A Small Tmesis Before Re-Entering the Fray

canstockphoto0492793The muddied waters of a chronic depression have surrounded me for months. My highs haven’t been very high, my lows not too low. A mental shoulder shrug answers when I check in with myself. Autumn is in the air and with it, a sense of relief. Finally a season to suit my mood. Melancholy is in vogue again and the suntanned Pollyanna of summer is out.

The weeks following a long Pacific coast vacation became jumbled with school starts and appointments and busy-ness. I was taken off guard even though I’d planned well in advance. Life dragged me along, a dead weight of wry gloom. It felt like surrender. This is me now, I thought, driving my kid to activities, making sure everyone has clean skivvies, wandering listlessly through grocery aisles. Struggling to communicate, make eye contact, be present.

A man came to the door and tried to talk to me about God on Sunday afternoon. For the first time ever, when someone asked of my faith, I called myself an atheist. I’ve gone with agnostic in the past, but I didn’t want him to think he had a way in. And I’m not adept at explaining secular humanism or my true philosophy that none of us knows anything, but it doesn’t really matter as long as we’re decent to each other.

canstockphoto3235320His proselytizing interrupted me while I was reading a book on reasoning, so I didn’t mind the discussion. He asked about what comforted me. I didn’t tell him about the fuzzy socks and coconut-scented lotion and burritos and piles and piles of books yet to be read. I pointed to my garden and muttered something about family. The fact that I was polite only encouraged him. The doorbell will ring again.

Menopause is enveloping me. Hormones infect my dreams with flying house centipedes and my husband leaving me in a souped-up red Prius. Somewhere along the way, I stopped thinking optimistically that my life was only half over and started thinking, oh shit, my life is beyond half over. My heart starts pounding and I frantically think about what I still want to do and how, if I haven’t done it at this point, it might be too late.

My weight circuit training class started up again. Over the years, training in Taekwondo, taking spin and weight classes, many of my instructors have been affable men in their late 20s who looked like they might not be able to complete the routines they were teaching. It was a way to make a little dosh, but not a way of life for them. No harm in that, but what I had in discipline, I lacked in inspiration.

canstockphoto0464175My new instructor is a female competitive power lifter. My inability to move this morning attests to her training acumen. She is a tad gung-ho for a community ed class and the looks exchanged by my classmates suggest that there will be some drop outs. For me, this is a spark in the gloominess.

I think about this idea that people want to elect people to whom they can relate – someone they’d catch a game with or meet with at a coffee shop in yoga pants. I’d rather elect someone much better than myself, because whoever it is, they should appeal to my better nature. I want leaders, teachers and guides who raise me up through example – who are smarter and more adept than I. My circuit class instructor is much stronger and more athletic than I and in the end, I will be stronger and more athletic because of it.

Stephen Fry now cheers me daily. Several seasons of his radio program, English Delights, is out on audio book at my local library. Wordplay is my bliss. He introduced me to the term tmesis, which is when a word or phrase is split into two parts by intervening words or phrases. It’s heard mostly with informal speech, such as abso-friggin’-lutely.

I keep having these moments when I’m standing outside of my life. Even on vacation, with people I adore, I’d find myself detached and observing, thinking more than once, just give me a moment. Let me stand still. Let me be quiet. I can hear myself talking with people without being engaged. My life is broken into parts, by heavy realization and not much wisdom. canstockphoto1402910

Autumn usually has me planning new goals and I have energy to pull them off for a few months. This year is different. My goals remain the same in regard to writing and fitness and family, but now there’s something in the middle of it all. Listen. Slow down. Sink into it. No need to rush to the next bit.

Some Disassembly Required

canstockphoto20505774My mother-in-law likes to tell me how my husband tore apart household appliances as a kid, just to see how they worked. I suspect she’s still bitter about a toaster or two. Now an electrical engineer working as a programmer, he continues to take things apart to figure out what’s broken. His great skill is in coming up with non-linear solutions, which is sometimes delightful, other times irritating, if you have any aesthetic sensibilities at all. Nothing ever looks the same again. But it works.

There is a level of fearlessness required to take things apart. I’m often bound by a fear that I will break something while trying to fix it and it will never be useful again.

