Pushmi-pullyu

Dr. Dolittle had a creature that made him a lot of money, a pushmi-pullyu. This creature had two heads and two front bodies. The benefit was, the animal cold both eat and talk at the same time. The drawback was, it couldn’t decide which direction it wanted to go. No matter where it went, half of it was uncomfortable walking backwards. Therefore, it spent most of its time standing in one place. But that creature, on display, was a source of some pretty good income for Dr. Dolittle.

I have felt kind of the same way most of my life. Not the Dr. Dolittle way,exploiting outlandish creatures for profit. No, I have felt more like the pushmi-pullyu, forever trapped between coming and going, and watching others profit from my efforts.

There is a battle inside me. Dramatic? Probably. True? Definitely. I want opposite things in life. I want adventure and I want stability. The adventure side of me wants to travel, write, take chances, jump off cliffs (well, maybe not THAT one), etc. The stability side of me wants a 9-5 job, paycheck every 2 weeks, and the ability to know what’s going to happen next week, next month, next year.

Now, some people do have both. They have a steady job that pays well enough so they can vacation and travel and jump off cliffs. They can pay their bills without worry and can spend their free time being adventurous. They can take chances in their work because they are secure in their profession. They enjoy their profession, and therefore have the emotional energy to pursue other passions in their downtime.

I would say not many people have both, but they do exist.

Far more people have the stability. They have a regular job with regular pay and they go to work five days a week to pay the bills. They spend their downtime “recovering” from drudgery. They go on vacation once or twice a year to escape their regular life.

Some people have the adventure. They travel, they backpack, they scuba-dive – all over the world. They don’t have 9-5 jobs, and their income is either based on the results of their adventures, or (more likely) they have some family money behind them and can afford to live without a steady paycheck.

Of course, then there are the majority of us. We don’t have “good” jobs. We struggle every month to pay the bills. Our life is a never-ending series of adventures in poverty. We take chances by playing the lottery, spend our tax returns on frivolous enjoyment, and continually make choices that keep us in the hamster wheel of the service class.  And for most of us, we stay in that wheel our entire lives. So, what does all of this have to do with a fictional creature in a children’s book?

Everything.

We all have within us a duality. A sense of conflict between doing what we think we want and doing what we think we should.  Most people go their entire life with this feeling just a slow burn of small dissatisfactions. Perhaps they act out as teenagers, but eventually settle down. Perhaps they blow-out with a mid-life crisis, but then meekly put the pieces back together.

Some people just never settle down.  They never lose the strong sense that there is something else they should be doing, some greater cause to pursue.  A very few reach great heights because of family circumstance, good choices made with good guidance, or luck. The rest of that group tends to stay in low-paying jobs because those are the jobs that don’t tie you down.

Not everyone who flips hamburgers is an adventurer at heart, but I’d bet serious money there are more would-be adventurers selling you your morning coffee than doing your taxes.

Me? I’m spectacularly good at making no money. I rise to the top of every low-level job I take, because I am driven, ambitious, conscientious, polite and service oriented.  I am the “lead”, the “shift manager”. I am the “boss”, who isn’t really, ever, the boss. The service industry loves my type of worker, and I have always increased my employer’s profits. But I’ve never made anything close to a comfortable wage for myself.

I have been termed “underemployed” because I have a vast skill set, yet little to show for it. I have no degree, but have taken classes in nearly every discipline. I have aced creative writing, trigonometry, psychology and anatomy & physiology. I have tutored students who have gone on to good jobs with good money.

I have traveled and lived in much of the US and in Europe. I have been asked to speak at conferences all over the world. I am published. I have been front-page news in my local newspaper and middle-ish news in the Wall Street Journal. I have an outlandish CV.

And yet, I work in a service industry job in a health care facility. I can’t pay my bills with the paycheck I make.  I am exhausted at the end of each shift I work, and I can barely muster the energy to write a grocery list on weekends, let alone anything else.

Why?

I know I’m not alone. I know there are many, many people like me who have tasted what it’s like to live a life of grand adventure, but who seem stuck in the mire of poverty.

I don’t have the answer, because if I did, I would act. It’s not college. I’ve tried that. I love school. But I have never been able to “nail down” a major, something I can see myself doing for “the rest of my life”. It’s not about taking chances. I’ve done that. I’ve lept off the cliff and soared for a while, before both my life and I came crashing down. Is it laziness? I don’t know. I work 50+ hours a week, on my feet. If I were lazy, would I be able to do that? Is it mental illness? I seriously ask because I think it might be a little bit of depression and anxiety that holds me back.  I think there is a lot of truth in the last one.

