microwave and sanitize the sponges (whatever the hell that is).
Take out the trash? Work in the yard? Garden? Obedience-train your dogs? Pursue any kind of hobby? Attend a play or concert? Or even a football game? Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline? Because your life has become a meaningless horror show as you sacrifice all your time and energy on the altar of having the spotlessly beautiful home.
Let’s Get Real
Clearly the problem here is not that you and I don’t adopt these simple methods to mix light housekeeping into our normal daily routines. The problem is unrealistic expectations. I’m no expert, but I’m willing to bet the list was originally written sometime in the 1950s by a man with a degree in engineering. He probably specialized in workplace efficiency. If he had children, I expect he greeted them each evening as he sipped his after-work cocktail, then waved them off to bed. Back in those days, guys like that often felt it was their duty to help women become more organized when it came to those all-important household chores.
Oddly, women were not grateful.
The truth is, to this day, women still shoulder the responsibility for twice as many household chores as men do. Even in homes where the male partners consider themselves to be feminists. This doesn’t begin to account for the tremendous amount of “mental labor” women undertake to keep the family schedules straight and address the social and emotional needs of all family members. And then there’s the guiltwomen feel when they think that somehow they don’t measure up.
Call It What It Is
Which is why I call “bullshit” on lists like the one from Good Housekeeping. I not only suspect it was originally formulated by a man, I’ll bet he doesn’t know how to sanitize sponges either.
So the next time you are seized by the urge to make yours a spotlessly beautiful home, I suggest you pour yourself a cold glass of something besides water. Stretch out on your freshly vacuumed couch. Read one of those books you picked up on the way home from work. Something that will take you far away from the stress of maintaining a perfect house. I have some ideas:
Wow, do we have a lot of people to thank for the pictures in this Spotlessly Beautiful post! Primary among them is the talented and subversive Anne Taintor, whose wicked vintage-illustrated memes are sharp enough to draw blood. All montages are the work of Jan S. Gephardt, who also chose the pictures and assembled them.
The Anne Taintor’s “Cleaning One Thing” image came from Bored Panda, in the same article that brought us the collection of four others near the end. Many thanks to QuotesGram for the “Take the food out of the oven” meme, as well as “Time to myself?” below.
Might note that the young lady in “Time to myself?” clutches a copy of the 1935 My Better Homes and Gardens cookbook featured in G.’s earlier blog post, “Cooking? O Joy!” Both of these articles feature more sarcasm of this type if you’re enjoying it. The Bored Panda piece focuses specifically on the work of Anne Taintor. “Did all the laundry and cleaned the house” (another by Anne Taintor) came via Mrs. Domestic Goddess in Progress’s blog via their Pinterest pinboard. Our deepest gratitude to all!
It’s time to pack up and do it again. When we have two sf conventions in one month, it’s something of an endurance run. My son Tyrell Gephardt and I just start getting sorted out and rested up (in my case this month also healed up), and it’s time to do it again.
As I noted last week, Demicon 33 was a good convention for me – but it also took a toll. Now it’s time to prepare for ConQuesT 53, my home “con.” I would hate to miss it, even though they expect it to be a low-turnout year.
Attending ConQuesT means I need to pack up and do it again, after it feels as if I just got home. But there’s a new wrinkle this time around. I’m doing the usual things – art show and some programming. But I’m also launching into (for me) an uncharted new adventure: a dealer’s table.
A Dealers Table? ME?
Yes, I recognize that many Indie authors make much or most of their income from dealers’ tables at conventions. It’s a marketing choice that can, and sometimes does, keep the con-going trip in profit-making territory. I respect that. But personally, I’ve always had several problems with this approach.
Most dealers rooms open by 9 or 10 a.m. But my circadian cycle is firmly skewed to the “Graveyard Shift.” Wrenching myself out of bed to be on time to open would mess up my sleep cycle and leave me a “sleep zombie” for at least a week afterward. I know this because I’ve tried it. It’s not pretty.
If you’re running a table, it’s important to always be there (as much as possible!) while the dealers room is open. This means if you’re going to connect with colleagues, network, be on panels, or visit other people’s panels or readings, you either do it at your table, arrange for someone to cover for you, do it after the dealers room closes, or you don’t do it. Your table is both your base, and your anchor.
