Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On Job Hunting

I haven't exactly been quiet about this but just to ensure there's no ambiguity, I'm looking for a job.

What that means this time is completely different from what it's ever meant before, meaning I have no idea what it means this time.  I've had lots of jobs.  I've liked most of them and learned from all of them, but they were always low-risk because I had the comfort blanket of being able to identify as a student first.  All my previous jobs were "filler" jobs--the kinds of jobs I wouldn't feel too invested in and in turn, wouldn't feel sorry to leave should they start to interfere with school.  I've done nannying, serving, cooking, baking, barista-ing and working the front desk at a yoga studio.  More recently, I've gotten non-throw-aways, including three years as a per diem day treatment counselor and as many years teaching reformer Pilates.  But even still, when I started these more recent jobs, I was a student.  Pursuing them felt safe because I knew, should anything go awry, I had a valid out.

The out has gone the way of an old (super stuck on) bandaid over a mostly healed wound.  Ouch.

In school, there's a lot of talk among students about the excitement of finally being finished, as if finishing school will allow all the doors that have necessarily remained shut for however many years (22 in my case
-->winning) to fly open.  As if there is no stress or pressure or uncertainty or hard things after.  Granted, school can be pretty rough.  But it also, to me, felt very safe.

It took a couple of months post-graduation to finally feel ready to start seriously considering applying for jobs.  I had one interview after classes had ended and before the graduation ceremony.  I ended up e-mailing my interviewer that afternoon, asking her to take me out of the pool, telling her it would be a disservice to let anyone hire me when I was still so drained from the rigors of finishing school; I didn't want to start a job having not yet recovered from the previous one.  I'm grateful to feel ready to get back into the game, not only because it's necessary but because I want to work again.

Now I just have to figure out what game I want to play.  How does one job hunt as an adult?  I've always had fantasies about my career--there would be a careful mix of working with others (all super happy and easy to work with, of course) and working alone in my beautifully designed, light-filled office.  I'd have opportunity to do creative aesthetic work, write, plan great events and help develop the community with a little social justice work thrown in for good measure.  I'd always feel fulfilled by my work.  I'd earn a great salary.  I'd leave work at a reasonable, regular time each day with plenty of energy to exercise, make dinner and spend time with H.  Of course, I'm also 6 inches taller and have a much more fabulous wardrobe in these fantasies.

I know.

I think the fantasy serves as an escape from anxiety brought by the reality that I'm a real adult now (I know I'm a little late to the game).  Being a student for so long has allowed me to put off this final transition to adulthood.  I know it'll be fine, I just don't know what fine looks like.  While there are definitely a lot of great people sending me information on job openings and trying to help me get set up (I do not take this for granted--thank you!), ultimately it's my choice.  It's a shift from the world of semesters, syllabi and externally set timelines where the next indicated thing is always obvious to something...different

The big conflict (likely the product of too much privilege in a life) is between prioritizing stability and prioritizing fulfillment.  Perhaps someday I'll get both, but I know in my gut it's unrealistic to expect both now.

I've been thinking a lot about how this conflict fits into generational norms.  My parents and their parents (and I image their parents ad infinitum) are/were hard workers.  My father has never been interested in leaving work at work, and while I know he's passionate about and fulfilled by his work, I suspect at least some of this fulfillment comes from knowing he works (much) harder than external pressure forces him to.  This approach to work--arrive early, stay late, work weekends, take your two weeks of vacation--is typical of his baby boomer generation.  Achievement is the goal.  Fulfillment is a nice bonus but not the primary motivator.

On the other hand, my generation (y--side note: this is also a product of my socioeconomic background) has grown up with the belief that fulfillment ought to be number one.  And while many may deny this, we've also been fed the implicit message that we deserve a high standard of living in addition to that fulfillment.  How do we reconcile this in a work world still mostly dictated by the myth of the American Dream (work hard and ye shall receive) and that rugged individualism (work work work)?  Further, how do we reconcile it in a world also imbued with a hyper focus on obtaining demonstrable wealth while also striking a work-life balance (who the hell has this fabled work-life balance, anyway?)? How do we choose between the side pushing us toward a secure job (and the associated home purchase and two weeks off each year) and the other pulling us to take risks in the name of finding fulfillment (often with unpredictable paychecks)?  Why are there so many mixed messages?  Why has nobody given me a cookie and a juice box to soothe all this existential angst?

So there we are.  Two strong conflicting cultural messages hammered into me for the past 27 years.  I have no idea what the answer is.  Some days I think if I don't take a risk now, I'm going to be locked into steady but perhaps not-quite-right jobs for life.  The other days I cringe to think of the privilege of feeling it's an option to turn down a regular paycheck for the chance to be happier than I am (which is already pretty darn happy).  I also cringe at how weighty this decision feels, as though I'm choosing my life-path now and there will be no opportunities for detours later.

But then I realize I'm being melodramatic and should probably just take what's offered to me, for f*ck's sake.

Or should I hold out?

Job hunting.  Fun in that "I know I'll be thankful for this in 10 years" kind of way.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Back to it.

I'm ready to get on with it.

Once I hit "publish" on my last post, I felt better almost immediately.  Somehow, for some reason, putting words to feelings helps me recognize those feelings for what they are.  Sometimes, if we don't take a minute to reality-check, feelings can come to seem all-encompassing.  It becomes tempting to identify as those feelings rather than as an observer of those feelings.  Writing helps me do the latter.  So I feel better.  In some ways, I feel more myself than I have more many months, and while I still miss the feeling of being caught up in that tangle of mess and chaos that dictated June and July, this equanimity is kind of nice, too.

This is what I'm intentionally making room for: eating regular, balanced meals (my appetite is back after a several month hiatus), reading at least an hour every day (Reading this.  My first Stephen King work.  On the fence.), re-learning how to cook things other than pasta with parm and nutmeg, tending my sorely neglected vegetable garden in the hopes I might still eke out a harvest before the freeze, seriously thinking about what I want to do and am willing to do for work (any ideas?), taking on long-procrastinated house projects, watching TV, *thinking* about building a regular exercise habit back up (where did that go?!).  I'm also searching out inspiration for the next big thing, though I'm not yet sure what that will be.  Right after the wedding (admitting this creeps frighteningly close to being too exposing), looking at previous inspiration sources (my favorite blogs, design books, Pinterest) made me feel too sad (that deep-in-your-bones-sad), so I avoided them.  I'm happy to report my totally out of control Pinterest habit is back in force.  While probably not entirely healthy, it is an indication that some cracks have opened in the all-encompassing grad school/wedding planning web to allow regular old lovely life to soak back in.  It's strange, because I feel like I'm meeting a lot of these old habits again for the first time.  As I spend a little more time with them, however, I remember why I loved them in the first place.

One thing I appreciate about getting older is the knowledge that I've been through lots of sad phases before and every single one has passed.  When I get into a funk now, I know if I keep doing the next indicated thing and plugging along, happiness--and even pure joy--comes back.  It just needs some time and space, almost as though you have to prove you can hang with the tough stuff before your next dose of happy.  I kind of feel like my new habits and knowledge is elbowing its way into my core, finding space there to co-exist with everything else--that process isn't always comfortable, but it is necessary.  It's just finding the new normal.  I'm pretty sure it's going to be great.

Friday, July 26, 2013


(3:30 a.m.  Somehow seeing the balloons migrated from their initial locations to this spot in my parents' living room drove home the fact that the party was, despite my desperate reluctance for it to be so, over.)

I have three versions of this post sitting in a file, each started in a different way, each in a different frame of mind, each incomplete.  With each one, I sat down to write hoping that in the writing I would find some kind of resolution. Each time, hundreds of directionless words in, I gave up.  Resolution cannot be forced, despite my stubborn trying.

The wedding fiesta was beautiful.  The photographs and the video (I'm so glad we invested in both) show images of a party exactly as I have spent the last year imagining but better, because rather than just the tablescapes and decorations with gold bunting strung over, the loved ones are there too.  However, it's taken me two weeks to find the space to say that without it being accompanied by an arresting sense of loss and sadness at the finality of speaking in the past tense.

In the lead up to the wedding, I read that some people (mostly brides, not unexpectedly) experience depression and a feeling of a loss of direction or purpose in the period following their nuptials--for a year or more, those planning a wedding have something to focus on, to look forward to, to be excited about.  In a day it's gone.  I didn't dwell much on trying to predict whether I would experience this; I was so happy being caught up in the planning and dreaming it seemed ill fitting to think about the after.  But then, even before the party was over, I looked around and realized the flurry of hugs and good-byes meant the party (and more than that, a remarkable time in my life) was abruptly ending and I felt a deep heartache that became more acute over the following days.  For the two weeks following, my tiny house has been awash in wedding leftovers--the terra cotta pots I spray painted gold and filled with succulents last summer, faithfully watering and tending them weekly for a year; the cloth napkins purchased on a whim during a study break fall semester 2012; the expensive shoes I agonized over for months before purchasing them on flash sale not two weeks before our reception; the hundreds of tissue tassels I made by hand, a welcome contrast to writing my thesis last spring.  Disassembling something created with so much much love and attention and even more, something that gave me an unexpected and unprecedented outlet for inspiration and creativity is very strange.  Uncreating feels like going backwards.

I think the reason this has been difficult to process is I feel somehow ashamed for feeling anything other than relieved the shebang went off without a hitch and grateful to have had the opportunity to create without restriction during the last year.  There is something very special about being able to express oneself in such a free manner.  And looking at how out-of-the-norm my experiences have been for the last year--being able to work with some incredibly talented, generous and kind people; crafting and dreaming and creating and planning on such a large scale; never having a moment without anticipation or something to look forward to for 18 months; having several days where I was able to fully be with my favorite people--that's not normal.  It seems fair to assume it won't happen again. In many ways it feels greedy to want it to, as though I ought to be satiated by that concentrated dose of sweetness.

In some ways, I am.  I've watched our video more times than I can count, and being able to connect with others through that medium has been good medicine.  I've taken a pre-sleep moment most nights to look at the photos we have (more to come!), letting them sink into me and reminding me of what is possible before the day ends.

Easy as it would be, I've been careful to not wallow--I don't have a lot of patience for it, either in myself or others.  Sadness is okay (as okay as any other emotion) but just as we so often use the easier emotions to show us what we want more of in life, so I believe the more difficult emotions can be useful in teaching us how to live our lives better, how to live truer to ourselves.  Though it is sometimes necessary to just get through the rough patches, they become much richer when we avoid the temptation to numb, instead listening to the lessons therein. I believe what we feel deeply (usually) comes from the wiser part of us (assuming stable blood sugar).  Sometimes it comes as a gentle nudge, sometimes as a painful push, but more often than not toward a life with deeper meaning if we allow ourselves to be pushed along rather than wasting energy trying to fight back to the place we used to be in.

So there's that.  I certainly won't pretend to know how this phase of transition will end.  But as I digest pieces of that deep longing for more of what I did and felt during fiesta planning, I find there opens up a little more space to absorb the joy of that beautiful day.  I also find a little more bravery to chase that "more" through other channels--aside from the obvious bounty brought to us by our wedding, I got the gift of glimpsing what makes me truly happy.  Though I accept the bittersweet truth that the unique joy of the last several months may be sealed up, relived through memories but not necessarily through direct repeated experience, I suspect there is more to be had--perhaps in unexpected manifestations--through other channels.  The trick is finding them.  Onward and upward.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

4 Days

Spoiler alert: it's H who had the toothache last week.  It's H who spent the weekend in the most pain I have ever seen him (or anybody) experience.  It was H, the man who can withstand anything, who asked me to take him to the emergency room late Saturday night when the antibiotics he'd started the evening prior hadn't yet gotten ahead of the infection.  It was H who had me silently and desperately begging in the middle of the night, "Please just let him be okay."

And he is, and he will be.

Yesterday, having not slept through the night for five nights, I drove down to our Whole Foods to buy the most potent-seeming sleep medicine I could find.  I was deep in the place of worry, anxiety and exhaustion and wasn't sure I'd be able to get rested without help (why does exhaustion so often prevent us from resting?).  So I bought the medicine, walked out to my car, turned the key and...nothing.  Half an engine turn-over, a bunch of clicks, no vroom.