For the last year, I’ve been struggling to reshape my life, to give it a makeover that reflects my intentions. I made some big moves, like cutting back on volunteering and moving to a vegan diet.  I made some smaller changes, like working out less intensely and working a little harder at managing my time, trying to bring more focus to writing and attention to the moments with my family.

Despite a little progress, everything has started to go to hell in a million different ways. Fear has been seeping out everywhere. I feel such a high level of anxiety running like a fetid sewer under everything I’m doing these days.

As we waited for the train to go on vacation a couple of weeks ago, I realized that I’d left all my identification and credit cards in the photocopier at home. My lifelong habit of photocopying everything in my wallet before I go on vacation, in case of loss or theft finally bit me in the ass. We were fortunate to have our tickets.

I sat on the train, wondering aloud if I’d had some sort of stroke. I am that person – the one who organizes, schedules, packs, plans. Lists are my bailiwick. What was happening? Why this sudden spate of forgetfulness and imbalance over the last few weeks? Structure, schedule, lists, goals. Always do the unpleasant, must-do tasks first. Life would be manageable if only everything were clean and put away.

canstockphoto8171921I’ve been getting lost a lot while driving, trying to get to my kid’s soccer games at fields all over the Twin Cities, swearing in frustration. We discovered later that our car navigation system had reset to a default of western states (we’re in the Midwest). It mollified my pride a bit, but nothing takes away that bitter, helpless feeling of being lost, while so close to one’s destination.

This last week I dropped a jar of barbecue sauce which hit one of my pinky toes, now blackened and I suspect, broken. It has found kinship with the toes next to it, still recovering from running stress fractures. I’ve named it Quasimodo. And the joy of eating summer cherries was brought up short when I broke out in hives all over my face, neck and arms. The last time I got hives was the night before my wedding 15 years ago.

Taking my mother-in-law to see a dying friend, I blew a fuse when she told me for the fortieth time that it didn’t look like the right house and asked me if I knew where I was going. It was and I did, but my mother-in-law has dementia. What kind of jerk yells “Well, it’s a good thing you’re not driving!” at someone with a cognitive impairment going to see a friend in hospice care? I felt marginally better when I saw the satisfied look on her face. Now we’re family.

I turn 48 in a couple of months and unlike most birthdays, this seems significant to me. Somewhere in all my late bloomer rationalizations, I really thought I’d have my shit together by now. And I really don’t think I do.

Some friends joke about middle-aged brain. But I think things, namely me, are just falling apart. And despite my fears of being in some sort of menopausal decline, I suspect that breaking things and falling apart and generally being in a chaotic state are part of a bigger process.

I remember that old Army saying about how they’d break us down to build us up. It was a euphemism for we’ll turn you into a bunch of chain-smoking binge drinkers who will follow orders because you’re too damned tired and hungover to do anything else. Maybe that was just me.

There is something to be said for everything going to hell. We cling to our habits and processes like security blankets, until those soft, comforting blankets become concrete prison walls, beyond which we seem incapable of moving. Sometimes things just have to break so that there is room for new ideas and perspective to work their way into our lives.

Things haven’t been working for me. My goals are often diametrically opposed to my habits, leaving me frustrated and depressed. My constant striving for perfectionism eats away at my resolve. I am disciplined and structured until I make a mistake and then I go completely off the rails. I binge-live.

canstockphoto27947584So if my posts seem more like diary entries these days, it’s because everything is raw. I don’t have the energy to fine tune things with wisdom and perspective. It feels as if I’m a disassembled mess, bits and pieces strewn about on a workbench. I only hope that when I get myself back together, nothing looks the same and it works.

Making Life Changes: Some Imagination Required

You can’t do that. What about X, Y, Z? Remember when you tried that and how badly it turned out? Stop being so selfish. Think about your family. Why should you get to do that when everyone else is blah, blah, blahhing? What will so-and-so think? WHAT IF…?canstockphoto8669552

It’s been a year of transition for me. I am not a preternaturally happy person on the surface and the stress of making changes has made me a less-than-agreeable human to be around. But I’m having moments, glimpses of the lighthouse beacon of a nearing shore. I’m headed in the right direction.

Yesterday, I drove home from the post office after dropping off my packages for the holidays, and felt this odd sense of happiness. I’ve got the flu, I’m exhausted and truth be told, I’d rather run someone down with my car than have a conversation with them. But happy. What the hell?

Historically speaking, I’m the over-doer, the over-the-top gift-giving fool that alternately makes people loathe and love me. This year, I’m done with everything in record time. My list was shorter. I gave what I wanted and I’m spending my time more judiciously.

It was easy – why hadn’t I done it before? Well, I just hadn’t imagined it, this idea of just doing what I thought was important. The flu distilled things for me – I could only do what I deemed a priority, before collapsing into an unhappy pile of used tissue and Vicks Vapor Rub (I smell pretty!).

I’ve been thinking about change a lot lately. Change is hard. We are creatures of habit, of our own thought patterns, of our hardened paths of operation and survival. But we are also creatures of great imagination, the ability to choose, the ability to not live a rote life. It is our imagination that fuels change. If we can imagine a day in our own happiness, what would it look like?

Wcanstockphoto2148080hen I was in my 20s, my imagination was that of a world traveler. I would travel and drink native booze and cavort with the locals. It was very nonspecific. Apparently I was a gun runner, since there was no source of income in my imagination. And no STDs, because I imagined being very well-traveled. In reality, I worked in a bunch of menial jobs, halfheartedly got a college degree, dated unlikely partners and spent a lot of time running in place.

canstockphoto21767863In my 30s, my imagination seemed a murky stereotype. I got married and had a child. I lived, still live, in a suburb in a small ranch-style house that looks exactly like the other 20 houses on the street. It is a life I value and love, with a family that I’d never imagined I’d have. But occasionally, the Talking Heads will play in my mind…”how did I get here?”

canstockphoto21047372And then the 40s came, as did a constant sense that where I was at, was not where I belonged. Things started going a little sideways for me. I left a full-time job to be a stay-at-home loon. While working from home, I did all kinds of uncomfortable things – learned a martial art at 43, became an intense parent volunteer, learned yoga badly, took up painting, wrote a novel, learned some rock climbing (and panicked falling), gardened haphazardly. An all-over-the place dilettante, with a failing grade of Incomplete.

My writing impulses got stronger and more insistent. Sometimes, I’d think, well, if I don’t accomplish anything else, I guess I can say I’m a writer. I think I just heard the wail of a thousand dedicated writers. But it was a daydream to me. I’d always written, but it was mutated and unrecognizable – work emails, flyers, newsletters, personal correspondence. It was easier to imagine being a writer than, you know, actually writing like one.

canstockphoto18826089I began blogging nearly 3 years ago. The habit of writing, the interaction with other writers, the positive feedback (not always earned certainly, but encouraging) – it changed my imagination. I was writing regularly. I learned of NaNoWriMo, participated and wrote the first draft of a novel. My imagination expanded. Could I do more of this?

Vagueness, though, is hard to implement as a life choice. I could see the possibilities, but not how to get there. I began to think, “If I were a writer, what would my day be like? What are my priorities? How do I want to spend my time?”

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.                    Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (1989)

I’m in the specifics and logistics phase now, trying to carve new habits into my time. Each new imagining of what life could be like fuels one more decision to make it today. It is, for me, a slow and sometimes grinding process. Because change requires not only imagining how you spend your day, but imagining yourself differently. You have to block out old messages and tune into your own voice.

canstockphoto6423560It’s make-believe, a trip on the little red trolley. But it will, in the end, be the thing that gets you there. I am a writer. I value my family, my health, and learning. I spend my day living my values. Rinse and repeat.

This last week, for the first time ever in my life, I stuck to a daily writing schedule. It wasn’t like anything I had imagined. I was sick, coughing and sneezing and occasionally whining out loud to no one in particular. But there were moments when I was happier than I’ve been in years. Imagine that.

Intentional Blogging: Committing to Ephemera

canstockphoto4671068

Everything is fleeting, including the summer during which I took a break from blogging at The Green Study. So here I am again. I browsed blogs this summer, but kept my “presence” to a minimum. I wrote casually at another blog TGS Zen Garden to focus on some health and lifestyle changes I’ve made.

Someone read my novel this summer. That was scary. I paced a lot, sometimes peeking in to see if I could tell anything from the expression on my first beta reader’s face. I thought criticism would wound. I thought I’d be more defensive. Instead, I was surprised that it was an easy pill to swallow. I’m unstuck now on what edits to work on and excited again about the story I’m telling.

I changed my diet from being a full-on dairy-addicted omnivore to eating a plant-based diet. I gave up nearly all caffeine, a withdrawal which made me sick for an entire week. I wore a cast boot for three weeks after getting a stress fracture from running. Things are finally starting to balance out and heal. Extra weight is coming off and I’m sleeping better.

My reading list was mostly nonfiction, littered with psychology, nutritional advice and time management practices. My brain is like a huge self-help conference, awash in aphorisms and optimism. Ideas are alighting and then flitting away, their essence filtering into my daily living.

And I made the deliberate decision to continue blogging. One of my priorities this summer and going forward is to live intentionally – to stop doing so many things with so little thought.

It’s noisy out there. There really isn’t a lot of justification for me to add my voice to the crowd. Everything I could say has been said, is being said or will be said. My attendance is not required.

Writing for a blog and interacting with the blogging community (answering comments, reading others’ work and commenting) takes a lot of time and effort if one wants to do it well and consistently. And what would be the point of doing it otherwise, if not to do it well?

Sometimes I can work for hours on a piece only to see little or no response. Other times, I write something off the cuff and it gets Freshly Pressed. Extrinsic reward cannot be the only motivator for this activity, but it sure helps.

I used to bullshit about why I blogged, but in living intentionally, one must be willing to be honest about one’s intentions. I am a writer, but blogging brings an immediate, interactive component that is heady. Yes, I feel that Sally Field rush (you like me!). I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t gratifying.

What has tripped me up is that while I find blogging enjoyable, it is a hobby. It’s unpaid. While a few superstar bloggers have turned it into a paying career, that is not my intent, nor the path I will be taking towards publication. It can’t take the place of writing offline, even though it feels like I’m doing something.

It really comes down to the fact that I like you. I like interacting with other humans. I like reading about experiences that are not my own. I like trying to contribute to the conversation. As a writer, I can become quite enamored of my own words, but when I write them out loud, when I realize that there will be an audience, they are tested. Are they genuine? Does it read well? What is my point?

canstockphoto6135038Thank you to Ruth, Belladonna, Sandy, kirizar and 3kids2cats1divorce – just a few of the friends (on and offline) who took the time to read and comment on my other blog this summer. I will continue to focus on health and lifestyle issues at TGS Zen Garden, posting once a week as I return to more regular blogging at The Green Study.

Thank you to returning readers. I know that there is more than enough to read online, so I greatly appreciate that you take the time to read, like or comment on posts at The Green Study.

It’s good to be here.

Giving Up the Ghost

canstockphoto10341986I’m a useful sort of person. It feeds my ego to be needed, to be relied upon, to be allowed to demonstrate my competency. My office is organized, collated, labelled and efficient. I remember birthdays, dental appointments and people’s preferences.

On the flip side, I’m tense, terse and occasionally quite sarcastic. I don’t wait for others to catch up. I don’t have time for small talk or nattering or gossip. Which means you’d like me to do your taxes, but really hope I don’t show up for a party, where I will be dressed as a dark cloud with a 50% of rain. Part of it is that I’m an introvert, but a lot of it comes from my sense that time’s a-wastin’.

If there were a support group, I’d go to at least one meeting before I got irritated with all the time wasted on pleasantries. Intellectually, I know that these exchanges are critical parts of human interaction. It’s how we connect, how we are seen and feel part of a larger whole. It’s not that I’m above it or incapable of it – I just have things to do. Always.

In my fantasy life, I’m warm and generous and know how to put people at ease. But then I think about having to listen to the details of someone’s medical procedure or hearing them whinge on about why it’s unfair that their little Boopsy didn’t get into a higher reading group at school and it’s like nails on a chalkboard. I’m ripped out of fantasy land and I’m me again – impatient, easily aggrieved and temperamental.

Lately, I’ve been an ogre to deal with – at home and in the world at large. I finished up my paid job (egads – unemployed!), wrapped up a fundraiser and volunteer events and now I sit in the shadow of an old life. This moment is what I’ve worked for, what I’ve made conscientious decision after conscientious decision for, what I’ve fantasized about for years. Being an unemployed writer. I know, it just bowls you over with its grandiosity.

You’d think I’d be bursting at the seams with stories I’ve been dying to tell. That I’d pull out all those hastily-scrawled notebooks from college. That I’d be ready for this moment and embrace it will all the vigor of a POW at my first meal on the outside. I have some twisted form of Stockholm Syndrome – waiting for the call for financial reports or an urgent volunteer need. I’d be busy and comfortable again.

It’s an understatement to say change is uncomfortable. External change has happened. But here I am, still me. I don’t feel differently. I’m not inspired. I’m still procrastinating. This is the gray danger zone for any kind of change. This is where I’ll either breathe and relax into a new state, or I’ll find a new job, sign up for classes, volunteer to save the planet and make friends with someone really, really needy.

Every once in a while, a small smile will sneak across my face when I realize what I’ve accomplished. And maybe that’s the problem. I saw the means and the end, but nothing beyond that. If you focus entirely on getting somewhere, little time is spent on the itinerary once you’ve arrived. The goal posts have to be moved a little farther ahead. I’m here, but I have more steps in the journey.

And so, I write this clunky, awkward, navel-gazing post as the first step into this brand new shiny life. I haven’t written anything in weeks. I was so intent on finishing everything else perfectly, completely, with no regrets. It was merely procrastination dressed as dedication and competency.  I begin work on my second novel today and leave the gray zone. It doesn’t feel comfortable and I’m having to wrench even these words from my brain. But one step, one word at a time.

canstockphoto1264387

A Change in Enthalpy…Good to See You

canstockphoto0201754I inexplicably dropped out of the blogosphere this week. Apparently, it only takes 5 days to destroy a habit of writing and exercise and you know, getting dressed for life. I’m constantly juggling priorities and this week I just lay down on the floor and let them pummel the hell out of me. Entropy has settled in and for any consistent reader of this blog, it’s obviously a constant battle to pull myself out of it.

Enthalpy is the sum of energy in a thermodynamic process. It is described as useful energy. My scientist friends will have to forgive me my liberal education, as I inexpertly adopt this for a metaphor. A change in enthalpy signals a change in one’s state of being. And I need a truckload of it now.

I frequently hit a point where I’ve given into the chaos of life and am just riding it out. I have no sense of control – just letting life happen until I end up very tired, extremely depressed or feeling like I’m having an out-of-body experience in my daily life. Like most people, I have a lot of external responsibilities, so it becomes very easy to neglect my inner life.

I’ve read all the self-care articles. I know that I’m supposed to put my own oxygen mask on before I put it on others, but it doesn’t come naturally. I’m not some self-sacrificing prig, but I believe in doing what needs to be done. It’s my radar readings that are off – what constitutes need? Did I need to take my bosses’ call on Friday night at 5:05pm? Does my daughter really need to have PB & J sandwiches with the crusts cut off? Do I really need to answer phone calls, emails or texts right away?

I grew up the oldest of four kids. Like the stereotypical first born, I was responsible, take charge and a problem solver. On top of that, I learned to read people. It was necessary in a household with alcoholism and domestic violence, to sense a shift in the wind, to understand what the buttons were, to know when to take cover.

In many ways, this skill benefited me in accurately navigating the world as an adult. The downside is that I have this childlike sense that I know more than I do. I have often attributed need where there is none and taken even the slightest negative emotion as a cry for me, Super Problem Solver, to swoosh in and save the day. People have been startled by my generosity, not realizing that expression of even the most trivial needs will have me bringing in the troops.

This last week, I wanted to solve problems for a lot of people, but part of me knew that I needed to tap out, cry “uncle” or handcuff myself to a fence in passive resistance. What I did, instead, was go through the motions. I did work that needed to be done, all the while thinking dully :”‘When this is over, I’m going to do XYZ…”

Last September, I made the enthusiastic announcement that I was leaving a job of 12 years to dedicate my time to writing. That morphed into a six-month delay in conjunction with the company’s fiscal year, so I’m still in transition. I promised myself that I’d scale back a bit on volunteering, only to find myself sitting for 2 hours straight, doing nothing but feeling slightly resentful at a school event this week.

canstockphoto9355218Entropy got me here, to this state of disordered chaos, but my holy grail is balance. It’s an unending, constantly shifting quest. I wonder, at times, that my expectations are unrealistic. I imagine balance to be this serene, meditative handling of life’s daily trials and tribulations. Maybe balance is more like being adept at juggling on a unicycle, constantly in motion, shifting this way or that, sometimes frantically, sometimes rhythmically. Is balance a Buddhist nuns’ retreat or a circus?

What does balance look like to you?