And there is a lot of stuff to haul. I’m an older lady who walks with a cane for stability. There was a day when I could bend, lift, and haul stuff pretty well – but that was several decades ago. Nowadays, I have to be strategic about how I haul boxes of books. Hand trucks and my athletic son are my friends, but I can’t always assume they’ll be available.
A Little Help From Friends
When I first started bringing my book (singular) to sf cons back in 2019, I often could find a general bookseller in the dealers room who’d work out a consignment deal with me. But since the pandemic’s ebb (let’s hope it’s actually waning!), it’s hard to find general booksellers running dealers’ tables at sf cons.
Ty observed at DemiCon 33 that most of the folks in the Dealers Room were Indie authors selling their own books, artists, jewelers, artisans, or other craftsfolk with a specific line of products, or stores selling gaming gear. That was my observation at Archon 44 last fall, too.
But this is my “home convention,” and I know a lot of other writers in the area who really don’t have enough books (and other resources) to justify having a whole dealer’s table of their own. Three of us have banded together and decided to see if teamwork and our collected works can make a table worth the effort. So, we’ll give it a try, and see how it works. One of us has already said she can cover mornings (blessings upon her!), so at least that worry is alleviated.
But when I pack up and do it again this time, I’ll have considerably more to pack than usual.
Meet my Table-Mates
For this dealer’s table adventure, I’ve paired up with a couple of wonderful writers I met in local fandom and critique groups. From working with them in writers’ groups, I know they write good stuff. I’m proud to be associated with them, even if I am the “odd science fiction writer” in the mix.
I first met Mary through KaCSFFS, the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, about which I’ve blogged in the past. She just looked like an interesting person from the get-go. We talked and discovered we have many things in common (including our birthday). I invited her to join my then-current writers’ group, and we’ve been friends ever since. Her work includes a bunch of wonderful short stories, several of which have won awards, and the fantasy novel Shapers’ Veil. She’s also the mother of five boys (“Mother of Heroes”), a flutist, and a variable print programmer.
I met Karin in a different writers’ group, and I’ve recently had the privilege of beta-reading her latest (really wonderful) novel, which I don’t believe is available yet. She’s also written multiple short stories and won several awards. But she’s best known as a writer for her woman-centered fantasy Silver Web Trilogy. All this, and writing is not even her “day job.” In the rest of her life, Dr. Karin Gastreich, ecologist and author, serves as Chair of the School of Natural and Applied Sciences at Avila University in south Kansas City.
Pack Up and Do it Again: Art Show
It wouldn’t seem like I really was at a convention if I didn’t have anything at the Art Show. Moreover, ConQuesT historically has an outstanding art show, especially for a convention of its size. I don’t just say that because I was the Art Show Director for three years (a decade ago). People have long come to this show to buy art, and the artwork comes in from all over. It’s now run by the highly competent and awesome Mikah McCullough, who is a way better Art Show Director than I ever was!
I’m bringing essentially the same pieces to ConQuesT that I brought to DemiCon. That’s possible, because the work I sold in Iowa was part of a multiple-original edition. Not all of my paper sculpture artwork consists of multiple-originals, however. Some are one-of-a-kind. And Mikah has arranged for me to glom onto the end of a table for my Ranan mini-maps , so they’ll be displayed to their best advantage.
Fewer Panels than Usual
I missed a key communication with ConQuesT Programming somewhere along the line, so I’m only on two panels this time. Considering my dealers table commitment, this is probably just as well. But this programming schedule is unusually light for me.
On Friday night, I’ll pair up with my friend Kathy Hinkle for a feature we’ve repeated the last several times we’ve had an in-person ConQuesT: SF & F Name that Tune (or Show). Kathy and I both love the music of science fiction and fantasy media. We’ll draw from our respective deep libraries of music we’ve collected, play selected cuts, and see how quickly our audience can name them. In past years it’s been a lot of fun.
Then on Sunday afternoon (after Art Show check-out, but before Closing Ceremonies), I’ll moderate a panel called Curiouser and Curiouser (on which my table-mate Mary is a panelist), about how protagonists’ curiosities can get them into trouble – and bring readers along for an interesting quest. Much to my disappointment, there are no author readings at ConQuesT 53. This is because when they had them they weren’t well-attended, and they’re restricted in the number of programming rooms available. I understand, but I’m still disappointed.
Time to Pack Up
And now it’s time to end this post and get back to work preparing for ConQuesT. Especially with this one, when I’m getting ready to pack up and do it again, it turns out I have a lot to pack!
No, it wasn’t classic “con crud.” That’s some new thing you contract at a convention, when you encounter something your immune system can’t fight (possibly because you partied for several nights in a row). I came to DemiCon 33 with a scratchy throat, desperately hoping it would go away. It didn’t. Among other things, that really cut into the partying (like, ended it before it began).
I stayed masked, did my best to socially distance, and I washed my hands a lot. Since my son Tyrell Gephardt and I were teamed up for all our panels, I “let” Ty do most of the talking (for once – like I had a choice!). And I hope to God I didn’t become a vector of con crud to anyone else! It really was the worst I remember feeling at a science fiction convention, ever. But when you’re that far from home and you’re part of the program, you do your best.
DemiCon 33 Was the “Best Time” Part
It’s really a pity and a waste that I was sick, because DemiCon 33 itself was awesome. The con committee did everything they could to welcome people back to con-going safely. Everybody seemed really happy to be there (that I saw), and they were all very warm and welcoming. A longtime friend gave me a tin of mints when I ran out of throat lozenges.
I took pictures in the hallways before they got really full. That was partly out of respect for people’s privacy, and partly because I tried to avoid crowds (or at least stay distant from them). I wasn’t coughing too much (and I was masked) at Opening Ceremonies, but after that I kept a lower profile. Don’t imagine from my photos that no one came, however. They did, and many of them were absolutely fabulous in their hall costumes.
But at a convention where one of the first people I met was a young person handing out “In Science We Trust” badge ribbons, people were (mostly) taking sensible precautions. Part of what makes this year a contrast of the best and worst time is that we’re all really lonely for a good “fhannish” get-together with each other, but we know we have to be careful.
The Art Show
The DemiCon Art Show had a new crew at the helm, bringing the operation more fully into the 21st century via electronic record-keeping. They overcame tech glitches at the beginning. But I’m sure they fought for most of the weekend with the hotel’s less-than-stellar Internet service. Why do convention hotels so rarely provide good Internet?
The overall quality of the artwork I saw was outstanding. One of the best, in my opinion, was the wearable art piece called Dandy Lion. I didn’t get to the Masquerade, so I don’t know if it was entered there, but it’s a genuine piece of artwork all on its own.
Ty and I were Team Gephardt at our panels – they scheduled us together for all three, and that was it. Just us. I had the best and worst time there, too. Best, because Ty is fun to partner with on a panel. He’s witty, well-spoken, and knowledgeable. Plus, we had excellent, (relatively) large, and very interactive audiences. That always makes it more fun.
But it was the worst, because the longer into the convention we went, the less voice and energy I had. I could croak a few thoughts, but Ty carried them, especially on Saturday. We were prepared, however. From the time we’d received our schedule, we’d been thinking about our topics. Then we put our heads together to find common themes, suggest possible lines of discussion, and make notes we could share in common.
Topics ran a pretty wide gamut. On Friday night, when I still had something of a voice, we led a very well-read and engaged audience in an “If This, then What?” set of adventures in alternate history. By Saturday, when it was time for “Smoke and Mirrors Steampunk,” I could still talk, as long as I kept it short (a great trial, to be sure!). And I had begun to sound like a foghorn. It’s a good thing Ty knows his Steampunk. Someday we’ll have to do a joint blog post on the sticky ethical wickets this subgenre presents, and its clouded future.
As Saturday Waned, So did my Voice
I got a respite for my voice – and a chance to do one of my favorite “con things,” attend another author’s reading – after the Steampunk panel. Adam Stemple writes in an amazing range of genres, including horror, literary fiction, and heroic fantasy. Adam set up his three books on How to Write Fantasy Novels, then read completely other things: The Boy from Buanfar, Werewolf Elegy, and a great piece of character development from Galloch, second in the Mika Barehand Trilogy. Wonderful, funny, engaging stuff. Highly recommended!