The next forty minutes were spent standing in the hot (thankfully it was 93 degrees, not 103 as it's been), un-shaded black-top parking lot asking the people who pulled into the spot opposite me if they'd mind keeping the spot clear for my husband who was on his way to give me a jump.  Most acted put out, some ignored me as I stood outside their car window, trying to get their attention, a couple were sympathetic.  None offered a jump, true to this week's form (incidentally, while H's jump got me home, the car didn't start this morning.  I believe they call this "broken down"?)

And I laughed.  Granted, the laughter was a tinge hysterical but at the point of calling uncle on life, what else is there to do?

I've been thinking quite a lot about the freakish nature of this week's calamities; I won't list the others here (yes, though it is only Tuesday, there is a list), and while I'm not a religious person, I'll admit to having an existential streak.  And in the moments between feeling utterly defeated, convinced all the joy from this big wedding fiesta had already been wrung out and the day itself would be a bust, I realized this big bad-luck-fest might turn out to be the final cherry on top to wedding planning.

On Sunday morning, when I asked H to rate his pain and he replied, "I'm actually feeling pretty good," I felt an almost overwhelming flood of relief that my husband was no longer suffering and would more than likely not be spending our wedding reception in a hospital bed.

When my car broke down, it removed the ever increasing need to do more, buy more, be more that I've been caught in for so long.  I simply can't do all that stuff without transportation.  Having this decision be made by a force outside my control is exactly what needed to happen.

When H called our good friend who's a superb Subaru mechanic and that friend answered the phone (an act that seems more rare these days) and gave H the advice that allowed me to drive my car home, and on top of that offered to be there if we needed anything else at all, I was reminded how we're surrounded by friends who really will show up when we need them.

When my good friend and de facto wedding coordinator for Saturday reported, nearly in tears over letting me down or adding to my stress, that she unexpectedly and unavoidably has to work on Saturday, I felt like life was beating me over the head with the fact that friends actually want to take care of us and really care about our happiness.

In these moments, the gold pinata I'd been fixated on (I wish I were kidding) seemed suddenly less pressing.

That's the silver lining.  As I've noted many times, wedding culture gets crazy.  I love a lot of that crazy.  I love the decorations, the detail, the obsessing, the work and thought and time that goes into it all; I feel most in my flow when I'm in that place.  But in the last several weeks, I've spent 97% of my time there with little break to connect with real life--the moments I might have just sat to soak it all in somehow got filled with more things to do, almost as if simply saying, "okay, everything that needs to be done is done" were unacceptable.  This week beat me back into real life.  It has sucked a lot.  I still have some pretty big bruises and if somebody were to say to me what I'm writing right now, I'd probably still want to punch him/her in the face; I'm not implying I'm firmly in some glittery, daisy-field zen frame of mind.  But somewhere over the past few days I've turned a corner and spent quite a lot more time thinking about how we're going to see ALL THE BEST PEOPLE on Saturday and quite a lot less time thinking about all the fucking gold stuff stashed at my parents' house that has to find its way into some reasonably attractive arrangement come Saturday (okay, I'm still pretty excited about all the gold, it's just moved from first position to second).

Yesterday, through my near-delirium, I realized I can continue to mourn the loss of how this week should have been or I can celebrate how this week is.  It isn't perfect (or is it?) and it certainly has been more trying than I'd wish for anybody in the week before their wedding fiesta, but acceptance and its associated clarity  are not easy to come by in this world, and if we want those qualities in our lives, we have to take them how they're given to us.

Would I trade this week in if I had the choice for a do-over that went a bit more to script?  Absolutely.  YES, PLEASE PLEASE LET ME TRADE IT IN.  But I can't--this is what we got, and though I spent a lot of time resisting what's happened this week, the unfortunate events have kept coming and I have finally given into this being the version we get.  And in this version, just as in the other, I'll spend Friday and Saturday with  the people I love most.  I'll get to be with my new husband and our family.  I'll eat tacos, probably drink a little too much tequila, probably be just happy as can be, smudged mascara, heels changed out for flip flops and all.  This weekend will have an unfair ratio of all the best things to some of the less good things--a ratio we could never really deserve but have somehow still been given.  The cherry is we just might have a little keener awareness of how easily it could all have slipped away.  In that, we are the lucky ones.


Friday, July 5, 2013

One Week Left

*I feel like this one deserves a disclaimer.  If you don't like self indulgent introspection and emotional vulnerability, this little ditty might make you really bored or really uncomfortable.  I love/hate this stuff, so here goes.

There is so much right now.  I stopped keeping journals many years ago because I always felt I had to catch the journal up on events before diving into what inspired me to sit down to write in the first place.  By the time I arrived to the present, I was too changed from documenting all the things that had happened before (in chronological order, no less, which is not how I naturally process life), I usually never made it into the juicy "what's happening now" stuff.

I (or we) got married a week and a half ago.  It is a story.  It ended up being oddly perfect, though if I were to re-do it, I don't know if I would choose to repeat all the choices we made.  But thankfully I don't have that choice and in the case of our wedding, hindsight allows me to see how the pieces fit together to create something unexpectedly perfect, and I am grateful for the choices we made because they led up to a profound and lovely wedding we could never repeat under friendlier circumstances.  So there's that.

Our reception is in a week and a day.

In very social-worky terms, I'm feeling mixed emotions.

I am a naturally logistics-minded, preparation-oriented person.  One of my deeply held creeds is most logistical emergencies can be predicted and prevented with good planning.  Our wedding day both supports this (if it says 50% chance of heavy rain and you choose to have an outdoor ceremony, there is a 50% chance you will be rained on) and undermines this (if we had chosen the safe route--marrying in my parents' backyard instead of driving into the Sierra Mountains as we did, we would have lost a great deal of the richness and connection and "be here now"-ness of driving around Plumas County at 7:30 at night looking for a dry place to hold the ceremony before we lost all trace of light).  Still, despite knowing it is the unplanned spaces that are most often beautiful, my gut always tells me planning is better.  I find great comfort in planning, in the to-do lists, in over-communicating and reading others' "what can go wrong" experiences to (in some imaginary world) ensure those same things don't go wrong for us.  And I am at a crux now, one week out, of realizing I cannot plan away everything that might go wrong but still wanting desperately to cling to that most comforting of habits.

I've noticed in myself increasing anxiety over the past six weeks or so that someone in my critical circle (family, H, close friends) will experience some kind of life-derailing emergency.  It crept up on me--feeling a little more skittish riding my bicycle to work, being hyper-vigilant when anybody vocalizes feeling less-than-great or a small ache, waking up in the middle of the night imagining somebody will lose a job or some natural disaster is going to strike.  The funny thing about this anxiety is it's subtle--I  notice it in tightened muscles, a caught breath, a quick flash, and then it passes, or at least seems to (though my shoulders tell a different story).

It hit me hard last night when one of these critical people confessed to a persisting toothache that had morphed into a headache.  This on day one of a four day weekend, meaning the soonest any dentist office will be accepting appointments is probably Tuesday.  Meaning if this particular toothache requires a second visit to actually address the problem, this person will likely be out of commission with pain (toothache is gut-wrenchingly awful, isn't it?) at least all week, if we're lucky.  If we're not lucky, this most critical of critical people will be out of commission during the reception, too, likely still soldiering on with a pain-wrenched face, which sounds almost worse than just not being there.  And since my little planning self somehow finds comfort in assuming the worst (which kind of makes sense if you're a "plan for the worst, hope for the best" person but not so much if you remember planning for the worst is hellishly exhausting), I went from "oh you have a toothache?  Let me get you some ibuprofen." to "Oh my god this wedding celebration isn't going to happen and the last year of work was for naught." in less than a minute.  Wedding planning really does bring out my best self.  Because, you know, the exact thing you want to hear when you've dealt with a painful tooth and head all day is, "WHO IS GOING TO HELP ME HANG THE LIGHTS NOW?"

I've put off processing almost all of this wedding stuff pretty much since it began.  Sure, I've attempted to remain aware of that delicate balance between awareness of what we really want and wedding-industry-crazy-you-must-buy-all-the-things.  Beyond that, I've avoided the emotional component and the emotional awareness--checking in with myself just seems like one extra thing I'll deal with after the wedding.  Probably I'm also a little afraid of what I'll find, because in the imaginary wedding "how-to" manual, I'm supposed to feel excited, grateful, giddy, happy, you get the picture.  And while I am feeling all those things at times, I'm also feeling a lot more, and because our society doesn't usually talk about the un-pretty stuff, I have no guidelines for the "lot more," nobody saying, "Oh, that's totally normal, you're right on track."  And while I won't ask you to tread with me through all of that (at least in this moment.  I have a suspicion those waters run deep, not helped much by finally graduating school with no idea of what I want to do with my life), I think the exhaustion I woke up with this morning and the less-than-loving approach I took toward this person in pain deserves a second look, because in my heart I know my response is not about anything other than me--my insecurities, my fears, my need for approval, my need to control things that cannot be controlled.  In other words, all those qualities I typically leave off of resumes.  And while I know I'll probably spend the rest of my life getting cozy with those tendencies, it's not fair for me to ask others to deal with them, especially when they're all already dealing with so much.

Weddings are a big deal, and while you might often hear that statement followed by something like, "Duh! Because you're committing your life to another person's!" that's only part of it, if we're being honest.  There is an image to maintain, after all.  Even indie weddings, simple weddings, traditional weddings, hipster weddings, on-a-surfboard weddings, "I don't care what anybody thinks" weddings are trying to maintain an image.  It's what we do as humans.  It is healthy for us to be concerned with how we present ourselves to the world and it's only natural to sometimes tweak that portrayal a bit to highlight certain parts of our personalities and hide others.  To be honest, my "I'm not going to become a bridezilla" approach to this is at least 50% image, because you know and I know that bitchy, self-centered, demanding person is in me.  It came out last night.  And as much as I felt like a jerk for dumping all my fears on somebody who was trying to manage pain, I also felt ashamed for losing my shit (in front of guests, no less.  Lovely).  Shame is a social emotion; without other people present, there is no shame.  How I acted didn't jibe with how I want people to see me.  But how I acted was a manifestation of (part of) who I am.  As much as I wish those tendencies would go the way of my workouts and restful sleep, which apparently have taken a hike until after the wedding, I don't think I'll be so lucky.  They're in it for the long haul, it would seem.

I believe underlying this little incident is the painful recognition that I cannot plan for everything, and even the things I do plan for will at some point be partially (or mostly) beyond my control.  But rather than a private conversation and conciliatory text messages to patch things up, the inevitable "things that go wrong" at the wedding are going to happen in full view of the 110 people coming to celebrate with us.  This process has been so personal, the product such a manifestation of me, of us, of our family, of our precious community, it feels incredibly vulnerable to release it to the world with nothing to ensure its success other than crossed fingers (and a lot of love).  It feels overwhelming, bowling me over alternately with excitement and anxiety and a whole bundle of other emotions I haven't yet invited to the surface.  And the tricky part is there are so many other things happening internally, in my relationships, in life, both big and small, I feel this is only one strand of a horribly (and perhaps beautifully) tangled ball of yarn I'm just beginning to untangle.  I'm still not quite at the root of this complicated experience, but it's a start.

I suppose the lesson is  to accept the anxiety as the companion of the excitement, just as our wedding day would not have brought such serenity had it not been preceded by hours spent teetering on the edge of profound disappointment.  Life is made richer, better, by the contrasts.  While the to-do lists, the timelines, the months of preparation may contribute to certain pieces of the day going smoothly, I must acknowledge at the bottom of those lists is an attempt to create something that doesn't exist.  That frankly, I don't want to exist; there are no good stories in perfect.  I'm pretty sure our friends don't live there, either, and this wedding will be kind of boring if nobody shows up.

Caring about things is so hard, isn't it?  Rather, acknowledging we care about things is so hard.  Still, so much better than the alternative, somehow.