It’s April and I’ve yet to make a proper post this 2018. “Life is busy” is too normal a state to be an excuse. Or wait, maybe the problem isn’t life is busy, but business is life…
There’s too much of both these days, too much business and too much life. Not enough time. Not enough of me in that limited time. I’ve always said I don’t need an assistant, I need a clone – someone who can carry on being me when I don’t want to. “But what if the clone is better than you?” Great! Let them carry on, I’ll lie on the couch and watch stupid reality tv shows about how people don’t clean while I drape my junk food wrappers over the carpet.
Work supports Life is supposed to be my mantra. Over the last few years, the balance between the two has slowly shifted to where work and life are running neck and neck for the lead position in a marathon I never signed up for in the first place. We talk about learning how to say “no”; I don’t think the problem now is that I take on too much, rather each area I attend to requires a lot of attention. This is the ‘middle career’ passage, where you now do know a great deal about how to do your work, and that means you have a great deal to do.
And my other job – you know, the one where I’m raising little people who keep turning into bigger people – that doesn’t get any easier. Ignore those lies, all the “it’ll all change when they learn how to…” When they learn how to what? Cease being people and turn into houseplants? Each shift, each developmental change brings a new set of adventures…and children’s independence doesn’t mean you worry less. Instead, you worry more – because you find out just how much you can’t do for them at all. The parent business evolves; my employees become shareholders and that means lots of board meetings full of conversation, complaints, and compromising.
I’m not really complaining about it, though. True, it’s not joyous; I do need to renegotiate my schedule. I have to consider the reality that my body is older and will go on strike when I force it to work overtime. My priorities have changed, and I’d like to think I’m mature enough to accept that many people won’t agree with whatever my priority list looks like unless it happens to match theirs. (Ok, I think I am mature enough to intellectually accept it, but I’m not mature enough keep from getting cranky when others get critical.) But more of what I do now reflects who I want to be as I do this work. And the lesson that has taken me a long time to learn is that who I am becoming continues on even when there is no work.
One of these days this work-life boat will steer towards a horizon composed of soft clouds and blue skies. But in the meantime, there will still be storms, sharks, an occasional talking volleyball, and hopefully a few stops on some gorgeous beaches. I like what I do, even though I sometimes hate my work.
This all reminds me of a conversation between my daughter and myself:
Me- “Do we have enough time to finish this?”
Her – “I’m fine, but for you, mom, every breath is an exercise of faith.”
Nothing like a professional conference to throw oneself back into the working world. Good news: we showed the film! Bad news: conferences are boring. Ok, conferences in and of themselves aren’t necessarily boring. But I did find this conference to be particularly lacking. In fairness though the talk I really wanted to see I couldn’t, because Chicago managed to send our luggage somewhere else. I don’t know what trip our bags took and I hope they had a good view and some drinks wherever they landed, but it meant we had to rescue our bags instead of attend the conference when the bags did decide to arrive.
More conference shenanigans also meant small turnout to our film. But on the bright side those who did attend liked it a great deal and are interested in bringing it to their schools. That’s our big hope. Then on the serendipity front, we talked to a potential distributor who is interested and may very well take the film on. Hooray! Much celebrating all the way around. It is not to say that taking care of our film hasn’t been near and dear to me, but I am also more than ready to let someone else run with it. I have learned the very hard way that self directing,producing, and distributing is a seriously full time job, one that very nearly pulled all the hair out of my head. (By the way, for any film hopefuls out there – you better love what you’re doing because the chances of getting paid are pretty slim unless you manage to sneak in a few explosions or big name celebrities. Am I bitter? Naw…chafing a bit, probably.)
So conference talks can be less than stimulating, but a positive of conferences is that they can be places to catch up with people you’ve not seen in a long time. This was one such conference, and it included seeing some people who were in the film who have now gone on to fabulous things like doctoral programs and such. But I hasten to add, it is very odd for me to meet someone and be greeted with, “Oh, I’ve heard all about you! How’s it going with such and such…” And I’m left thinking, what was your name? Why do you know anything about me? It isn’t necessarily that I find such encounters offensive; actually they are somewhat flattering in that you’ve-actually-heard-of-me kind of way, but also a bit disconcerting in that what-prompted-all-of-you-to-sit-around-and-talk-about-me kind of way.
I am not used to being noticed, and especially not used to being noticed also being a good thing. I suspect I’ll never get used to it. I suspect though that actually is a good thing, to not be used to it. I’m not interested in being that self-conscious. Or aware. Blissfully unaware I say. Blissfully unaware and unconscious, even better.
My head cold is making me ramble. Time for tea with honey and a hot bath. And some mindless Netflix binging watching. And chocolate. Oh, did I mention how much I miss having extensive, soul-searching, process-oriented existential breakthrough conversations with people who also love having such conversations? My goodness we would’ve all been great patrons of small, dark, eastern-european pre-revolution bars stocked with only a small crate of bourbon to serve us pathetic angst-ridden neo-poets. Such people I met up with at the conference, and was reminded of the small gap left in my life after they left…as I relayed to them, it is not possible to fill such a hole with replacements. You just live hoping for the next encounter. So here’s to another vow to make such encounters more frequent than less. (And to finding many excuses to take the piss out of each other as often as possible.)
