Acting My Age – Take 2

time

While it may be cliché, it is nonetheless true: the older you get, the faster time passes. As I was walking to work this morning, I became keenly aware of this very concept on a number of levels. The first happened as I was thinking about writing this blog. I realized I hadn’t blogged in a little while. As it turns out – it’s been six months! Those common and all-too-real words popped into my head: “Where did the time go?”  Like everyone else I know, my life is filled with an endless variety of things which take my time and run away with it. Some of these are wonderful – my time with my grandson, my oldest daughter’s wedding, working on my yard. But some of them are not as enjoyable – my hour-long commute twice a day, a job that is financially rewarding and emotionally draining, and my seemingly endless struggle to balance the things I need to do against the things I want to do.

As I was making my brisk walk from the parking lot to my office (about two city blocks), I became very aware of both time and age. There had been an accident on the freeway which had slowed me down considerably, and I was feeling frustrated at being late when I had every intention of arriving early.

I15accident_r620x349

It felt as if some unseen monster was taking a bite out of my valuable time pie, and I grew tense and angry. When I finally reached the parking lot, the temperamental machine required three attempts for me to make my payment. More time wasted, more frustration. By the time I parked and gathered my things to start walking, I could feel the tightness of anxiety in my chest and across my shoulders. My jaw tensed, teeth clenched, I started my walk toward work.

A few paces ahead of me was a young woman making her way to her office as well. She wore the requisite uniform of a young executive: a grey skirt, pale yellow blouse, grey sweater, and tennis shoes so she could walk faster on the uneven sidewalks. A leather bag hung from her shoulder, the heels of her beige pumps sticking out from one side. She stared straight ahead with fierce determination as she prepared to storm across the intersection when the light changed. Her hair was pulled back in a tight twist and I tried not to laugh as I wondered if her brain felt as tight as her hairdo.

blurred shot of business executives in a hurry

blurred shot of business executives in a hurry

As I watched her launch into the cross walk and move with quick, steady strides, I developed a kind of sadness for her. She was speeding up her world and rushing through time in a way she would one day come to regret. I instantly felt myself slowing down. I lost the urge to rush to the office building and instead took a moment to enjoy the shade of the trees that line Main Street. I listened to the clacking and squeaking of the light rail train that rounded the corner to head to the university. I watched a robin hoping along the steps to the great grey building that is now a courthouse, but that I remember as a kid as being the huge post office we came and visited in fourth grade.

I found a good pace and realized that the young woman who’d been hard-charging ahead of me had disappeared into a building. I thought about her uniform as became aware of my own choice of clothing for the day: white, knee-length shorts; a reddish shirt with an imprint of the Hindu deity Ganesha on it; a beige sweater (it gets cold at my desk), and gold sandals to match my gold jewelry.

ganesh3

There was a time I would have dressed exactly like that young woman. It would have seemed appropriate. Uncomfortable, but appropriate. All the time that has passed by me has brought with it the opportunity to dress how I want. I’m happy to have landed in a place where suits and skirts aren’t expected – but even if they were, I’d put my own spin on the uniform.

I realized another thing as I reached my office this morning: I’ve survived enough work environments to know that being true to who I am is far more important to me than trying to conform to what I think others expect of me. It’s far easier to relax (usually) and to allow the world to just be what it is than to allow myself to get upset about things over which I have no control. I didn’t cause the accident that slowed traffic, and I surely couldn’t speed that up. I didn’t cause the silly parking payment machine to be persnickety and uncooperative. Allowing myself to become frustrated by it was a waste of energy and time that I could better use somewhere else.

This is truly one of the benefits of learning to act my age. And the Ganesha tee-shirt doesn’t hurt either.