Which brings me to Dr. Dolittle and his pushmi-pullyu.  I want to break out and do great things, but I want to stay safe and small, too. I haven’t been able to keep going in one direction before my other half takes over and drags me back. I haven’t stood still, far from it. But I seem to end up in the same place, regardless of how far or how long I run.

The funny thing is, I’ve never liked the Dr. Dolittle books. Never. Even as a little kid with a voracious reading appetite, I just didn’t like them. And the character I hated the most?  Shocker: the pushmi-pullyu.

What does it all mean? I’m as interested in the answer as anyone else.

 

Duality

January 2, 2017

I’m not super sure where to start. I’m not even sure I want to start at all. It’s been a while, I don’t know how long, and my creative juices have not only stopped flowing, I’m not sure there’s a body of creativity left. When I imagine my own well of creativity, I see a dry, cracked, dip in a hard, unforgiving ground. Nothing left of the water that may once have settled there, that may once have freely flowed along the channel, nourishing all it encountered. Now, just a dry, dusty space. Perhaps even a bit of rhyme along the edges, as if was once cool and clear had become stagnant, salty and toxic.

I have given myself to a cause that has not given back. I have spent my time and money, my heart and soul, my body and spirit, my health, my essential essence, on something that now feels as if it was never going to work.  And I feel like there is a part of me jeering from the sidelines at what’s left of my optimism. It’s not an attractive duality.

On one hand, I am alive. I have a better job than I did five years ago. My children are mostly grown and are mostly happy and healthy.  I have a better car than I did five years ago. On the other hand, I have more expenses as a result of the last five years. I don’t feel, financially, that I have gained any ground. I actually feel more stressed and more pressed that I did then. But that’s not the biggest issue.

Five years ago I was consumed with optimism for the future. Five years ago I had a plan, I had specific goals. Five years ago, I had no idea what my plan was going to cost me. Beware, you dreamers, you may get what you want, but you might not like the price you will pay.

So here I am, in my precarious space, looking back and wondering if I can even dare to look ahead.

I don’t have it in me to replicate the steps I took five years ago. I will never again risk everything for a dream. My grandfather would say, “never say never”. And perhaps I will find the courage to risk again. But right now, I just want safety. I want to wake up and know how bills will be paid, to know I am safe from eviction, to know I can keep my car for another month. I want to know where grocery money will come from for the month. I want peace.  And right now, I have none of those things.

I got exactly what I wanted, five years ago. I traveled. I started over. I gave literally everything to a relationship I wanted above all else. I got my wish. But what now? We still don’t live together. We still have no real plan for how to be a couple in real time, in real life. I just don’t know what my life means right now.

I have been on the brink of despair a lot this past year. I have semi-seriously contemplated ending my life in favor of the unknown. I value my life too much to actually end it, though. I wouldn’t put that kind of burden on my kids, either. But yeah, it’s been a rough patch. And I don’t know exactly how to get out of my emotional or financial predicament.

I feel like a complete failure.

But… perhaps because I have always had a spark of optimism regardless of how bleak things seem, I have started a course in dreaming and planning for the future. Crazy, right? I am at the lowest point in my life since those dark days when I was 17, and here I am meditating and free writing about creating a “best life”. Duality. It’s my thing, I guess.

So here’s to 2017. Whatever comes, I’m here. I’m not ready. I’m probably as far from ready as I have ever been. But… just bring it. We’ll see what shakes out.

Acknowledge

I hate when people post endlessly about how tired they are, how sick they are, how this hurts, or that aches, or whatever… whine, whine, whine… But right now, right here, this is my rant.

First of all, most people I know don’t know I have Fibromyalgia. It’s not something I spread around, because a) So many people think it’s this made up thing. b) Sometimes I think it’s this made up thing. c) It scares me.

I know so many people who are struggling with Fibro and I fear my life will become small and medically-centered, Fibro-centered. I fear sympathy, tinged with disbelief. I fear lack of control. I have enough going on in my life right now, I don’t have TIME to be sick.

But lately, I’m more than just sick. I have back pain. I mean, serious, serious pain. I have some vertebrae degeneration, some small fracturing, some disk degeneration, some spinal cord pressure… all adding up to a serious level of discomfort. Like, life-altering discomfort. Like, I can’t get out of bed discomfort. Like, I can’t stand, sit or lie down for more than a few minutes in any one position discomfort. But I DO get out of bed. I DO stand all day at work. I DO sleep (medicated sleep, but sleep, nonetheless). But it’s draining. I’ve been in PT for a few months, with absolutely no improvement. I’m on a few different prescribed meds, having upgraded from supplements and alternative remedies. Most of those meds help elevate mood, help control pain and help improve sleep. But most of them also have “drowsiness” as a side effect.

Plus, I’ve been “actually” sick on and off for weeks. Many weeks. I got the Norovirus  after the holidays, and I just haven’t come out on the other side. My doc says no wonder, with all the stress, pain and uncertainty in my life right now.

I am also very tired of winter. Today was gorgeous and I was too sick and tired to enjoy it much, although I did get out for a little while.

So, I’m tired.

I give up. I’m sick. I’m sick of positive thinking. I’m sick of the type of victim blaming that says what you think, you manifest. Screw it. I feel like crap. I will probably feel like crap tomorrow, too. Guess what? It is what it is. I will likely feel terrible for a while, considering.

So…. what’s next? I have some ideas, but the first one is this. I am going to stop fighting being sick.

I have looked and looked, and most advice on dealing with chronic illness includes the word “fight”. No one wants to be sick. No one wants to feel like they don’t have control over their health, their life.

I have “fought” for years and years, with some pretty decent level of success at times. But for the past several months, I have been losing, rather than gaining, ground. So… my new strategy is to just go with it. I learned a phrase this summer that I like: Acknowledge, Ignore, Move On. it’s a great strategy in sales, and in life, when you are moving right along. But sometimes, you just can’t ignore any more. Sometimes, you just have to accept.

I have been acting like I’m not sick for a long time. But the mask has slipped. The facade is damaged. So I am now I am working on “Acknowledge”. I’m tired. I’m tired because I’m sick. I’m tired because my back is a hot mess. I’m tired because the medication that does actually help (although not eliminate) my symptoms makes me tired. None of these things can be ignored. All must be accepted. I think it will take a while before I am there, before I can really accept. I mean, it’s been over a decade since I first found out I had Fibro, and I haven’t accepted it yet, after all.

But before acceptance comes acknowledgement. So this is me, acknowledging the fact that I am sick, I am in pain, and I am tired. And right now, that is enough.

I’m not stupid, and neither are you.

Feeling Dismissed.

It happens to everyone, and it never feels good. I am not talking about some boot-camp setting where the drill sergeant yells that the session is over. I am not talking about being asked to leave the room during a meeting. I am not talking about being fired. Although being dismissed can mean any of those things, I am talking about when you feel like your view, your opinion, your experience or your contribution is under-valued.

I don’t have a grown-up job. I don’t have an advanced degree in anything. I have a few terms of Bible College (shocking, I know). I have an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts (with a concentration in English). I have a couple of additional years of creative writing classes and photography classes in my education list. I have over a decade of experience in Restaurant Management (with the highest scores on my exams and certifications).  I have nearly a decade of experience in Workflow Management (basically how to get stuff done with the least effort, in the least time, with the least amount of resources).  Until my recent marriage I was a single mom for nearly a decade.

I have won national awards for my writing. I have been published in some pretty snazzy anthologies. I tutored Psychology and Statistics at the college level while I took my creative writing classes.  I helped many students graduate college, even if I ended up not gaining my degree myself.

I wrote and implemented the Employee Manual and developed the training courses for the last company I worked for. It was my “unofficial” job to make sure we were in compliance with the ever-changing safety and labor laws.

I worked with the Math department at my local community college and helped streamline the way they taught Basic Statistics. Many students were failing, and they couldn’t keep tutors. The reason was, even though this was a basic class, and required for all students in any degree program, every teacher used different texts and teaching styles. There was no uniformity. As a Stats student, I was able to overcome this and achieve a better than perfect grade. I was a highly sought after tutor and well paid for my efforts.  At my suggestion, the Math department standardized the texts, the tests, the homework, and the way stats was taught. As a result, even the most math-impaired student could pass, and most did. I am especially proud of this last bit.

I could go on. But most people don’t see past the first two things. I don’t have a grown-up job, and I don’t have an advanced degree.

What that means is… I am often dismissed.

My husband does have an advanced degree.  My mom and my uncles have advanced degrees. Many of my friends have advanced degrees. For some reason, it can feel as if they think they are more right than I am in most things… by simple virtue of their education. It’s not easy being in a relationship with someone who’s always right, be it friend, family member, or spouse. Even when they say they see your point, it still often feels like it’s coming from a place with just a little higher view of the world. And that, to me, is infuriating.

Because I try very hard not to dismiss others. I know my IQ. I know the strengths of my intelligence. I know that no matter what room I walk into, I am likely the smartest person in it. That’s not arrogance, that’s fact. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t reached my “potential” (whatever that is supposed to mean). It doesn’t matter than I never finished my degree. It doesn’t matter that I have bottomed out on relationships. It doesn’t matter that my kids don’t have the world’s best mom. What it means is, I’m pretty damned smart. I have the tests to prove it.  What’s more important, to me, is that I remain curious about the world. I read a LOT. I study a LOT. I read journals, and articles, and I try to keep on top of what’s happening in the world. I read about medicine, science, psychology, farming, politics… whatever catches my interest. So I know I’m not only able to grasp the nuances of what is happening around me, I am also able to apply it in some way.

I am most endlessly fascinated by why people act the way they do.  And so I pay attention to people. If I dismissed someone’s opinion because I didn’t see the value in what they had to say, because I didn’t feel their education or experience gave them a right to their view, it would be my loss. They don’t need my approval, but I value their participation in our interaction. That’s not to say I don’t mess up. I do. I am rude, I am arrogant, I really piss people off. But I do try not to, and when I know I have behaved badly, I apologize. Unless you are one of my ex-husbands. You guys totally deserve it. But I digress.

So when I am dismissed, when my views are de-valued, I want to cry, “UNFAIR!” Because, honestly, the people who dismiss me the most are usually the people who, in spite of my sometimes feeling like they are talking out of their asses, I listen to. I try to see their views, even when I disagree. I’d MUCH rather have arguments than end conversations with dismissals. So when the tables are turned, it feels like a real attack to be dismissed.

I have found ways around this. I am obnoxious enough to push through most dismissals. I can usually “gently” maneuver the conversation back around to where the person actually, in spite of themselves, really listens to me… and shockingly enough… I am found to have a valid point after all.

But that doesn’t mean the hurt is gone. It feels like a betrayal to be dismissed, especially when it’s by someone whom you love, who loves you. I almost wrote “claims to love you”, but the fact is, most of the real damage to us is done by people who really do love us. But painful or not, betrayal or not, at the end of the day, I have to choose to accept dismissal or fight to be heard. For me, the fight is worth it.

I’m Not Pregnant

Most people who know me would be astonished. Not that I’m not, but that it would even need to be said. I’m in my mid-forties, my husband is a little further down the line than that (although don’t say nearing fifty, he hasn’t quite reached that level of acceptance).  We are at a hugely vulnerable time in our lives and in our marriage. His health is precarious, at best. We are facing a forced separation and which continent we are going to inhabit, or even if we can inhabit one together at all, is anyone’s guess. So the fact that I have reached the age of irregular cycles adds a layer of interest to an already MORE than interesting time in our lives.

I really didn’t think I was. I’ve been late before. But I also have three grown/nearly grown daughters. So I know what it feels like to be late, and to wonder, “What if?” It was an interesting several weeks. I didn’t take a test. I didn’t feel like I was pregnant, and I do know what that feels like. I don’t have any bad habits, and I eat pretty healthy. Nothing in my life, or lifestyle would change with the knowledge that I was not alone in my body. At least not yet. So even if I WAS, I didn’t think I needed to KNOW. Not right away. I figured Mother Nature would give me a clue, sooner or later, and she did.

But what about those weeks? What about the stuff in my head while I wondered? It wasn’t a constant thing, by any means. Last year, I went several months where nothing happened. After two negative pregnancy tests and a follow-up with my doc to make sure nothing was wrong, I made some peace with the fact that my body is changing. Things are simply less predictable now than they used to be.

Still, it is interesting what a lifetime of programming can do to a fertile imagination. I wondered, what would I do? I had some great conversations with my husband regarding the, “What if?” question. It was great to know we were both on the same page. We would have been terrified. And thrilled. And terrified.

So now that I know for sure, I am relieved. But I also mourn the second chance I won’t get. I know. I’m selfish. I have three amazing, beautiful, intelligent daughters. My girls are a blessing that any mother would be grateful for. I have friends who are trying desperately to have even one child, and I have three. How DARE I feel sad that I can’t have even more? But there it is. I do mourn, nonetheless.

I know a few women in my age bracket have “second” families with new husbands. I think, if you’re healthy and can afford it, go for it. I never saw myself in that scenario, but last year’s scare, and this year’s… whatever it was, has made me think about it. And while I know how difficult it would be, I would embrace the chance to raise a child with this amazing man it took me a lifetime to find. And so I do mourn that loss.

My husband would have made a brilliant father. Plus, he has the most amazing blue eyes. It’s a shame that no child of mine will look at me with those eyes. No baby of mine will call him Daddy.

But then I come back to myself: this life I have chosen; the man I love who loves me more than I ever could have imagined; the family I have, oddly scattered as we may be. And I am so grateful. I have a life and a love beyond any dream I ever had. I am fulfilled, satisfied beyond the wildest imaginings of my youth.

And yet, even so… what if?