There, I said it. I know, counselor-types aren’t supposed to say things like that. We’re supposed to be all, “it’ll be a difficult time but you’ll get through” and “it’s a normal phase of life” and “you have the resources” and blah blah blah blah. Bullshit. Transitions are rough, unpleasant, unpredictable, and overpowering. Transitions demonstrate how very little control you really have in your life and how most of the control you think you have left is really just an illusion you’ve created to console yourself. Transitions are Nietzsche’s wonderland, pools of existential angst bubbling like primeval mud ready to suck the reason right off your puny little soul.
So it’s safe to say this hasn’t been the easiest of changes…although as I’ve said before, this is a problem I am happy to have. I am glad to be in a process of transitioning because it does mean things are changing; in fact they are transforming right before my eyes and the real problem is my brain simply can’t keep up. The landscape is moving too quickly so I have no idea where I am at any given moment.
It is interesting how easily though my mind is removing itself from what I’ve known for the last 10 years and relocating itself into my new west-coast world. It is very easy to let go of the problems that I no longer have any involvement in and say, “well, you get to deal with it now” and go dancing away like a pixie. I recently found myself driving through southern California repeating to myself, “I am actually going to live here” and found it remarkably simple to forget that I had ever lived in Texas.
Yet it is still an angst-ridden experience; I’ve realized I’m not really moving me, I’m moving a family, and the home I’m trying to create isn’t about me but about the life the little people I care for will be able to have. Now that is brand new, and fills me with hoards of nightmares regularly. The logistics of finding schools, homes, neighborhoods, where the nearest grocery will be, is there a park, will there be a place to play soccer or swim, what will the high school that they’ll attend in 5 years be like, where is the pediatrician, who will be the band leader, and on and on, fills up my head before we’ve even figured out who the internet provider is going to be. I’ve no idea what my new email address will be, how could I possibly be expected to know whether or not my children will be secure in their attempts to get into graduate school?
So it’s a little upside down. I have been touched by the outpouring of grace and generosity exhibited by those who seem truly sad to see me go. As much as I shun ego, I do like hearing that something I did or said made a difference. The goodbyes have been more difficult than I’ve experienced in the past. This time I’m going, what will happen to these relationships, will they continue, will I make new ones where I’m going, will I be able to make a difference there too? Or was the last 10 years just a collection of luck and happenstance?
In spite of being someone who teaches about the power of influence, I still have tremendous incapacity for connecting my own efficacy to the influences occurring in other people’s lives. I would prefer to simply not know if I’ve done anything. It is therefore gratifying to hear that I’ve done something that was effective, meaningful, even just entertaining. And yet I do quietly fear that I won’t be much of anything as I start this new phase of my life.
I suppose the reality is I won’t be much of anything. No one will know me, I’ll have nothing to show for myself, it will need to be built. What is different now though is that I’ve got some experience having built things, and more importantly I actually know who the builder is. 10 years ago I was still figuring myself out, still deciding what “team” to play on or if I would play at all. I’ve come to some very difficult understandings about myself and had to make hard decisions, and I think what I’ve figured out is the stuff that actually matters to me. It is so much less about accolades, recognitions, fame, even principles, and so much more about people. Who is important in my life and how do I make it clear to them that I value them too. No work should get in the way of such things, and if it does then that tells me it is time to do something different.
So to those who have taken this transition as a time to take last minute pot-shots at me, fuck off. To those who have gone out of their way to let me know that our time together mattered, thank you. You have affected my life in ways you likely have no idea about as well; I have had a chance to meet some really amazing and interesting people and that has taught me more than much of my years in school. I hope whatever I do next will continue to make you proud.
And on a complete side note, I’ve found that my questions about my career have either been so shelved that I’m not thinking about it, or I’ve managed to find some answers. The most interesting answer I’ve found recently is I’m tired of asking the “what if” questions. So rather than ask what if, I’ve just been doing whatever it is that I’ve wondered about. I think what has changed is I’m willing to find out if it’s no good or if I can’t do it. I think I’ve finally learned that I’d rather make the attempt and learn that I suck rather than spend years asking if I could’ve done something to begin with. Oh, and I’ve found out that some things I thought I was good at aren’t that good after all. Or more fairly, sometimes I produce things that are good and other times I produce things that are crap. That’s a pretty typical thing though, isn’t it? We in the USA do this absurd thing to ourselves, buying into some ridiculous notion that everything we do is supposed to be superb, producing peak experiences ad infinitum. But getting knocked off your feet isn’t so disastrous as we let ourselves think. It hurts the pride, and it does create self-doubt. It is not fun to hear that what you made is ugly. But that doesn’t mean that everything you make is ugly, or that the ugly thing is without merit. That’s the newest lesson, that there are still many things to learn and that doesn’t mean you didn’t know something to begin with. Which means during my transition, I find myself yet again, confronted with the phrase I’ve shared with students: