I’m slowly adjusting to the newness of this life. I’ve been 9-to-5-ing it for so many years, this freedom to set my own hours for a while has been…almost unnerving. I keep waiting for the time off to end, for the dread to start growing in my stomach, for the clock-watching to remind me I have to go to bed in order to drag myself off to work for 8 am.
For the most part, it’s only been a relatively small thought in the back of my mind. I don’t talk about it much. I don’t think, “OMG, I’m not working!” at random points in the day. I don’t even feel ridiculously happy not to have to deal with the stress and BS that were a regular part of my day on the job.
Today, though, as I was driving around doing errands, there was a moment. It is a beautiful fall day here in Kentucky–the sky is blue and clear, and the temperature is just cool enough to be perfect. For a moment, just a moment, I was back in my desk at The Day Job™. It hit me, hard like a punch in the stomach. I could actually feel myself in the desk chair, a computer in front of me, white noise choking me, that trapped feeling all lab rats get when they become momentarily aware of their real situation.
From my desk, I could see out a window onto the parking lot in front of the Chinese buffet next door. Rain, snow, sleet, or sunshine, I would look out of that window countless times a day. My eyes would drift away from the screen and the work and the reality and fixated on that Outside place. Outside, where people were running errands and meeting friends and working in their yards. Outside, where time was just time, and not a weapon used against you.
And I remembered, like it was happening, the ache I would get sometimes, on days just like today, when I would look out and see the clear blue sky filled with sunlight and cool breezes. I called those days my Alpaca Days, because I would have rather been doing anything – even herding alpacas – than stay inside that cold, stale office. In my mind, I would just grab my purse and leave, without even telling anyone, without even turning off the computer. I’d get in the car and pick up my sweetie and we’d drive without stopping until we hit an ocean.
Today, I realized that I didn’t have to raise alpacas. I didn’t have to run away from home.
I was out there, in that sunshine, on that perfect day, doing what I wanted to do.
And I realized, “Wow, I don’t have to go to work for a while.”
Love to you all,
It’s 10:25 on Sunday evening. For the first time in years, I’m not watching the clock. There is nowhere I need to be in the morning. I have clean clothes, and my shoes are near the door where I always keep them. My keys are hooked onto my purse, but I will not need them as the sun is rising on the beginning of the week.
I had a panic attack today just before dinner. My stomach clenched in on itself like a knot, my hands began to shake, and I could feel my pulse begin to race. I was in free fall.
The story I’ve told myself for the majority of my adult life is that I’m not good at structure. I need outside structure in order to keep me productive. I need a time clock to punch, a schedule to be adhered to, an agenda to follow, or I will be useless. I need someone outside myself to tell me who I am, where I should be, what I want. I need someone to tell me how to feel and how to live.
My “job” for the next several weeks, outside of packing up and moving, is to clear my head. I need to get myself clear of this Stockholm syndrome that has taken over my life. I know this to be true, and yet for all the learning and growing I’ve done over the past few decades, I am at a loss at where to start.
I have been given an amazing gift, a gift so many people would kill for. I have time.
I have stolen silence from my life for so many years, edging peaceful moments in the nooks and crannies of my crazy world. And now, I’ve hit the jackpot, time-wise.
And I’m scared to death. That free time seems to spread before me endlessly, and yet at the same time I’m afraid I’ll blink and miss it. I’m afraid of wasting the gift, so I’m tempted to cram it full of tasks and activities and goals and lessons. Anything to avoid the aching, empty silence where my authentic voice can find me.
“Listen to that inner voice,” people always say. “Listen to your higher self.”
I’ve heard from my Inner Wise Self (IWS) before. But I don’t think this is the voice I’m looking for. I think this is a much deeper, more primal voice, one that has been stuffed so deeply inside of me I’d forgotten she ever existed. And she’s got a lot to say.
The conversation, I fear, will go something like this. “Who are you?” she will ask. “When did you become this person? When did you digest all this BS about who you are and who you should be? When did the act of making money become your sole criterion of self-worth? And what the hell are you going to do about it?”
I’d like to think that my authentic voice will be kind and patient with me as I go through the process of deprogramming my psyche. But I’m afraid she will not I’m afraid of her anger, and the anger that I’ve been swallowing for so many years. I’m afraid she’ll realize that it’s not society or religion that’s silenced her, but my own fear.
What havoc will she wreak when she finally lets loose? And will I be strong enough to weather the storm?
I’m in free fall right now. I don’t know where I’ll land or who I’ll be when the dust settles. But it’s okay. This is a gift. My authentic self is still where she has always been–waiting, more or less patiently, for me to shut up and listen for a change.
So I don’t have to worry about going to sleep tonight. The alarm is not set. I can wake when I choose and, aside from a list of moving-related tasks to accomplish, I have nothing at all I need to do. Nothing at all.
Wish me luck,
Background Music: Adiemus by Karl Jenkins
Today, I finished up my two weeks’ notice at the job I’ve held for almost nine years. I’ve always wondered about people who do and don’t work out their notice at jobs. I’ve known people who just said flip it and left after one day. Others didn’t give notice at all.
I worked my last day like any other Friday–actually, I was a bit more diligent than usual. I made sure all my email was tidied up. I followed up on issues I had been working on and made sure my replacements had all the reference documents they would need for a smooth transition. I said my goodbyes dutifully to both coworkers and customers, getting personal emails and cell numbers where appropriate. i cleaned out my desk and made sure to place all personal items in the canvas grocery bag I’d brought. I turned in my badge to the supervisor on duty.
When 5 o’clock arrived, however, I was struck with a sort of Stockholm syndrome. My feet dragged as i walked toward the reception area. I was actually afraid to walk out the front door. That feeling of euphoria I expected never materialized.
I drove home in silence, a mood of intense quiet filling every corner of the car until the windows practically rattled with it. i felt my hands shaking and, almost instinctively, my mind turned to safer ground. I began to review the slights of the day–the supervisor who never bothered to tell me she’d be on vacation my last day, thus denying me closure of an actual goodbye. The teammate who groused at me for sending “too many emails” to help her cope with my unruly account when I was gone.
It felt better. It felt safer. I understood bitching about work. I understood frustration and resentment. No matter how uncomfortable these things can be, they are a lot more familiar than this all-encompassing sense of now what? that was settling upon me in my nascent post-employment haze.
I got my first “real” job in college, and I’ve been working ever since. Despite all my efforts to fight it, I have been unable to avoid identifying with my job, defining myself by the work I do, basing my self-worth on how much I earn and what prestige I can garner from the status of my position. Every bit of introspection, every spiritual book read, every billable hour of therapy I’ve endured could not keep me from falling into this oldest of traps.
I am my job.
And for the next few weeks, at least, I am effectively unemployed.
This begs the question, of course, “Who the fuck am I now?”
Who am I without a job to go to? Who am I without a job to bitch about? Who am I without the bars around me?
For all my posturing about wisdom and spirituality, I have willingly put myself in a cage for the majority of my adult life. Bitching and moaning all the way, I embedded myself into the very jobs that were killing me. I became the jobs that raised my blood pressure to potentially stroke-inducing levels. I became the jobs that increased my stress levels and pummeled my self-esteem and shattered my ability to trust my own instincts. I became the jobs that, for all intents and purposes, were the work equivalent of an abusive spouse.
And now I look into the blinding glare of freedom, and I’m paralyzed by it. There is a lot to do. We have to pack up eight years of life in the next four weeks to prepare for our move cross country to Phoenix. I have to sign up for Obamacare and make sure I have enough medication to get me through the transition time.
But those things won’t take eight hours a day, plus two fifteen minute breaks and a one hour lunch. Those things won’t clock my time in and out, sending me nasty little reminders when I’m five minutes late in the morning or three minutes early coming back from lunch.
For the next five or six weeks, I am essentially a free agent. Unemployed. A ghost.
I have to resist the urge to start shoving things into the empty space. I am drawn to clutter, comforted by it, addicted to it. All this empty time and space is too frightening, too open and vulnerable to attack from self-doubt and backward thinking.
When I told people I was leaving my company, almost every single one of them asked me the same question, “What are you going to to?”
I asked Kathryn that same question, and do you know what she told me?
“You are going to putter. You are going to be. You are going to break free of the brainwashing that tells you your only value comes from the job you hold and the work you do. Because if you don’t, it won’t matter what kind of job you get when you get to Arizona. And if you do, it won’t matter what kind of job you get when you get to Arizona.”
So, dear souls, tonight I greet you as a caged bird no longer behind bars, held so long in captivity she’s almost forgotten that she can fly. But soon enough, I’m going to remember what those wings are for, and it’s gonna be an amazing flight.
Wish me luck–
Good night, dear souls.
Today I was brave. Today I was very brave. It’s not the time yet to talk about the details, but I have to say–brave is scary.
You know the old truism: “Bravery is not the lack of fear. Bravery is feeling the fear and moving forward anyway.” For the last few weeks, I’ve been fighting enormous fear. I’ve been fighting dread and self-doubt.
I’ve been hovering near the edge of the cliff, skittering back and forth like a scared animal.
Today, I jumped off the cliff.
I’ve jumped off that cliff before, and I flew. But over the past few years, I’ve become very comfortable. I’ve become very sedentary.
I’ve forgotten what I’m made of, and I’ve allowed other people to tell me who and what I am.
That ends today.
Still petrified. But at least I’m not stuck on the ledge anymore.
Keep watching this space for more details.
Sweet dreams, fellow travelers.
Background Music: Sara Bareilles – Brave
Still reading Anna Deveare Smith’s Letters to a Young Artist. I intersperse it between other reading, allowing my subconscious mind to digest and process the information in its own time.
Today, I read an amazing quote from her March 2003 letter entitled “Urgency:”
Don’t even bother coming out onstage–or doing anything in the realm of artistic communication–if you don’t have a sense of urgency. Nothing is cool here.
Smith in the next chapter discusses “The Death of Cool:”
So the death of cool…would do what? It would probably bring more tones, more color, more emotion, more love, more raw spirit, more argument, more energy. More authenticity? More compassion? More laughter? More tears? More open hearts?
Try it. Be uncool. As uncool as you can possibly be….Be hot.
These words were a revelation to me. In my youth, I was as far from cool as I could be. I didn’t eat the right foods, follow the right musicians, wear the right clothes, or lust after the right celebrities (or gender, for that matter). I laughed too loudly, argued too fervently, and imagined too wildly for most of my peers.
I was a geek, a nerd, an oddball, a wierdo, and a spaz.
Somewhere along the line, I learned to conform. I learned to fit in…to a certain degree. Enough to keep a job. Enough to avoid controversy. Enough to get by.
But that conformity came at a price. With conformity, I wrapped up my energies and passions and enthusiams, making them user-friendly and as inoffensive as possible. I buffered the world against my “uncoolness,” which probably made a lot of people much more comfortable around me.
But I died a little, too. That part of me who went wild with enthusiasm over Broadway musicals, worried passionately about the plight of the sea mammals, she kind of took a back seat to the me who could create excellent spreadsheets and write great business correspondence.
But I only died a little, and it seems a ghost of that person still mucks about inside me.
Because when it comes to science, I’m uncool.
When it comes to politics, I’m uncool.
When it comes to music and art and literature, I’m uncool.
When it comes to Doctor Who, I’m totally uncool.
And at the ripe old age of 47, I think I’m coming full circle with my geekiness.
At the risk of being absurd, I believe embracing my lack of cool might be the coolest thing I’ve ever done…
Peace to you–
On the subject of acting one’s age….
I just read an amazing article on a group of older women reclaiming the fashion world for themselves. Now, I won’t lie. I know not of fashion. I am a fashion illiterate. But I do know something about people, and I love love love that these women are defying ageism in a powerful and enthusiastic way.
You see, it occurred to me, just a few days ago, that I am 48 years old. Yes, that’s a “4” followed by an “8.” Two years shy of half a century.
I have to be honest with you here–I don’t feel forty-eight. I am not 100% certain I know what 48 is even supposed to feel like. But the fact that I’m staring down the barrel of fifty, along with pretty much everybody I grew up with, has given me pause.
I look at my life and think, well, a lot of it was pretty darned good. I’ve had some adventures, met some amazing people, and learned a lot. And I’m in no hurry to stop doing those things. As long as I don’t stare too closely at what my peers are doing and make the mistake of comparing myself to them (because, really, why?), I’m actually quite happy with how my life has progressed.
I’m very much looking forward to my 50s. I’m looking forward to seeing what adventures I’ll have, what sights I will see, and who I will become. I’m looking forward to seeing what new miracles all these brilliant minds will come up with next (seriously–who thought of e-books? Because I want to send them a tin of candy at the holidays). I’m looking forward to learning more, understanding more, and experiencing what life has to offer.
Yes, I do fall into the ageist trap once in a while. My coordinator at work (all of 29 years old) mentioned the other day that she’d never seen a rotary phone in her life. I explained to her that she needed to stop talking, please. But aside from the random pop culture disconnect, I actually love spending time with younger people. They live in such a different world than the one I grew up in, and they have a truly different perspective.
When I was younger, I sought out older friends. I still do, to be fair. But I’m discovering that age is not really what I’m looking at. Your soul doesn’t really notice the age of your body, or of those around you. Your soul simply sees itself and other souls it encounters. Whether you are fifteen or fifty-five, eighteen or eighty, your soul is ageless.
If the ladies of Advanced Style are changing the rules for fashion, on the other end of the age scale there’s Madison Kimrey,the teenage wunderkind whose blog is rocking feminism and activism with her take-no-prisoners attitude. (Her much-publicized call-out to anti-feminist icon Phyllis Schafly was an epic study in intellectual smacking-down.)
I don’t feel 48. Madison Kimrey doesn’t write like a teenager. And the Advanced Style ladies certainly don’t dress like little old ladies.
Age is just a number, folks. All that matters is who you are, how you live, and what you bring to the table.
Have a good night–sweet dreams.
Background Music: Cats Sleeping On Clouds by Maneki Neko
I’m feeling quite sad tonight after learning of the sudden loss of my stepfather. Our relationship was never 100% smooth, but he loved my mother and made her happy. I’m going to just say goodnight, and leave you with some background music.
If I were a Christian, this is the point where I would say, “Jesus, give me patience.” But since I’m an eclectic pagan polytheist, I can also add Hestia, Kwan Yin, and any other deity willing to help to that plea.
I am a true believer that kindness is always your best option. However, there comes a point where showing kindness to someone is not in yours or the other person’s best interest. Those of us who default to “helper” mode need to be careful that our desire to serve does not create dependence in another or allow another person to take advantage of our kindness in a way that harms us.
I have an older friend who is perhaps the most computer-illiterate person I’ve ever met. In fact, she’s downright phobic on the subject. The trouble is, she is also convinced that The Net is a virtual Willie Wonka’s of free stuff, just ripe for the plucking at any time, night or day. Any attempt to educate her on the realities and potential dangers (scams, spyware, etc.) is met with a blank stare and a repetition of the original question, “Well, can’t you just look it up on the computer?” She either does not comprehend, or does not want to comprehend, that my helping her might put my computer and personal data at risk. All she knows is that the stuff she wants is in the magic box, and she gets perturbed that I can’t give it to her.
Okay, I’m simplifying the situation slightly, but it serves to illustrate a point. There are some folks who really need your help. But there are also some folks who are looking to you to do their work–learning, choosing, etc.–for them. Any attempt to foster self-reliance is met with helplessness and resistance.
Dealing with people like this requires a balancing act. As in the case of my older friend, I really don’t think her helplessness comes from deceit or manipulation. I really think she shuts down in the face of anything technological.
It’s easy to put the stops on a person who is manipulating you or using you with malicious intent. It’s much harder to draw boundaries with someone who simply needs more help than you can give without causing harm to yourself.
Drawing strong boundaries is never easy, but in the long run it’s better for all parties involved. You don’t get the life sucked out of you, constantly jumping to the aid of someone who simply needs too much. And they, sometimes, get frustrated enough to push past their fear and limitations to learn something new towards self-reliance.
I signed my friend up for text coupons so she will not be so reliant on The Computer for all those wonderful goodies she so desperately wants.
Now, I just have to teach her how to read the texts on her cell phone.
Kwan Yin, give me patience.
Good night, dear souls.
Background Music: Sonata Quarta In D Major by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer
Writing this blog is, in some ways, one of the most frightening things I’ve ever done. I’ve set two challenges for myself with this project: (1) to say what is important, and (2) to speak the truth.
Saying what’s important requires a clarity of thought I don’t always pursue. Because speaking and writing have always come so easily to me, I can sometimes get lost in the mechanics without really focusing on the message I’m sending. Style without substance is something I need to be on guard against at all time. It doesn’t matter how cleverly you say something, if it’s not worth saying.
But the second part of that challenge, the speaking of truth, is by far the harder of the two for me. It’s not that I am inherently a liar (although my wife insists I’m a master of the well-spoken untruth). But telling the truth is not simply to avoid lying. Telling the truth involves risk. Telling the truth involves commitment. Telling the truth cuts off escape routes.
Without going into the dysfunction of my youth too deeply, let’s just say that I grew up in an environment where secrecy was encouraged. There is privacy, and then there is secrecy. There is discretion, and then there is paranoia.
One of the hardest parts of growing up for me was learning what was socially acceptable to talk about, and what was not. The social rules concerning this were (and remain) incomprehensible to me. It seemed that 99% of the trouble I got in as a child was because I spoke an embarrassing truth in front of the wrong person or persons. The trouble I got in was severe enough that I learned to guard myself fiercely, learned when to lie and how to do so eloquently and efficiently.
I internalized that the default setting on life was to hide the truth as deeply and carefully as possible, no matter how much you wanted to tell it, no matter how much better things would be if you did. Secrecy was the norm, and telling the truth was the aberration.
it took a long time for me to break out of that norm. I had to work hard to learn first how to recognize my truth and then how to safely speak it. it took a lot of pain and error and courage.
Recently, I’ve found myself in a space where I’m forced by circumstance back into that place of institutionalized secrecy and paranoia. And it’s eating me out from the inside. I’ve discovered that once I broke free of that type of life, I never ever wanted to go back to it. I’ve quit jobs to avoid it. I’ve ended friendships.
And here I am, back again in this space.
Sometimes, circumstance forces you to hold your tongue. But I will never hold my tongue on this blog. I will never hide my truth here. I am angry about my current circumstance, and I will get out of it. But I will keep this space honest, no matter what.
I thank you for reading, and I hope I earn your trust.
Peace and good dreams to you–
Love Meryl Streep.
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