Nice Rocks

Pressure is the stuff that is supposed to create diamonds. By now I’ve experienced enough pressure to own my own mine. Such silver-lining statements aren’t very good at assuaging the storm of emotions that accompany difficult life experiences. I’d likely become more happy if people would stop making such comments altogether.

There is the crisis that occurs in the moment, whether it be an instant or a sequence of events causing the ground to crumble away beneath one’s feet. Such experiences shock, surprise, gut us into so many unpredictable states and reactions we often stun ourselves with the words that erupt from our mouths. We mobilize into action, or hide away, or wait silently – the fight, flight, or freeze responses biology instilled in us to try to keep us from dying out after the first generation. A modern, digital society doesn’t erase the need for these defenses; rather we just develop newer and weirder ways of employing our protections.  Even in our not-so-social media we cling to our illusions of control via tweet-storms or mass Facebook-unfriending.

Action, in any of these forms, is greatest when danger first makes itself known. The threat demands a response and we move like bees to guard the hive. But many threats don’t end once the emergency is over, in spite of our “get it done” society. There is no fast-food formula for addressing the longer lasting experiences of prolonged duress.

So – back to pressure. What is to be done once the emergency subsides, and we are left with the dawning realization that the source of our angsts is not going away any time soon? Or the possibility that our disturbances may never go away? Stuck is not always a state of mind; sometimes it is a condition of existence.

Enter the platitudes: it builds character, it tests what you’re made of, it’ll make you stronger. Goody goody gumdrops. As though you don’t have enough character, thought you were made of jell-o, or were too weak to lift your own eyelids. Is it necessary to experience the bullying effects of hardship or trauma in order to become a better human being? Is this meant to demonstrate that any God that may exist prefers cosmic irony?

Truthfully, this is why I think the Why questions don’t really matter. If we were to find out that all this were to make us better, or if it is the case that this is all meaningless, what difference does it actually make. You’re still in the same stuck and it isn’t going anywhere.

I do think it is an oddly American cultural discourse that suggests pressure, stress, or whatever is somehow “good” for you. That may just be our need to put some ridiculously cheerful spin on the bad things in life. Maybe it is an extension of our natural tendency to want to explain things. Or maybe all this searching is simply a distraction, the existential equivalent of chain-smoking.

I don’t have an answer. I am currently living in multiple states of pressure and dealing with it in my multiple useful and selfish ways. Writing this is an attempt to hold on to creativity, the energy that gets stolen by simply surviving. My projects have taken on the fury of a caped-crusader, but there is a reason why superheroes have insomnia. Commiserating with similarly affected friends builds community, but also grows the waistline while diminishing consciousness. Resistance walks a fine line against self-destruction. 

Is there a bottom line? Maybe, but perhaps that’s part of the problem, there is no bottom line to be found. Perhaps this is what living in a paradigm-shift is like. Churning in the crucible, we will not know what the end could look like because it is beyond what we are currently capable of seeing. Some pieces will burn away leaving only charcoal and dust. Other parts will forge into something unusual, awkward, but new. Hopefully some of those chunks will be welcome. Others will likely bring their own sharp edges and distorted veins. And likely some contorted bits will turn out to be jewels, gemstones with properties not understood but worth investigating.

That is as close to a silver lining as I can offer – stick this out and maybe we’ll have some nice rocks. But in the meantime – yup, it’s going to be one long, hot summer.

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Where Nobody Knows Your Name…

Moving is in that top 10 list of life stressors, along with things like marriage, divorce, childbirth and death. Some say it takes 3 years to really “move-in,” the point at which things become familiar and your home is really yours. You know where the grocery store is, how late you have to leave to get the kids to school on time, and what corner of your bedroom has morphed into the unofficial laundry basket.

But I haven’t been here 3 years. I’ve been here 6 months. And even though this was a move for many good reasons, moving still, in a word, sucks. I used to not think about the effects of moving and considered myself something of a rambler. That’s likely because from 18 on, I moved roughly every two years (with the exception of my longer 5-year stint in Chicago) until I was 32. Moving was the norm in my life, and my mind had adapted to living in an existential suitcase. Friendships were of the moment, to be grabbed by whoever could be found, because you or the other person might be leaving at any time. Carpe Diem made practical, not just philosophical, sense.

And then I had that 10 year lag…the one where I had things like children, mortgages, pets, parent-teacher conferences, annual holiday parties, restaurant special nights, season passes, oh and that job thing. The one where I showed up at the same job for 10 years, the first time in my life I’d had the same job for that long, went to the same office, saw much of the same people. Drove to the same places, saw the same buildings, taught the same classes, walked the same halls. Attended the same stupid, pointless, mandatory start of the term meeting every year. Crossed my eyes and doodled on my brain during the same committee meetings in the same boring rooms with the same glazed over faces dozens and dozens of times for 10 years.

Routine.

As much as my younger self recoiled at the thought of ever having a routine, the bottom line is I had one. Even when it included the things I didn’t like doing, it was still a routine. I learned how to navigate that space; I didn’t just know how to get around, I knew the backroads including avoiding the train that regularly blocked the entrance to my subdivision. I knew everyone in my neighborhood because my dog and I had walked the same route twice a day for several years and we met everyone who also walked, ran, or biked that route. When I was bored at work, I knew who to waste time with. When I didn’t want to get into a pointless conversation, I knew who to avoid.

Without realizing it, I had created “roots,” even though I wasn’t too pleased about where those roots were. I knew a long time ago I wouldn’t spend my life there, but in spite of that roots still developed and anchored me to a place and a way of life that was, for all intents and purposes, “normal.” It was what I knew.

I have been completely derailed therefore by the experience of knowing absolutely nothing now. Perhaps it was naive`, but I presumed I would bring something familiar with me. I still had my furniture, clothes, car…my family were still the same people and even the dog was still with us. It would just be a matter of changing the scenery, adapting to a different backdrop. I would still be teaching, reading, writing, and all that regular stuff. Life couldn’t really be that different, could it?

Wrong. I have watched every tiny piece of familiarity slowly dismantle itself as it walks across the threshold. The furniture I brought doesn’t fit in the new house. The car doesn’t work. The clothes are for the wrong season. And my family – still the same people, but now as turned around as I am. We bump into each other regularly because we haven’t figured out what direction to move in.

This is figurative and literal; when I get a moment to myself now, I still haven’t any clue where to sit in my own house. I haven’t found “my space.” When I find a spot, I don’t know what to do because I’m not sure how to fill that time. Even the little things I used to do, the hobbies, the activities, the ways of killing time and stretching through boredom just don’t exist the way they used to. Even my job, the teaching thing – it’s true there is an encyclopedia in my head that was written over the last 10 years, but I can’t deliver it the same way I used to. The format I teach in is nothing like what I did before, and every day is an adaptation to a new context. I have had to remind myself that I can put together a sentence and work a room, but my audience is not the same one I had before and I am learning them all over again.

It’s a weird kind of identity crisis. I’ve found myself wanting to volunteer for almost everything, things I’ve never even heard of because I don’t know where I belong. Outfits that I wore in the past don’t seem to match anymore. I am constructing an image all over again and I don’t know what it is supposed to look like.  This is an experiential lesson in social construction; the context of myself is impermanent, my knowledge of me fluttering constantly with the unrecognizable mirror of my unfamiliar social sphere.

I don’t have a clear answer out of all this. And it may seem surprising when I say I like being here. But I have made myself remember things like patience and temperance. Slowly the new little things are making themselves known to me; I recently ripped out a lawn feature left from the previous owner because I could finally say, “that isn’t mine.” I bought 4 pairs of shoes too many in trying to figure out this new fashion only to settle back on my old, reliable set of doc marten’s. I’ve abandoned local television to Netflix binge old seasons of House, the show I was addicted to (curiously) 10 years ago when I moved and started my last job. I bought a new car, and I blast 80’s music on my drive to work.

My spaces are still being developed. What’s it going to look like? I don’t know. Check back in 3 years.