By Saturday evening’s “What are an Artist’s Rights Online?” panel, I could say only about one word to every four to ten of Ty’s. But we had a good, sound outline, resources at need, and he is well-versed on many nuances of this topic. The audience was a little smaller, but they were interested and had great questions, which I’m happy to say that Ty answered very well.
Finally it was time for my long-anticipated reading. A straight hour of nothing but XK9s and me. I was doomed! Except, I wasn’t. It was the worst and best of times at a reading. Worst, because I could barely speak. Best, because good ol’ Ty came to my rescue yet again. He did an outstanding cold reading of What’s Bred in the BoneChapter One, “A Walk in the Park.” If you’d like to see what he read, click here or on the Chapter title.
Yes it was the best and worst of times at a convention for me. But Demicon 33 itself was 100% awesome!
I (Jan S. Gephardt) took all the photos used in this post, except those noted below. They were taken during DemiCon 33, May 6-7, 2022. Where people are shown, they gave me permission before I clicked the shutter. I particularly wish to thank Fender Jack (AKA Corey) and Spencer the Klingon for allowing me to photograph their costumes, and Adam Stemple for allowing me to photograph him during his excellent reading.
I don’t think I was ever sure who took the “historical documents” that show me at ConQuesT, but I can identify my fellow panelists. In the 1985 photo they are L-R: Dell Harris, Ken Keller, me, and the late Roland Schmidt, my former co-teacher and a fantasywatercolorist. BTW, that’s my calligraphy on the name cards, done back before desktop publishing made them easy to print.
Finally, I owe Tyrell Gephardt thanks for photo of me at Archon 43 in 2019, preparing to do a reading. And most of all, I owe him an unending thank you for all he did to make the best and worst time I ever had at a DemiCon an overall positive memory!
Americans give a hard side-eye to any talk of taking a sick day. The Pandemic has taught us a few chastening lessons recently, it’s true. Perhaps in today’s contagion-conscious workplaces, taking a sick day is less “suspect” than it has been in the past. But I’m dubious that will last.
This is the country of rugged individuals, at least in our imaginations. We’re tough, we tell ourselves. We plead with the coach to “put me back in, I’m fine!” even when we’re concussed. We proudly proclaim, “I can sleep when I’m dead!” and go out on our morning commute bleary-eyed and half-asleep. We “heroically” (we think) go to work, even when our nose is running like a faucet, our eyes are puffy, and our sinuses feel like concrete. And even when we thereby spread our cold, flu, or whatever to the rest of our co-workers.
Heaven forefend that we should admit weakness, even when it’s patently ridiculous not to admit we’re sick.
No One Here But Us Workaholics!
Those of us with ambitions for our careers may do anything we can, to avoid being suspected of “slacking.” I personally know people who take pride in being “workaholics.” Managers are alleged to love and reward this kind of behavior. Promotions and bonuses do seem to come often enough to the driven, that it strengthens the belief.
So people come in early. They go home late. They work toxic quantities of overtime, even on weekends. They live on their phone or computer. Notoriously, they forget, ignore, and miss family anniversaries. Kids’ birthday parties, ball games, concerts, recitals, school plays, and even graduations? They’ll skip them more often than they attend. It’s not just a cliché (guess why it’s a cliché). I’ve known real people who’ve done all of these things.
Sometimes, after they do this long enough, they only get to see their kids once in a while on “coke dates” and alternate weekends. That is, on agreed-upon, non-custodial parent visits, post-divorce. But think of the bonuses they banked!
Suspicion of Malingering
Any adult who’s been in the workplace for any length of time can attest that apparent “slackers” do exist. They watch the clock at the end of the day. If they can, they slide out early. And they have a highly suspicious habit of taking a sick day on Fridays an Mondays only.
I hate this behavior. These self-centered actions place genuinely sick people under suspicion of malingering. This means, depending on the culture where one works, that taking a sick day can give a person a bad reputation. Even if they’re really sick.
