Is my title too obvious a steal? Well if we can have baby Yoda memes teaching people how to wash their hands, I suppose I can exercise a little creative license with subtitles.
Last week we all learned our day jobs were going to turn into day, night, weekend, job non-jobs. In other words, everyone has to stay home. My kids will have to learn at home, and I’ll have to teach at home. It is a lot of home time. It struck me this must be some weird throwback to Little House on the Prairie days, except we have Netflix.
What does it mean to teach online…it means everything I have learned to do for the last 20 years gets thrown out the window. My one skill, the ability to talk in front of people, began from not being able to talk in front of people. Now returned to that origin state, I fear I will not be effective. The self that emerged as the Teacher doesn’t know how to exist if it can’t be in the same room with others.
I don’t have any pithy statements to make about COVID-19. This is unlike anything I’ve seen. Oddly, getting diagnosed with cancer already forced me to confront mortality. That doesn’t mean it’s easier now, it just means I haven’t had a break from having finitude shoved in my face.
Funny how getting online is the best way to connect with others right now. On that note, gonna go immerse myself in a lot of Destiny 2. There is something oddly reassuring about blowing the crap out of an alien menace you can actually see.
This morning while having my head shoved in an MRI, I decided to rethink my life. After all, I wasn’t going anywhere for a while and I needed something to distract me from the panic crawling up my body, generated from watching too many sci-fi films where the person in the machine gets atomized or turned into a giant faceless evil glob. Why not make use of my idleness and sort out life’s problems.
That paragraph likely brings out the problem, but in case it isn’t obvious – one shouldn’t be discovering “me” time in a tube designed to identify potentially life-threatening conditions living in your head. While it is true that having an MRI to diagnose migraines is good practice, I am disturbed by needing to go through it at all. First is the fear that maybe there’s more going on in there than just migraines; second is the suspicion that these migraines are my mind’s claxon, signaling the brain’s meltdown because it can’t contain all this nuclear waste anymore. (Or maybe there’s no brain left at all, having scampered off in “take this job and shove it” style.)
Migraines began visiting me a little over 3 years ago. I’d had a couple when I was younger, but not like these. Now I get possessed-by-the-devil headaches, the kind that make me want to rip out my own eyes and set fire to anyone who makes noise. They’ll last for days and once gone, I have to take a few more days just to recover. The only joy comes from unexpected precursors springing up Harry Potter style, such as the time I was in a meeting and everything in the room turned yellow. The pain stops me freight train dead in my tracks. Shop’s closed, phone’s off, don’t leave a message.
Seeking treatment is a good thing, but I do wonder if the cure will take more than a pill. For much of my adult life, especially after having kids, I accepted the temporariness of stability. Basically, life changes in ways that it just will, and part of creating stability is learning to adapt to what is not known. Once you get to the point of predicting what you do, something in life will change, necessitating a new response. Try to force or control this process, and we often find ourselves tossed about in the tornadoes we never could anticipate. Maybe our problem is that we like to control what we don’t understand – and there is so very much we don’t understand.
Recently, my life has been hit with new things – new job, new phase of life, new family circumstances…and I am just now figuring out that these are not temporary changes but permanent. That’s what I found myself figuring out while ignoring the jack-hammering noise of the MRI machine. What once made sense as a “transition” is no longer a transition – it has arrived, but I’m still treating it like it is going to go away. They are here and are forcing me to examine how I live my life and where I put my energy, which up until this point has been spent trying to wrangle this herd of wild horses.
I’m no horse-whisperer though (even though I think it would be cool to do that). But I think, in between the hums and bangs of the MRI, I have been trying to throw ropes around those mustangs to force them into a pen. It won’t work. I didn’t catch any in the first place, even though I convinced myself I had. Those horses have to run, buck, do what they’re going to do, and I need to stand still and learn to see the paths they make.
Ok someone who really knows horses might say that’s a stupid thing to do but I’m not really talking about horses, it’s a metaphor, deal with it.
Admittedly, I’m sad at the thought that these new paths may well take me away from things I once wanted. But I am not sure if that will be a loss since the endpoint of these new directions can’t be seen yet. I am hoping regardless that changing course reorients me towards what is meaningful, valuable. At the least I’m hoping it means a few less headaches. In the meantime, could someone get me out of this fucking machine before I jump out of my skin…
Living in the moment sounds great until you’re forced into it. Knowing that a phone call, email, or text could arrive and flip the day upside down gets to be a bit draining. Experiences like these become fast reminders of why a little boring predictability is a good thing.
We often presume news out of the blue is a good thing. This likely expresses our fairytale tendency to Disney-fy life’s grimmer moments. We don’t talk about when news twists your head backward and proclaims, “nope, you aren’t really going in that direction after all.”
I’ve been pre-occupied with existence and meaning these days. Frankl talks about asking of life’s meaning is not the real question, but instead to recognize that life is questioning us. These days I wonder how that questioning changes when life is nearing the end – I am not responding as I live the rest of my life, but as I near the end of my days.
Ok, don’t panic, I’m not dying. Well, not today at least. Death isn’t looking at me, but it is hanging nearby watching another. Death stands in the corner, tapping a patient finger on its crossed arms. I’d offer it a cigarette, but that seems a little too cliche`. Maybe death prefers Swisher Sweets?
Life questions us. Death, on the other hand, doesn’t really entertain questions. It has a firm grasp on certainties. We’re the ones who futilely expect it to offer answers, platitudes mainly, and fall prey to creating the very frustration we seek to avoid. We circle it, plead, joke, make deals – and all the while it just carries on, knowing it can go wherever it pleases. We just wish it would clue us in on where that destination happens to be.
Not too long ago, I couldn’t tell if it was around. I’d catch a glimpse here and there but would lose sight of it. Maybe it left, or maybe Death is just a really good hide-and-seeker. Now it’s out in the open, making itself a regular fixture in the room like a skinny floor lamp or one of those 1980’s landscape paintings you’d buy out of a trunk from a roadside starving artist sale. You know it’s there, but you’ll scratch your eyes out if you have to look at it all day.
It’s funny though how much time we spend pretending it’s not there. But the truth is, you get to a point where you don’t want it to go away. It needs to be there because the person it’s staring at is slowly running out of ways to answer life’s questioning. Their stuttered half-truths reflect this teetering between question and answer, and you realize the answer that is coming is only meant for their ears.
How is it this person becomes a time traveler, visiting friends from past, present, and future, often at the same moment? I can’t see these people but they are there, conversing as though nothing has changed. These characters parade in and out of the room, and Death winks at each like an old flirt. Maybe Death prefers Gauloises after all.
I don’t know when this stage play will come to an end. I’ve been assured it will though, whether I’m there to see it or not. Oddly enough, I’m not angry at Death for these theatrics. They make their own absurd sense, and it’s the only thing Death will talk about with me anyway. Smoke away, Death, your lungs can take it. Mine, on the other hand, are waiting to take a deep breath…
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: