Lost In Space

Adrift. Unmoored. Life support dwindling fast. These days I feel like I’m lost in space, my last tether to reality quickly unraveling. What is happening here?

At the beginning of August, my three cats and I moved to the suburbs to live with my boyfriend and his two dogs. Our seven-being household is the only thing holding me together these days. In mid-August, my company laid me off. Realistically, I had understood that this would happen sooner or later. What does a hotel event manager do when hotels are barely open, and events are illegal?

My colleagues have moved on to other jobs, but I have a curious lack of direction. I’m no longer receiving unemployment, though I suppose I could if I took the time to fill out the correct paperwork. I’m also not applying for any job that might have me. To be honest, I have only seen two job openings that seem even vaguely worth pursuing in the last few months. Today I received word that I failed the interview for one of them. The other never even wrote me back.

I had this dream last week that my old Assistant GM was trying to give me instructions, and I was finding it hard to grasp what he was saying. Instead, I found myself looking out the window over his shoulder. I noticed that buildings were floating through the air, by the window, starting with a hotdog cart, then a shed, then some sort of utility building. Finally I realized that we, too, were floating away, no longer anchored. Just when I started to wonder how far we’d rise toward space, and if we’d suffocate, I woke up.

I wonder how far I’ll drift. How do I survive this? What even is it?

So many seemingly insurmountable life changes are happening that it’s impossible to even begin to separate them out for one blog post. I’m going to try to make an effort to get back to writing on a regular basis, even daily if possible. Maybe it will help me make sense of all of this. These are some of the things that I know, in no particular order:

  • The pandemic is worsening, and it is currently estimated that the United States might exceed 400,000 deaths due to COVID-19 by January 2021.
  • Social media and online advertising has taken on a life of its own, and appears to be perched to destroy life as we know it unless we do something.
  • Our government is in complete shambles, and over 72 million Americans voted for someone who cannot be said to live even one of the Fruits of the Spirit. This person is refusing to concede, his followers appear to be brainwashed to eagerly support the most anti-American behavior possible (racism, ableism, sexism, xenophobia, fraud, hate and fear-mongering, lie after lie after lie, I simply don’t have the time or the interest in continuing this list here, but please click above to see Politifact’s latest, and if you don’t trust that, here’s more in The Washington Post, or just do your own very basic search to see literally anything that he has said over the last four years and examine it for ANY signs of morality, care, or kindness). I think we have every reason to be afraid that our country is at the brink of a civil war, and I am afraid for my friends.
  • I will never get my job back, and the odds are very strong that I am once again in a position where I have to dispose of everything I’ve worked for and start all over again from the very bottom.
  • I am in so much student loan debt that I try to push the number far from my mind. The amount I currently owe could buy a modest house in my area. Now that I’ve been learning carpentry and welding, which pay higher per hour than any job I’ve EVER had, I’m so dispirited that I fell for the narrative that was pushed on me from youth that I HAD to go to college to be a successful, worthwhile human being.
  • Speaking of failure, I have trouble talking to my family if I’m not feeling successful enough to be worthy of them, which means that I have been too ashamed to call my grandmothers in months. I’m pretty sure that this can be tracked back to an instance where I got a B on my report card and my dad threatened that the next time it happened, my parents would spank me, then call up each set of grandparents so that they could visit and spank me, too. I was maybe 7 or 8. It didn’t happen again, but I have always felt like less than perfect meant I was absolutely pointless. So yeah, awesome.
  • I do not have health insurance, and I can’t afford to even consider it right now. If I get COVID, hopefully my body will be strong enough to fight it off without going to the hospital. Also, I lost access to the adoption benefit program when I got laid off, so now my partner and I won’t be able to afford adopting. And given the lack of health insurance and the cost of pregnancy, that’s clearly out, as well. Not to mention that the US maternal mortality rate is absolutely terrifying. We are currently 55th in the world, and 10th out of a list of 10 similarly wealthy countries.
  • Not only are no jobs opening up that are at my skill and education level, there’s nothing that I can even bring myself to try to fit. It might pay to be a door-to-door insurance salesperson, but I definitely don’t intend to find that out. Currently, I’m picking up a little bit of cash grocery shopping for Shipt, and helping a friend make soaps at her studio to try to keep my mind busy. At least I get all the candles and soaps I need, but I need money, too. However, I’m pretty unwilling to make any concessions ever again. I’m tired of starting my life over and over again, and constantly sucking it up to make others happy. From now on, either it’s on my terms or it’s a no-go.
  • In the past few months, I’ve heard my dad’s voice (disembodied, as he did die in 2019) twice. I also believe that my friend Andy has been sending me signs. In addition, think what you want, but I visited a medium to connect with my dad, and that didn’t happen (well, it did, but it was very brief). Instead, he sat aside and let a few others come through to talk, including my friend Andy, my high school English teacher, my cat, my partner’s maternal grandmother, and my partner’s adoptive mother. I was especially pleased to hear from my partner’s mom, as we never met in real life, and I really wanted to connect with her. Also, she was especially validating, as she had no online presence, my partner has little to no online presence, and I also didn’t tell ANYONE that I was hoping to speak with her prior to the call.
  • Oh yeah, I’m studying to become a metalsmith. That’s useful information.

OK, this was a crappy post, and I apologize for it not having any rhyme or reason. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get it together. Seriously, though, don’t hold your breath. I’ve been saying that since March.

Pack Up The Cats (Thoughts On Moving)

I’m sitting on my mattress, on the floor, surrounded by cats and empty takeout containers. The apartment is nearly empty, and it suddenly feels so spacious. My clothes, books, and most of my crafting supplies and knick-knacks all went over to the new house last week, along with most of my kitchen stuff (hence the takeout containers). My potted plants took up the entire bed of the rental truck, and required their own trip. The couch was modular, and all of the pieces were easy for me to handle, except for the bench-like seat. That’s why 3/4 of the couch is in the spare bedroom at the new house, and one piece is still sitting here in my soon-to-be abandoned apartment.

This move has taken me too long. I’ve been moving gradually since June. But I needed the time to say goodbye. I guess I’m still saying it.

I moved here six years ago, in a hurry, out of desperation. It wasn’t what I wanted — I would have preferred a typical New Orleans shotgun house — but I had neither the time nor the bank account necessary to call the shots. I had dumped my boyfriend, and needed to get out of our shared apartment. It just so happened that a work colleague had decided to move out of the city, and our schedules lined up perfectly. In fact, we even shared the same moving truck and helped each other move. The apartment building is a dumpy, mid-century six-flat, all cinder block construction. It looks a lot like a pay-by-the-hour motel, and I’m pretty sure that at some point in its history, it was a slum property. But my landlord bought it, fixed it up, and by the time I moved in, the individual studios were all more or less decent. I was sold when I saw the wood laminate floors. I’m a creature of simple tastes.

I was both excited and apprehensive to move to the Marigny, since it was somewhere I’d never explored. It seemed way too hip for me. But I grew to love it here. I don’t fit in with the party scene, but I love the architecture and the greenery. I have spent six years wandering the streets, quietly appreciating cracks in the sidewalks, watching out for bugs, chatting back to the birds, scouting out interesting castoff items on the curbs. I never found a tribe here, so to speak. But I felt a sense of belonging here, all the same. There are neighbors who know my name. There’s a dog that says hello to me each day. I have a particular tree that I talk to on my walks into the French Quarter. And I do walk everywhere. The same paths are somehow always different. I peer into backyards, and make soft sounds at feral cats, and think cottony thoughts, and time passes.

What is it about time that we need? The units of measurement are arbitrary, and can be shuffled at will. Six years in an apartment that I thought I’d leave in a few months. A year and four months ago to the day, my mother called to tell me that my father was lying lifeless before her on the living room floor. Two years ago I sat on my bed and called my friend Andy, so drunk and sad that I could do nothing but sob wordlessly into the telephone. He held me from 1,000 miles away, understanding me as only someone similarly broken could. He is gone now, too; that was only last Christmas. Five years ago, I sat in my living room, planning what could fit in my backpack, trying to get it down to 15 lbs. for a trek across Spain. Ten months ago, I agonized over what to wear for a first date, pulling outfit after outfit out of the closet. I settled on a lacy black t-shirt with a keyhole back, and a pair of jeans. I realized just before walking into the restaurant that I was covered in cat hair. How was I to know that I’d fall in love before the bill arrived?

People keep asking me if I’m excited to move. I’m supposed to say that this is a new adventure, and that I’m looking forward to building a new life. But I don’t have those words in me just yet. I see them around the corner. I know that I will be happy where I’m going. I have made the right choices, and they are leading to a very good place. But for now, the clouds are gathered, and my heart is heavy. I need to mourn this old life for a bit longer, I think.

Tomorrow, things will change significantly. I will pack up the cats, as Local H said. I will slip the key into my neighbor’s mailbox. I will drive away from this ugly green apartment building for the last time. Goodbye to single life. Goodbye to the freedom that this tiny home has represented. Goodbye to long walks down verdant side streets. Goodbye to the good trash that my rich neighbors throw out. Goodbye to knowing that I am surrounded by progressives, artists, musicians, and healers on all sides. Goodbye to believing that I belong here, even if I never quite found a way to fit in. Goodbye Marigny.

Hello, whatever’s next.

Bold Goals 2020: Mid-Year Check-in

While I haven’t been quite as diligent as I’d like with keeping my blog, my Bold Goals for the year have remained front and center in my life. Even with COVID-19 forcing the year to grind to a halt, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to keep plugging along. With it being almost June, I thought I’d do a little check-in to let you guys know what I’ve been up to, and remind myself just how much there is still to accomplish.

Here are the basics that I laid out in my Bold Goals 2020 post back in January:

  1. Work on becoming a better communicator. I’ve been in therapy for a few months now, and it is definitely helping me find a way to get my inner thoughts out into the open. It’s been an invaluable tool, and my therapist has helped me navigate some of my communication rough spots. Of course, my partner has also been doing an excellent job of asking me the right questions and helping me feel comfortable with telling him how I feel. I’m going to keep working on this, because it’s still really hard to trust and be open about what I need.
  2. Volunteer. That’s not really on the table right now, but I’ll revisit once it’s safe to leave the house again.
  3. Nurture my relationship. Man, if there’s anything that I’ve had ample time to do in the last two months, it’s spend time with my partner! We still have two separate apartments, but have spent a great deal of time together since I was furloughed. His business has actually been booming, and he’s being run ragged, so I’ve used my spare time to step up and take care of various life things that he’s not able to get to. We’re a good team (though I miss having an office job, and something to talk about other than loading the dishwasher and walking the dogs).
  4. Dance! I was just wrapping up the spring semester of NOLA Chorus Girls when the pandemic hit and we were quarantined, and we never got to perform the last routine. I’m glad that I got the chance to dance in the Krewe of Freret in my sparkly red dress. That was a great day. The group has offered two online offerings for people who want to be chorus girls from home, but I’m honestly not that interested right now. I’d still like to try flamenco or hip hop, but it will have to be later in the year. There’s too much on my plate right now.
  5. Make two new friends. One thing that’s happened over the course of the pandemic is that my two old work colleagues and I have been keeping up via chat, which has been really nice. I missed them so much when I transfered to my new hotel, so it was just good for my heart when we started connecting in the aftermath of our work closures. Another thing that I’m super grateful for is Zoom! I’ve had a couple of awesome group video chats with my group of friends who live in Chicago/St. Louis, and have been chatting regularly with my besties from college and one of my besties from the Camino Frances. I’ve also been taking socially distant walks in the park with my friend who lives in the next neighborhood over, and have connected twice with a friend of a friend’s partner, and have really loved chatting with him both times. I feel like he could be an actual new friend. There’s also a woman on Instagram that I totally have a lady crush on, and would love to chat with more. I feel like we could totally be friends one day.
  6. Go on at least five camping trips. Well, this did not go as planned, but it’s OK. We really did try. We went camping at the end of February, and both came down with the flu on the second day and had to cut the trip short. We had another two camping trips planned over this last two months, but with state parks closed, we’ve just stayed home. I’m bummed, but I did go ahead and take advantage of a deal with Wildland Trekking. We’re booked to go on a backpacking trip in California in September.
  7. Sew three projects. I’ve sewn one full project so far, and it was pretty awesome. I’m going to post something separately on this, but I restored an Indonesian stick puppet, and sewed him a new outfit that I tried to keep respectful of his original clothing (which had dry rotted).
  8. Learn to do bead embroidery. Still working on it! For the project mentioned above, I embroidered a floral design in beads on the back of the puppet’s vest. I’m also still working on a project for my best friend, which shall remain secret for now.
  9. Read 52 books. Totally blowing this one, tbh. You’d think I’d have been spending the last two months just devouring shitty paperbacks, but I haven’t had the attention span for it. Instead, I’ve been diving into podcasts, and have discovered three that I really like: “Spooked,” “Snap Judgement,” and “The Black Tapes.”
  10. Pay off my debts. It’s still going to be a little while before my Upstart loan gets paid off, but I’m so much closer to getting my other two credit cards paid off than I was at the beginning of the year. If all goes well, I should be nearly debt-free by the end of the summer!
  11. Buy a vehicle. My partner and I were talking about this, and since he has to buy a new truck, he wants me to take his old one. This is speculation at this point, but is feeling pretty certain because…
  12. Make a home. I’m planning on moving in with my boyfriend in August. He’s been trying to buy a new house in New Orleans, and move out of his house in the suburbs, but with COVID-19 and some other legal issues with the sale property, that purchase is on hold. We’d talked about moving in together at the new house, and he was really upset about not being able to move in together once the sale fell through. So we talked about it, and decided to just make the leap to live together at his existing house. I’m excited to help him make it more of a home than it has been for him over the last couple of years.
  13. Learn something new every month. I’ve learned so much! I really should have been keeping track of this a little better, but in this month alone, I’m studying proofreading, I learned how to use an orbital sander, and I learned how to paint furniture! Last month I learned how to clean out gutters, how to prime crown molding, and how to make cheese (more to come on this – my first two attempts were underwhelming).
  14. Publish the Camino memoir. Still haven’t written a damn thing, but I did write a short non-fiction piece and submit it for publication a couple of days ago, so I’m slowly getting back in the groove. I want to reach out to a guy I met on the Camino to see what he’d charge me to illustrate the book.
  15. Get two tattoos. One down, one to go! In March, just a few days before I was furloughed at work and the city was quarantined, I got a big tattoo of my dad’s upholstery shears on my arm in a 1:1 scale. They’re so large that they take up my entire upper arm from shoulder to elbow. People keep asking why I got a giant pair of scissors on my arm, and I have to keep explaining that they’re the actual size; it’s kind of cool. Everyone’s expression when I say that is like WHOA.

I feel like I’m doing OK for being midway through the year. Right now I’m working on creating a new passion-project blog that I’m hoping to monetize, I’m taking an online course in proofreading that I hope will lead to a freelance job, and I’m taking a course in intuition that I hope will help me build my skills as a medium. I’m also helping one of my college besties out with marketing her business, and attempting to get my sleep schedule figured out so that I can one day not be a vampire. We’ll see about that one.

How have you been doing during this mess? Are you quarantined? Going back to work? Never left work? Working from home? When you look at the last two months, do you feel like you’ve been able to achieve the things you need to make your life better, or was it just a big time-suck? (Or something in between?) I’d love to know. No one comments on this blog, you know. If you did, it would be really cool.

Paying Attention

It’s been a year, a month, and thirteen days since my dad died in his armchair, in my family living room. Last night, I heard his voice.

My dad had a very specific sound that he’d make when he was obviously not paying attention to anything that you were saying, but was still trying to appear engaged. Both the timing of the delivery and the tone of voice were important, and bring to mind a specific body language, as well. It was well-practiced over 42 years of living with my mom, but it wasn’t a sound that was solely reserved for her. It happened when I was talking, too, and I can bet you that it started when he was a kid, gently ignoring his parents.

Generally, the sound – a mix between a “huh” and a gravelly grunt – would happen when my mom was telling a story about something fanciful, like an imagined conversation with an animal, a dream about some future bit of interior decorating, or something else that my dad’s brain immediately wrote off as unimportant. It also often happened when he was engrossed in a task, like building something, reading a book, or examining an antique or piece of art for maker’s marks and signatures.

In my mind’s eye, I see him reclined in his La-Z-Boy, head and shoulder bathed in a circle of light cast by the lamp just to his left. His glasses are off and propped on his belly, and he’s holding some small piece of pottery or metalwork about two inches from his eye, squinting to identify some tiny detail. In the background, my mom has started telling a story about one of her adventures in the yard – maybe something about a squirrel she fed, a deer she spotted, or a snake she asked to move on to a less dangerous spot. About 98% of Daddy’s interest is absorbed in the treasure he’s holding, but a small portion of him understands that it’s necessary to listen to his wife, too. That 2% is the bit that listens to the key words, pays attentions to the breaks and pauses in her story, and hears that final breath that marks the story’s conclusion. There’s maybe some sort of internal timer; roughly two to three seconds after she stops, he remarks,”Huh.” There’s seldom a follow-up; she doesn’t require one. He goes on with his study, she moves on with her next story, and life continues.

That “Huh” is the sound that I heard last night. Mum was telling me about how she couldn’t decide whether to bring the potted plants in for the night to protect against frost, or to leave them outside. At least one of the plants had a frog in the pot when she went out to bring it in, so she decided to leave it out, but she was still deliberating what would be best for the plant (and now the frog, too). I have to say that much like my father, I was trying hard to listen, but by this point in the deliberation, my interest was waning. I love frogs and plants, but stories about making up your mind are really boring to me (SUPER ironic, I know). My mom’s story concluded and I was about to remark, but then came the interruption from the background: “Huh.”

It came from what sounded to be a few feet away from her, which totally makes sense, as she was at her computer, which is about five feet away from my dad’s chair. For a split second, I was incredulous. I asked her if she’d heard that sound. She had no clue what I was talking about. Had she moved her chair? Was the dog making any noises? Was the TV on? Was she sure she didn’t hear anything at all in the room just then? Every time, she answered no. In the end, I had to tell her what I’d heard. Neither of us was surprised, but it was funny, because we’d never discussed that particular sound, so specific to my dad, before last night.

I don’t know yet what, if anything, to take away from this. Was my dad just stopping by to let me know that he’s paying attention? Was it a residual haunting? Has he been hanging out, looking at signatures and makers marks, for the last year? Or is time really overlapping and disjointed – was my original idea that he has been popping in and out of time since he died correct? If nothing else, it gave me an interesting way to discuss him with my mom, to consider my own bad habits when it comes to attentiveness, and to reconsider whether he was actually paying more attention than he let on. As difficult as he was, he was a very intelligent man, and he was so connected in so many ways. I want to believe that he’s watching and giving me the energy I need to step more fully into communicating with the other side. Maybe he’ll be one of my guides – or at least maybe he’ll be there to assist when I’m researching antique finds.

The Corner of Procrastination & Desire

It’s an old story, and I’m soul-sick on account of it. Why is it that I am bursting at the seams with the things I want to tackle, but completely unable to make a first step in any direction? I feel like a rubber band ball in multiple hands, each loop being tugged from another direction. On days like today, my brain feels like it’s on fire. I can’t focus. I can barely see what’s in front of me. Even writing this is difficult; I feel my thoughts desperately trying to run out of the back of my brain, as I use all of my willpower just to get these words down. What can I do to save myself, my brain, my career (which definitely depends on my brain to get kickstarted)?

I had a thought in the shower this morning, and honestly it happened, and then I immediately daydreamed elsewhere. But if nothing else, I’d like to record this truth while I can. I thought, “What is of utmost importance to you? Who would you be if money and opinion were of no object? What would you achieve if you could pay attention to anything for longer than 10 minutes?” And here’s the answer – my greatest desires…

  1. To commune with the universe. To be magical. To go deeper. Ever since I was a tiny girl, I knew that I had the ability to use my connection and intuition to learn greater lessons from the spaces that I walked into. I don’t know if this extends to mediumship, but I do know that I would like to apply myself to studying to deepen my powers of connection, and use this depth to build a meaningful future life.
  2. To write. I have wanted to be a writer since I was small, but I’ve been too chickenshit to finish anything. It’s time to move on with the process. I don’t want to be a copywriter, though. The process of trying to pull keywords out of experts in order to write copy to describe what they do is soulsucking. I want to write creative fiction and non-fiction of my own.
  3. To edit. I LOVE editing. I love fixing.
  4. To have a home and a family. I am an only child, and I grew up desperately lonely and strange. It’s really hard for me to make friends, and I’ve long since given up on putting myself out there just for people to keep treating me like a fucking weirdo. It’s a lot easier to do things on my own. But I don’t want to always live like that. I don’t want to die a lonely old lady who never lived and loved and created family stories that could be passed down. I want to pour my love into the people and place that I call home, and build something meaningful that will stand long after I’ve gone. I’m built for that. I want it.
  5. To travel. Not just to go places, but to explore, and expand my mind in places. To share those places with others. To meet people in those places that will share the nuances of their lives with me.
  6. To be in nature. Camping, hiking, backpacking, meditating, truly feeling the dirt under my feet, offering silence and respect to the animals I meet, taking an hour to watch a snail eating, if I so choose. To BE. In nature.
  7. To sing. On stage. With a band. From the heart.
  8. To create jewelry and fabric art. I like origami, dabbling in woodwork sounds fun, painting is beautiful, but I belong to the world of textiles and earrings.

So what do I do now? Just pulling this out of me has been so difficult that I want to take a nap. My brain is not OK. I hope I’ll be OK.

It’s Official – I’m Certifiable!

Or at least I’m now certified, anyway 🙂

Today I received my certificate of completion for Hospitality & Tourism Management from Florida Atlantic University’s College of Business. In late March or early April, right after the quarantine started, I heard through the grapevine that it might be possible to get accepted into a hospitality certificate course for free. Since I don’t have an educational background in hospitality, it sounded like a great thing to be able to add to my resume – and a great way to keep the boredom at bay as we wait for businesses to reopen.

The courses were informative, though as a manager at an international hotel chain that offers comprehensive educational opportunities as you move up the ranks, I had already been lucky enough to study most of the concepts at work. Either way, it’s great to get certified by an organization other than my employer, and it was really nice to get to hear things like RevPAR, room nights, occupancy, P&L, and guest satisfaction.

To be honest, though, even with this certificate under my belt, I don’t feel hopeful about my future in the hotel events industry. I am on furlough until the end of May, but am fully expecting to be entirely laid off once the furlough comes to an end. Things are dire in the hospitality world. Cuts must – and will – be made, and in a world where festivals and meetings can be deadly, the events staff will be among the first to go. I’m going to miss working for my company, and to a certain extent, I will miss working in events. But now it’s time to start finding new opportunities. I have so much potential. It’s up to me what comes next, and how well I accept that role.

5 Weeks

It’s been nearly a month since I was furloughed from my job. I have spent that time, for the most part, standing still. I’ve slept in, procrastinated, drank a few too many beers, and eaten a few too many fast food meals. However, I’ve also kept up with my weekly therapy, maintained my habits of long walks and singing, and have been attentive to my cats, my relationship, and my family. In short, I have done what I could to stay sane in a world where nothing is making sense anymore.