This is especially true if the boss is a self-appointed “hard-nosed capitalist” who sees all things through a lens of “time is money.” That’s why, especially in low-wage jobs where in many cases management already suspects their workers of being shiftless slackers (because they’re women, minorities economically hard-press . . . the list goes on), it’s rare to find paid sick leave.
Taking a Sick Day
I remember taking a sick day occasionally when I was a teacher. It was a disruption to my students and a burden on the administration to scare up a decent substitute. But when you’re in daily contact with the seething germ-stew that exists in most schools, even the healthiest teacher gets sick sometimes.
I’d call in for the sub feeling guilty, even if I had a temperature of 100 degrees and could barely speak. I always hoped I sounded “sick enough” on the phone, so they wouldn’t suspect me of being a slacker. I had a responsibility to take care of myself and remove my germs from the “stew.” I had a right to take those days. My reputation was anything but being a slacker. But still I felt guilty.
I still do. This Sunday I came home from DemiCon with a raging cold. I tested negative for Covid on the home test, so it’s probably a more run-of-the-mill malady. My voice was so “gone” Saturday evening for my reading that my son Tyrell Gephardt stood in for me. He saved the day delivering a very creditable “cold reading” of What’s Bred in the BoneChapter One. I still feel pretty listless today, but I also feel guilty about missing a blog post. So I’m only taking a sick day . . . “lite.”
I took it easy with a shorter-than-usual post and some pre-made quotes (see attributions in cutlines), except I couldn’t find a rendition of the first one that I liked. It’s an unattributed quote that has been making the rounds as a meme or a square-shaped quote on an uninspiring background. It was short, so I did a DIY on the first one. Many thanks to Independent.ie for the background photo. it illustrated a good article on taking sick days. Check it out!
And now, I hope you’ll understand when I say, “That’s it. I’m taking a sick day.”
In the previous blog post, I wrote about my career in the arts. That started me thinking about all the bad career advice I got along the way—back when I was still trying to answer that age-old question: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Back then, in the Stone Age, little White American girls had two basic career choices beyond wife and mother. We could be a teacher or a nurse. Little Black girls were told they could be maids. Of course, even then, women performed a much wider variety of jobs, but society’s imagination offered us very limited options.
The newspaper’s Help Wanted section included columns titled “Jobs for Men” and “Jobs for Women.” Woe betide any women who aspired to a job meant for a man. I am, thankfully, a bit too young to remember similar columns designated for men and women of color.
The Stereotypes Persist
Even today, in the stories we tell ourselves in film, the stereotypes persist. At 12:47 minutes into this 2016 interviewfor Vanity Fair, Oscar winning actress Octavia Spencer spoke about how hard it was for her to find roles that offered any kind of variety.
“Right after I did The Help—it was barely in the can—I was all excited about the possibilities that were to come,” Spencer said. “And 90% of the roles were, ‘We have this great role for you,’ and it was a maid. ‘We have this wonderful role!’ and it was a maid.” And I was, ‘You know, I just played the best damn maid role written. I don’t have a problem with playing a maid again, but it has to top this one.’ And none of them did.”
Fortunately for all of us, Spencer got proactive about finding better roles, and followed the success of The Help by playing the strongly maternal Wanda Johnson in Fruitvale Stationand mathematician/computer pioneer Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures.
Be a Stripper
Young people are guided into careers in ways that are shaped by their family history and by the cultural norms of their time. When I was in high school, a new wave of feminism was just taking hold in America, although it hadn’t penetrated too far into my corner of Missouri. As seniors, about to enter our post high school careers, we were all given an aptitude test that was meant to identify jobs we might be suited for. I don’t know what that test was called, or what range of careers it included, but I do remember the ideal career it identified for me: Stripper.
I’m going to be generous and assume that a) the test was referring to someone who takes paint off industrial surfaces using solvents, or perhaps connects pieces of film into a continuous reel. And b) the test was primarily geared toward suggesting blue-collar skilled trades in traditionally male fields.
I don’t think “Stripper” was the test’s nod to my being female, with an interest in the arts. But where were the teachers and nurses? The college professors and directors of concert operations?
What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?
I profoundly hope that particular aptitude test is no longer on the market. But career options continue to be limited by society’s expectations. Not so very long ago nearly every college bound adult was told to go into computing, because that’s where the employment growth and competitive salaries could be found. Never mind that some of us have no aptitude at all for that kind of work.
A better approach, I think, is to guide people toward careers that use the talents and abilities they naturally have. As job seekers, we tend to believe that jobs have to be hard and involve ‘work.’ But the truth is, the best careers are built on the skills and interests we have had all along. The stuff we’d do for fun, for free. We discount our talents because those things come easily to us. We forget that they don’t come easily to everyone else and are therefore valued by the people who can’t do that stuff.
One standardized test I recommend to young people now is Clifton Strengths, developed by the management consulting company, Gallup, Inc. It helps you identify your own individual talents and suggests careers where you can use them.
Your parents love you. They want you to have a steady income and secure employment. Maybe that’s why parents so often tell their children to curb their aspirations, as Mimi Smith told her nephew and future BeatleJohn Lennon. It’s safer than shooting for the stars.
Or, as novelist Deborah Crombie’s mother used to tell her, “If you go to secretarial school, you’ll always have a job.”
She wasn’t exactly wrong. What she should have said was, “Typing is a skill that’s highly portable, and can be used in many fields.” And that, I think, is the key to finding your career bliss. Have a lot of useful skills in your toolbox. Typing, coding, generating new ideas, balancing books, and listening empathetically are all useful in a wide range of careers. Even stripping.
Your Job Hasn’t Been Invented Yet
But the truth is, your ideal job might not have been invented yet. I advise students whose parents don’t think they can make a living in the arts to take the folks to any Marvel movie. Sit through all the closing credits. Hundreds of names will scroll by—all of them people with jobs in the arts. Perhaps more importantly, many of those people have jobs that weren’t even invented when the adults who advised them last considered the job market.
When you combine your unique talents with the skills in your toolbox and the needs you see emerging in the world around you, you may invent a whole new answer to that age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
We have a lot of people to thank for the pictures in this post. Photos for the “Women’s Work” montage and the John Lennon quote were selected and arranged by Jan S. Gephardt. All three of the vintage photos for the “Women’s Work” montage have backstories worth sharing!
Virginia Woodard is the tired teacher in her classroom. This was the end of her first day of teaching in 1960 at Mission View Elementary School in Tucson, AZ. The school still serves students today. Dan Tortorell photographed her for the Tucson Citizen. According to the information on Tucson.com, “She told the reporter she almost decided to turn back after getting within a block of the school.” For perspective, 1960-61 was also Jan’s first grade year.
The photo of the two unidentified nurses, taken by Gordon A. Larkin, dates to 1954. We used a detail. Scrubs Magazine identifies it as Photograph 825 from the Mount Saint Vincent University Archives.
Jan found the 1960s-era photo of an unidentified Black maid and White child on Bettye Kearse’s excellent post, “Mammy Warriors: An Homage to Black Maids.” It’s written from the perspective of a Black woman whose ancestors included slaves. She critiques the persistent stereotype and pushes back with a blast of reality.
The classroom full of adolescent test-takers shows students taking a standardized test circa 1978 at Cook Jr. High. At least the decade is right, even if these kids are a little younger than G. was when her test results advised her to be a “stripper.”Lawrence Cook Middle School (current name) remains an active school in Santa Rosa, CA. Many thanks to the Santa Rosa-based Press Democrat for the photo!
Take a look at an (unidentified) 1970s-era print shop stripper in action. It’s the second photo down on this page of photos by Dan Wybrant. That guy looks a lot more like the print-shop strippers Jan knew, than her sister ever did.
Jan illustrated the widely-available John Lennon quote with a detail from a photo by Andrew Maclear and Redferns. It was captioned, “John Lennon of The Beatles performs with The Dirty Mac on the set of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus.’” She found the photo on Cheatsheet.com.
For a case-in-point for G.’s argument that a Marvel movie requires hundreds of (gainfully employed) arts workers, see this post on Polygon. It explains what the VFX (visual effects) artists did to create Avengers: Endgame. If you read it, you’ll also see where Jan found the screen-capture from the movie’s end credits.
The research was fun, and we thank all of our sources.