Upheaval

My world has been in a state of upheaval for the past two months, and the result has been that my time and energy for writing have been limited.  I did manage to write the last two chapters of the book I am co-authoring with my friend and writing partner Jared Anderson.  But really, two chapters over two months is nothing to brag about. And the truth is, there was a certain melancholy to finishing that project.  As I was finishing the chapters, I was also helping Jared to pack his house for a move to the midwest. The day before we climbed in the moving truck and started driving, I finished the last four pages. I printed off the entire book and we read it while we drove from state to state.  The ending of that book was the ending of so many things and so it’s completion didn’t come with the typical celebration.

Of course, now we will have to start revisions, each of us working from a different state and both of us in new homes.  We will have to figure out how to coordinate long distance since we can’t meet up for our weekly writing and editing sessions. Our whole process is in a state of upheaval.

The chaos isn’t just in Jared moving. I moved also, I’m still unemployed after 4 months, and my husband and I are having some issues. All this disruption to my personal life has disrupted my writing life as well. I sit down to work on revisions but I can’t focus. I want to start working on a new book, I can’t think straight.  Not being able to write has felt like the ultimate insult in two months’ worth of aggravations!  My old habits and patterns have been torn asunder, and I have felt lost and anxious about it.

Then today I started working on revisions to a YA novel. I sat down and started working with no thought or plan. After a bit I noticed something – I felt normal, I felt calm. In my heart, I knew this was the answer even before I started working. I just needed to sit down and do it. Patterns and habits are good, but sometimes simply getting your butt in the chair and writing. I’m creating new habits, new patterns, and Jared and I will find new ways of working together long distance.

The fact is, all this upheaval may actually prove to be very beneficial. Stressfulness aside, it has forced me to rethink how I do things, and much like the revision process itself, it has given me a new way of seeing who I am as a writer, and for that part, I am grateful.

Conflicts of Interest

I think I’m beginning to dread summers.  For the past three years they have been chaotic times for me, and they are coming to represent chaos on a larger scale than ever now.

There is the family chaos of kids and spouse that is ongoing, but seems to somehow intensify from May to September, that drains much of my creative energy away.  Then there is the chaos of extended family which contributes the stress affecting my family and my ability to focus on the needs and priorities of  my home.  Much of this I simply have to resign myself to because – simply put – I can’t get rid of the members of family just because they annoy me at times.

There is the personal chaos of having too many things on my plate at once.   am aware that I need to be more selective in the activities I take and the commitments I make.  I love being active and involved in things, but the ability to say no to some requests is a skill which continually needs developing.  There are times I’m better at this than others.  Now isn’t one of the better ones, and I find that I am committed to the gills for weeks and weeks.

Now there is the employment chaos – again.  I believe God laughs when we make plans because they represent an opportunity to have a little fun with human lives.  God, the universe, (insert the deity of your choice here) must look at our well-crafted planning as a means for personal entertainment.  Not that I honestly think God personally sets out to have fun at the expense of humans, but it does on occasion feel that way. 

The most frustrating part of the whole work thing is that, with the collapse of each well-crafted plan, each new step I seem to be facing is a step away from my heart.  Every time I have to shift my employment to a new set of circumstances (for very practical and important reasons, I assure you), I watch my writing time diminish, and my writing goals slip further and further from my hands.  I go weeks without making serious progress on a manuscript, and the stress of not being able to spend the time I want and need on my writing is beginning to take a tole on my mental health.  It’s like the old “I Love Lucy” episode, where Lucy and Ethel go to work at a candy factory and everything starts to go wrong:

Everything is backed up, spilling off the conveyor, and Lucy and Ethel have to struggle to make things look as if they are normal.  Of course, that only results in a bigger set of problems.

That’s where I am now.

Bigger problems.

There seems to be an enormous difference between what I want to do and what I have to do.  That difference creates a conflict that is elevating my stress level to dangerous heights.  Trying to resolve this is overwhelming me, so the result is that very little is being accomplished to any reasonable degree. It feels as if my brain is in a blender set to “frappe” right now.

It’s a truly frustrating place to be, and I’m hoping the answer makes itself known to me soon.

Chaos and Serendipity

I’m on a roll here, folks – bear with me.

My hubby and I took a little time off this weekend.  We both needed it.  It was a good escape from the inversion our valley had been suffering (for those who don’t know, in the Salt Lake valley the mountains often trap cold, polluted air beneath a layer of warm air.  It’s worse than Los Angeles smog in so many ways), and a good escape from some of the chaos we’ve been attempting to sort through.  It was long a weekend-long date. 

We golfed on a new course in Hurricane, Utah (that’s pronounced her-uh-cun in these parts), and it was a pretty course, though not the prettiest one in that area.  I played okay, much thanks to Dr. B and his sage advice (a loose grip and a smooth tempo worked wonders!), and considering I was in short sleeves and picked up a little sun on my cheeks, I didn’t mind my final score at all.  And I only swore a few times, which is remarkable in itself.

We drove home on Sunday afternoon, most of the way in a nasty snow storm. Despite that, I felt relaxed and ready to dive back into whatever craziness might await me.  As I checked my emails (surprisingly, only 30 of the over the weekend), my sweet friend and mentor Alison McGhee had put a gem in my in-box.  Alison has a mailing list to whom she sends a poem once a week.  This one was particularly appropriate I though.

The Blue Grotto
    – Monica Ferrell

Somewhere in this world I will understand
that room: a natural heaven—the personal
swimming hole of the old Augustus—:
What a beautiful crock. Yet
how the boatman swindled us so gently;
we hardly minded. And then—
the violence of the sudden chain breaking
            us into the splendor of a new life—

We idled on eternity, out of time.

I stood up in the boat
holding out my arms like a chick
burst from its white shell,
one low blue blaze in an ocean
of blue fire.

Life was full of struggle.
All the struggle of this last epoch
was not over and would not be over,
was a rare sweet wine in a crystal phial
pressed from hours of rain sliding
down in streams the mind’s train window
to be drunk on a day like this, in one straight delicious draught.
So my heart was broken: it would break again,
but my tiny muscles would stand it and my bones
as long as I stayed willing. Let me stay, I prayed,
pure: unapostate and without deceit in the face of being.

            Then the boatman began to sing, he rolled
out the opera and the salty local,
he told tall tales and ludicrous jokes
and I laughed. Here, at the end
and beginning of my voyage. For this, this it is:

The island where your name is unhidden
and now you must leave it
as we must leave everything perfect until
we enter that great wide sea.

Somewhere in this world I will understand my life.


www.alisonmcghee.com

The last line said it all to me.  With all the many hats I wear (and don’t we all!), with all the craziness I live with, I think sometimes I’m just looking to understand what my ultimate purpose is.  Then it dawns on me that trying to pin that down into simple English is part of what makes me so nuts.  In a way, this is part of the illusion of control I talked about previously.  The serendipity of this poem showing up when it did is what keeps me believing in a higher power.  It’s what convinces me that, no matter how crazy things may be, it’s all really just fine and I need to stop worrying about “what if” and be content with “what is” at this time.

And it is amazing what happens when I let go and trust that. Everything takes care of itself, I have more peace and simultaneously more creativity, I am happier, and the opportunities I am seeking seem to fall into place for me.  So with that, there is much writing to be done, and a few papers to grade, and then I’m off to enjoy sleeping in my own bed. (I hate hotel beds, but that’s a rant for another session.)

The Illusion of Control

The concept of chaos is a prevelant theme in my life at the moment. The more I try to control the chaos, the more chaotic things seem to get.  It’s bad enough that I managed to give myself a rather severe migraine the other night.  It caused me to miss my writers group, and made the next day a rather fuzzy blur of lying on the sofa, drinking hot tea, and listening to my iPod. 

I asked myself repeatedly what I had done to deserve this.  In the midst of this self-induced malaise, a funny thing happened.  I did what I usually do when I’m feeling out of sorts: I asked what the lesson was.  On cue, the song on my iPod became clear, and Gnarles Barkley said through the earphones:

     “Who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are? (chuckle) Bless my soul.  You think you’re in control?”

This comes from the song Crazy. The cover art is the perfect description of what’s been going on in my head.  I’m doing it to my self again.  I’m trying to impose rules on the universe instead of understanding the universe functions by its own rules.  The more I try to contain the chaos, the more it refuses to be contained.  It’s time to surf. Let me explain.

When I was first learning to scuba dive, I had two of the most amazing instructors in the world.  My favorite instructor was a guy named Floyd Bowdy, though everyone called him Bob.  I went to California on a dive trip with a bunch of students from the University of Utah, and Bob was one of our dive masters.  We did a lot of diving, including some amazing night dives off the coast of Santa Barbara.  The phosphorescent plankton in the water at night is one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen in my life – like someone has sprinkled fairy dust in the water.

We decided to do a night dive near Ana Capa island, and Bob agreed to be my dive buddy because I was feeling a bit anxious about  the whole thing.  While we were getting ready he said, “There’s a little bit of a surge and a little bit of a current, so the kelp is going to go Maytag on you.”

“Maytag?” I asked.

“Yeah, like a washing machine.  It’ll aggitate back and forth.  You just have to surf it until we get deep enough not to feel the movement so much.”

“How do you surf kelp?” I asked, really not grasping what he was saying.

“Slide along with it.  Don’t fight it or you’ll get tangled up in it.”

It didn’t make sense until I was in the water and I could feel the back-and-forth twisting.  It felt like I was inside a Maytag washer on slow-mo.  We let the air out of our BCs (the vest that controls your boyancy in the water), and face to face, we started sinking.  I could feel the kelp wrapping around me, and my natural reaction was to try to fight it and twist out of it.  Bob looked me square in the eyes through our face masks, smiled oddly with the regulator in his mouth, then relaxed his whole body, surfing down the tall stalks of kelp to a depth of 65 feet.  I followed along, not quite as relaxed, but I could feel what he meant by surfing. I slid along the kelp right beside him.  When we reached the bottom, the plankton sparkled all around, and we set off to view a reef.  It was amazing, to say the least.

When it was time to surface again, we headed up face-to-face.  The surge in the water had picked up, and I found myself wrapped like a mummy in the kelp.  I panicked.  I forgot everything Bob had told me.  I struggled, got wrapped more tightly, and accidently dumped my weight belt – the  only thing allowing me to control how fast I moved toward the surface.  I shot like a rocket the last 20 feet up, screaming every inch of the way. I popped out of the water like cork.  A few moments later, Bob surfaced.

“Are you okay? What happened?”

I explained my panick. “I think I may have dumped my weights,” I said. 

Bob dove back down to look for my weight belt but couldn’t find it.  We both swam back to the boat and climbed on board.

“I guess I should have told you how to suft on the way,” Bob said.

“I guess I should have listened to you about not freaking out,” I replied.

I’m a firm believer that giving in to panic when things feel chaotic is to invite more chaos into your life.  So I’m trying to remember to surf; feeling the chaos and riding on top of it, sliding down the tall stalks of kelp, because I know if I do that, there are beautiful things waiting to happen.  I write better, I feel better, and the universe keeps going no matter what.  Control is an illusion – it’s a nice illusion – but it’s nowhere near as nice as what you find when you give it up.

Lost in Thought

Maybe you’ve had this happen before – or maybe I’m just weird? – but recently it seems I’m spending a lot of time in my own head.  There is definitely a lot on my mind, and much of my effort these days is cerebral as opposed to physical (although painting a good portion of the outside of my house last weekend was pretty physical). It has gotten bad enough recently that I had an entire conversation with my husband in my head, then when I tried to actually talk to him about it later, he had no idea what I was going on about. 

It is a chaotic time in our home right now.  One kid is graduating from high school, one is trying his level-best to fail, and one is beginning to emerge from her shell and discover the world.  I’m in the process of changing jobs (I currently have three jobs, I’ll be narrowing to two within a few weeks), and it is three weeks to finals for my students, so papers are coming in fast and furious. Just about everyone I know lives a chaotic life, except for maybe my mom and step-dad.  They are retired and like to travel, so chaos to them is making flight and hotel reservations.

All the activity and change is causing me to turn inward more often.  I’ve been lost in thought so often when I’ve been driving that I’ve missed the exit for my house leaving work about four times in the last two weeks.  Not only do I know how dangerous that is, but I’m pretty frustrated at how much gas it wastes as well.  I’m beginning to think I may need a therapist to talk to so I can empty everything in my head out and let someone else help me sort through it.  I’m not opposed to therapy, but I seriously don’t know when I’ll fit it into my schedule.  If I could find someplace like 24 Hour Fitness – maybe 24-Hour Mental Fitness – then I’d stand a better chance.  I think most therapists go home around 5:00 or maybe 6:00, so I’ll have to look for other alternatives I guess. I started journaling again, and while it provides some measure of relief, I always feel that if I’m going to spend that much time writing, I ought to spend it on something worthwhile like my novels.

I did get out the yoga DVDs the other day.  I had great intentions of doing some late-night yoga, but the DVD player wouldn’t work for me, and I wound up falling asleep on the sofa instead.  Of course, in a few weeks, everything will be different.  The most time-consuming job will be gone, I’ll be getting ready to go to Vermont for some much-needed battery charging at my alma mater, and it will fully be summer here.  It has been raining off and on for more than a week now, and I could use a good, long nap in the sun right about this point.

Being lost in thought like I am these days is a sure sign that I’m trying to work my way through something.  All the transitions going on in my life are certainly the biggest aspect, but there are other, more deeply-hidden things as well.  My goal right now is just to “power through” all of it.  Years ago, when my hubby and I were still dating, we went on a backpacking trip.  We had looked at a guide book and found what seemed to be a perfect place to camp for a weekend.  The guide book said the trail was “moderate, with some choppy terrain near the end.” It also said that the elevation gain was around 800 feet, and the hike should take about 5 hours. 

The reality was that the information was written for people who wanted to day hike.  In addition, there was over 1,000 feet in elevation gain, and 500 of that came in the last 3/4 of a mile.  Choppy?  Sure, if you consider large boulders and tree roots to be choppy, then the trail is definitely choppy at the end – at the steepest part, and we were each carrying a pack that weighed around 40 pounds.  Okay, mine may have been around 35, but it was heavy none-the-less.

Somewhere around the last mile, I started to have a physical and mental breakdown.  We had been hiking for close to 8 hours, and I was exhausted.  Every step I took hurt.  I wanted to throw my pack down in the middle of the trail and declare that as our camp site, but there were a lot of cheery day hikers who might have been a bit bothered by that, so I kept going.  Ultimately, I got myself lost in thought.  I began thinking about what I would fix for dinner when I got home.  I thought about a pair of shoes I wanted to buy, and figured out how to redo my resume’ so that I could apply for a new job.  Occasionally I would look up to see where I was, then I would think to myself, “Head down, power through.”  I watched the trail, took a few more steps, thought about cleaning out the VHS tapes that I had collected, and pushed forward. 

It took nearly an hour of doing this to reach the summit of the trail and find a camp site, but I made it.  The concept of “head down, power through” has been working for me ever since.  I finish novels this way, I get through death this way, I deal with uncomfortable situations at work this way.  Losing myself in my own thoughts keeps me focused, most of the time.  There is still that pesky problem of missing the exit.  I know it’s a defense mechanism, and maybe if I ever do find a 24-Hour Therapist, he or she will tell me that I’m just avoiding things.  Maybe so, but if it gets me through, and gets me through in one piece, I think it’s a technique I’ll keep in my bag for just a little while longer.