It’s taken me this long to find solid ground, to even begin to contemplate what things are going to be as we continue to move through the year. Even now, I’m afraid to look full-on at the truths that might be awaiting me at the end of furlough. My career is in the hospitality industry, specifically in the events department of a hotel. Nothing will be the same. There might not even be a job to go back to once furlough has ended. I need to start getting my heart and head ready for that eventuality. It’s time to begin to plan my pivot.

The thing is, as scary as it should be to potentially be at yet another dead end, ultimately, I know that I’ll be OK. I will not starve. If I can’t afford to pay my rent anymore, I can move in with my boyfriend. If I can’t afford to pay my bills, I will negotiate with my creditors. Life will go on. I’m not the only person that will experience hardship, and I’m certainly clever and resourceful enough to find ways to forge a path through. The reason I’m good at my job is because I always come equipped with a backup plan. I’ll just keep doing what I do best, and evolving.

But for now we won’t worry about getting fired. Instead, let’s look at this as the gift that it is – a chance to slow down and contemplate who I REALLY am, and what I REALLY want. If I could plan my best possible life, what would it look like? And what can I be doing right now to make sure that my new life becomes that best life? If I do get my job back at the end of this, my first day back in the office will be in five weeks from today. So much can be done in five weeks. Let’s do it!

Five Week Plan:

  1. Rise early on weekdays (7am)
  2. Cardio daily
  3. Yoga daily
  4. Sleep at least 8 hours a night
  5. Eat well
  6. Meditate daily
  7. Practice gratitude daily
  8. Build website & social media presence for myself and various friends
  9. Get online secondhand clothing business up and running
  10. Complete hotel management certificate
  11. Complete web marketing certificate
  12. Complete copywriting certificate
  13. Write and submit one short story for publication
  14. Write and submit one non-fiction piece for publication

(Part 2) Who Could I Be?

A few days ago, I wrote Part 1 of this post, and this is a continuation. I feel compelled to wrap up the story of my failures, even though it’s frankly a quite depressing endeavor. Something tells me that this is the time to confront the truth about my perfectionism, fear, and the resulting lack of follow-through. I hope that this will award me some closure, and the ability to see what I need to do to move into a new stage of my life where I can believe in my own ability to live the life I choose. Just in case anyone is reading this and thinking of trying the same, please note that I’m also talking about this with my therapist, so that she can help me identify patterns and pick a path through to better health.

When I think about something that I could do all day, every day, without getting tired or bored, it’s singing. I love to sing. In fact, I’m confident in saying that singing is intrinsic to my identity. It is the only thing that soothes me when I’m feeling angry, scared, or sad. When current affairs leave me shaken to my core, I retreat into the shower with a 1960’s pop playlist. To focus and destress before and after work, I used the two-mile walk to the office to rap along to the Hamilton soundtrack, or sing backup for Jonathan Coulton. Before the days of quarantine, I regularly attended kirtan classes, and I was eagerly awaiting my favorite event of the year, a spiritual music festival, featuring hours of chances to sing along in different religious traditions. Just writing about singing makes my heart swell with joy, and tears of longing spring to my eyes.

In my undergrad days at Tulane University, I sang with an a cappella group called THEM. As a younger kid, there weren’t that many structured opportunities to sing. I sang in a couple of plays in elementary school, but only as a member of the chorus, and never with much guidance. There was a chance to sing in 7th grade Glee Club (weirdly, we sang an old Viking rowing song that I still remember), but the club was cancelled in 8th grade. There were no formal singing opportunities in high school, but I still annoyed people by singing under my breath wherever I went. I couldn’t help myself. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my coping mechanism for driving in stressful situations developed just after Driver’s Ed had concluded – when nervous in traffic, just turn up the music and croon along!

After college, I decided to take a year off to try to be a musician, and sang with a number of bands (Spencer Livingston and the Little Sisters of the Protecting Veil, Forever Flood, a gig with Soul Project, another unnamed folk/country band with a couple of the members of Forever Flood, and another couple of cover bands that I sang with briefly in Chicago during my Hurricane Katrina evacuation). Though the biggest immediate issue for me as a singer appeared to be stage fright, which actually got so bad that I started to forget lyrics and get dizzy on stage, the real issue was fear of failure, which made it impossible for me to really participate. I had zero confidence in my ability, and felt entirely insignificant and powerless. This led to a lack of effort, and ultimately, failure.

In the end, I stopped singing on stage entirely, and floundered around for something else to do with my life, now that I’d “failed” at the most realistic dream I’d ever had. Forever after, every time I’m singing 60’s tunes in the shower, or learning every nuance of a musical number, or feeling my heart reverberate during a kirtan session, I’m picturing who I’d be if I were publicly recognized as a singer. An artist. Someone who speaks her heart in a universally-understood language. Someone who works magic with threads of sound.

Instead, I studied Historic Preservation, and once that master’s degree was complete, found that there were no opportunities for me in the field. I gave up on learning about conserving historic wallpaper, and went to work in admin for an interior design firm. There, I learned that my earliest love, writing, could come in handy professionally, and I slowly began my marketing career. I received my second master’s degree in Internet Marketing, and with an uncharacteristic amount of doggedness (made possible through the support of a few lovely creatives who made every moment fun, and have continued to bring joy to my life ever since) actually got a career off of the ground.

My life had been slowly but surely going off the rails for years, but by the summer of 2015, the train completely skipped the tracks. For the first time in my life, my career was solid and profitable, but the rest of my existence was in shambles. The year before, I’d broken up with a long term, serious boyfriend and started dating someone else within a couple of months. The first guy was an emotionally stunted gaslighter, and the eight years that we dated was about five years over its sell-by date, but I stayed because I thought he was perfect, I was unworthy of his greatness, and obviously there must be something broken in me for not loving him deeply enough. I thought if I just tried harder, we’d connect and it would be OK. This whole sad inner conversation is something which has taken me years to work through. I can’t help but think that process would have been much faster had I not jumped into a relationship with guy #2, who was deeply depressed, emotionally scarred, and ultimately unwilling to seek help. Once again, instead of working on ME, I eagerly set myself up to serve his needs while graciously letting him overlook mine – codependency 101. Anxiety and depression were co-stars of these life dramas, starting in about 2011. It took until 2015 for me to understand that daily anxiety attacks, and being unable to get out of bed for days at a time were not normal.

So once again in 2015, I gave up. It was the first time that it was the right choice. I should have dumped the chump, but that didn’t happen for another two years. However, I did quit my job and go do something that I’d always dreamed of – walking the Camino de Santiago, in Spain. 2015 changed me, and is still changing me. I walked, sang, explored medieval architecture, and ate all of the charcuterie I could find.

As much as I’d love to say that I returned home and everything fell into place, it didn’t. Many things have. I found a new career in which I have excelled. I met a perfectly imperfect partner with whom I plan to share a life. I have made a comfortable home, and am in a much better financial place than I used to be. However, other things still haven’t fallen into place. There’s the general “future” stuff, of course – I’d still love to have a real house, a real family, and a local group of friends to pull close at times like this. But mostly I’m talking about the big picture inner battle; I am still dissatisfied with my personal approach to spiritual matters, creative attunement, and being bold with how I present myself to the world. The person that most people see is not even a snippet of who I want to be, what I like, what I see, where my imagination lives.

I KNOW that am a colorful, magical person with unlimited talent, should I choose to apply myself. I KNOW that my kindness and insightfulness set me apart. I KNOW that I have a beautiful voice, and that I can use it in a way that really speaks to people. I want to weave myself through the world like overlapping birdsongs, so that I continue to echo after I’m gone. How can I do that if I refuse to speak up?

Tonight or tomorrow, I’m going to write down some of what I’ve been brainstorming for moving forward.

(Part 1) Who Could I Be?

I want to do something different. Something a little reckless, even. I want to dream out loud for a moment.

The thing is, I don’t really dream. I tell myself that I do, and I think that others think that I do. But I only talk about what’s socially acceptable. The things that won’t get me laughed at when I fail. Because let’s face it, I feel like I’m constantly failing. Like all I’ve ever done is fail. The only reason people see me as achieving things is because I only try things that I know will probably work out. Yup, I know how sad that sounds. I’m defeated before I’m even out of the gate.

I don’t know that I dreamed much when I was a kid, but there are three things that I can remember:

When I was in late high school, I decided that when I was middle aged, I’d like to open up a store in a mall. It would sell cheese, sausage, and various related accoutrements. The interior would be decorated with old wine barrels (I think that as a very sheltered country child, I thought old barrels were the height of worldly sophistication), and the employees would wear lederhosen. The store would be called “Ye Olde Sausage Shoppe.” Yeah, I did know that the lederhosen and shop name would be terrible, and thus hilarious. But I also knew that I loved sausage and cheese (it would be decades before I learned the word “charcuterie”), so it sounded like a good business plan, even when I was laughing at all of my dream in-jokes.

When I was maybe seven or eight, I was already reading far above my level. The town library was great, but there was only so much to read in the YA section. So I started writing the stories I wanted to read. Even at that age, I KNEW I would be a writer. By high school, I was winning writing contests. My English teacher was sending home note after note that I needed further guidance. That I was gifted. That I could go somewhere with this. I still write, but now it’s relegated to this sad blog with no readership. Oh, how dreams wither on the vine.

By tenth grade or so, I had decided I was going to be an archaeologist. I actually won the Air Force Scholarship (a full ride), but turned it down because they weren’t going to let me study archaeology. I still got into college with a full ride, just no military service to follow (much to my future self’s chagrin, to be quite honest – I think it would have been good for me to get that structure in my life…and to be retired by now, le sigh.) Then I got to college and nearly failed out within a year, with a massive failure in archaeological statistics playing into those bad grades. As I was failing out, I randomly discovered medieval history. In two semesters, this random art history class that I’d selected ended up being my only A. I just couldn’t help myself; I loved it so completely, I dragged myself there, even at my lowest. Then came a day when we toured a nearby Catholic church and the teacher showed us how the church’s interior architecture was specifically programmed to inform illiterate churchgoers in the Passion of the Christ. I was blown away by the idea that architecture could be “read,” and could be planned to tell a story, the same as any book. On top of that, it dawned on me that we were able to read the stories in old architecture, just like archaeology.

Suddenly, everything fell into place for me. Not only was medieval architecture something that I was passionate about on the academic level, it touched the rest of my life, as well. It’s hard to explain, but for me, studying medieval history checked all of the boxes – spiritual encounters, religious contemplation, fashion, food, art, architecture, craftsmanship, naturalism – you name the subject matter, I felt clearcut emotional engagement for it within the boundaries of this (nebulous, yes) time period. I graduated top of my class in medieval studies at Tulane University (which isn’t saying much, as I think there were only three of us, lol). I wanted to continue to a Masters program, but to do that, I’d need to learn additional languages. And I didn’t. I tried very briefly, failed, and pretty much immediately gave up on my dream of being a medievalist. I look back on it now and can see how easily I gave up, because I never believed, to begin with. I wish that just one person anywhere had stood in my corner. I wish that I’d been able to be that person.

You know what? I’m too tired to keep writing about failing at dreams. So tomorrow I’ll tell you about singing. Right now I’m just too sad.

Grief: One Year In

Today was Day 6 of my self-isolation. I’ll be staying inside and removed from other people until I’ve passed the 14-day mark, just to make sure that I’m keeping everyone I love safe. After that, I’ll see my boyfriend, but he’ll be the only person. It’s been so hard to be away from him, but it’s the right thing to do.

Speaking of doing, though, I haven’t been doing much. In the end, I decided that it was healthier to use at least the first week to just relax and take things as they came, instead of rushing myself to plan and be “productive.” It feels like I’ve been doing the right thing for my mental health.

For the first three or four days, I was hovering on the edge of depression, and sleeping a lot. I had a binge eating episode the day before yesterday, too. But I woke up yesterday with more energy, and worked on a project and listened to my favorite podcast. Now I’m relatively calm, albeit bored. It feels like I’ll be in the right frame of mind by tomorrow to start putting together a plan for how I’m going to make it through this.

I’ve obviously had a lot of time to think, but what’s surprising is that I’m just not feeling that much anxiety around the coronavirus. I read all the news stories, tune in to the news at noon each day to see the new death count, and have been washing my hands like crazy. However, for a person who has suffered from extreme anxiety issues in the past, it’s been a little strange to watch my own general sense of collected calm in the face of this unprecedented moment in my life.

I’m beginning to realize that I have my dad to thank for that one, in a roundabout way. I follow a few grief-centric accounts on Instagram, and one of them, Refuge In Grief, posted something today that really resonated with me:

“Yesterday we talked about how many grieving people are feeling even worse right now. There’s a flip side to this that’s also normal. Since the coronavirus outbreak made the whole world turn sideways there are also lots of grieving people reporting that their lives don’t feel different at all. They’ve already experienced the panic they see non-grieving people expressing.” (Click here to see the entire post.)

Up until I read that, I was mystified as to why I was just kind of going about my life in the same way I have been. Literally the only things that I had any energy to think about were if my partner was taking the right steps to keep from getting sick, and if I was going to have enough craft supplies to keep myself occupied. I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the shock to wear away and the horror to arrive. Now I feel like it’s not going to. I just don’t have the energy for that kind of thing. It’s old news. I’ve felt all I can, and I’m going to move forward with living while that choice is still available to me.

As I was writing this last paragraph, I realized that today is the 1-year anniversary of my dad’s death. I talked to my Mum this morning, and we didn’t even discuss it. We talked about safety measures on grocery store runs, and how she was planning her budget carefully to attempt to not have to work for anyone else ever again. She seemed cheerful. I hope that’s true.

Earlier in the year, I was contemplating doing volunteer work at a hospice. I applied for a position, but never got a response. I think after this pandemic has run its course, I’ll apply again. I’m ready to help on that level.

I’ll be back here tomorrow. It’s time to get some steps in writing to keep me occupied until May.