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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Life in Exile: A Little Muse on That Thing We Call… Frustration

I have heard it said that unhappiness is when your expectations do not match up with reality. OK, fair enough. If that is so then frustration is when reality does not match up with reality. What I mean to say is, generally when we are frustrated it is with something/one (OK, let’s face it, usually it’s a ‘one’) outside of ourselves. If we are to get to the crux of true frustration, as opposed to say, a temper tantrum, it would be when your reality does not match up with the reality of that thing with which you are frustrated.

A phrase sprung to my mind upon hearing of the demise of Elizabeth Edwards, the much suffering-with-grace-and-a-good-publisher wife of former VP candidate John Edwards: Don’t be too OK with things, it might not actually do you any good.

In the long run, I was meaning, you know with the cancer and all. So in the long run, squashing your feelings and taking that trip down denial you’ve been dreaming of may not be such a good plan. But I wish to posit here that faced with untenable frustration, a little jaunt on a cruise boat down denial – weather permitting – could be just what the doctor ordered. Just make sure you get off at the next stop. Not getting off is what I suspect leads to high valium and other recreational/FLIPPING NECESSARY drug and alcohol use by wives, harried parents, harried assistants, etc.

Such as not enough time. Your reality is that you need to get X done, but the T available is not adequate to complete X, ergo X/T – T = F. You follow?

Or when you need a youngster to do her homework. Said youngster does not want to do her homework, did not read the cost/benefit analysis memo you put together for her, and can’t envision being held back in 1st grade and is therefore not freaking out as adequately, as say, a harried parent might.

There is also the usual partner frustration. You have relationship need, let’s call it R, and partner doesn’t care/notice/see what’s the big deal/is incapable of providing. You try to reason with partner, “I really need R!” P agrees to ‘get right on it’, forgets. So see, Self as reliant on Partner for Relationship success often leads to the dreaded Frustration. Or this equation can be expressed as: S + P/R = F

Or just go to work, oh anywhere really, and find a numbskull, add a task that needs to be accomplished alongside said numbskull and there you go. Instant frustration!

Or the frustration of exile let’s say. Want career. No career to be had in area of your exile. OK, settle for decent job. No decent job to be had in area of your exile. OK, don’t have to tell me twice, change tack, head Self on different career path. No, different career also not available in area of your exile. Alright bloody fine! Learn to be OK with family life. Family life rife with above frustrations.

Shit.

“Someone hand mama her pills!”… repeat mantra of “At least the kids are in a good school, at least the kids are in a good school…” as often as needed, take two glasses of wine, and try not to be OK with it in the morning.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Life in Exile: Things Fall Apart

I was reminiscing about a moment in time a few years back when my life in exilehood did not seem so bad. Things… came together. I had been performing my solo-performance play at the gallery, and by all audience feedback, moving people. I had randomly answered ads for various services like writers and artists and such the like, and suddenly there came offers. I was a Teaching Artist at the McCallum Theatre Institute! I was a contributing writer to Dune Magazine! I was writing apace on my novel! It felt good. I was busy but I was happy. And in the way of such moments I got more done. Ironically my house was cleaner, I made it to the gym several times a week. My toddlers were relatively clean and well dressed, and supremely happy. I was happy damnit!

Then, as they do, things fell apart. My husband lost his job. The magazine folded. I got let go from the Teaching Artist position for reasons I am still not clear on (too emotional I suspect though I have no overt evidence. If they had wanted unemotional people they should have put a call out for Quaker Artists!) And, as these things have a way of infiltrating all nooks and crannies of life, my husband and I entered a protracted and supercilious period of battle… to be right… as all battles of marriage seem to be. Which of course led to child behavioral issues which led to, wait for it… iCarly permeating our house, what seems like 24/7.

As all parents know you have to make concessions sometimes to keep the peace. And if you don’t, well then you are a dictator, or a member of the Greatest Generation. It started as “just iCarly, nothing else”. Said concession stemmed from some serious and persistent fuss/misbehavior and downright stubbornness and refusal to change the channel, which stemmed from little sister’s intense neediness, which stemmed from the long battle which… well, as above. It has grown to Big Time Rush, Victorious, and various other teen laugh track comedies, and a venomous need to see every single special every single time it airs. The justification to which is “but it’s the Special!” Duh-uh!

It is impossible, for me at least, to separate achievements from how I feel about everything else about life, including my kids’ childhoods on which I am a contributing editor. One could distill it all down to enthusiasm I suppose, but you would lose the subtleties. As I was enthusiastically going about my creative life in that time before things fell apart and after the long, lonely-time in the beginning of my exile, I could WOW them with my passion, my enthusiasm for life and them. Who needed TV! We had activity instead. They were also a great deal younger, a great deal less jaded by the long battle, and we were all still in that period of hope – that point in time of very early familydom where there is still the possibility of more – maybe more children, a dog, maybe a move to a new and better (or old and better) place. Children themselves being still so incompletely formed, as toddlers, seem to embody possibility. We had not yet hit the grooves of family life. Those grooves which are children’s particular personalities and proclivities. The grooves of daily life. The grooves of holidays, celebrations, school. The grooves of how you treat each other. There still seemed time to enlarge our family (which I wanted but the husband decidedly DID NOT!) or change its rhythms to something slightly more coordinated and soft, not the hard jerky inconsistent syncopation groove we now live in.

And when that something that swooped underneath the knees of me and washed away all that hope, I grew more cynical (if that is possible), and tiresome, no doubt. And tired. So I caved. And now we are in some sort of horrible TV groove. As I was trying to imagine how we could get some iCarly out of our lives, and remembering fondly the relative calm of shows on Noggin, like Oobi and Franklin, Little Bear, even the craziness of The UpSideDown Show, I realized all that had led up to that moment of weakness.

I have a congenital inability to hold on to and recount for all within earshot my achievements. I don’t want to think about what I did once. I actually flush with embarrassment when I think about or talk about my various accomplishments. “Stuck up” comes to mind – obviously a song I heard so often in childhood it is permanently etched in my psyche and rears up on hind legs when even the thought of tooting my own horn emerges. I don’t want to rest on my laurels but new ones are so hard to grow out in this desert, my beautiful prison, though I keep trying. I want to do.

I wonder though, had I a little more reminisce and a little less angst to accomplish, if I might have been able to hold it all a little more together, not caved, not lost my enthusiasm for life, not gotten weary of the harrowingness of it all… maybe I would now live in a land less populated by teen idols… maybe.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Life in Exile: Cloudy, With Absolutely Not A Goddamned Chance of Rain

Or, I was gonna call it, "Black Mood Faded Irrevocably Grey By The Sun"

My capacity to tolerate tedious work sanguinely is stretched today. Not because of the particular tedium of the task... just... sigh...

You know when you are doing something mindless because it just needs to be done? (I'm actually good at stuff like that - which goes to my favorite piece of wisdom imparted to me by my grandmother that I have never been able to follow - "Don't get good at anything you don't want to do for a living") But it ends up feeling like biding time. It's painful, that realization, of how much time you have actually bode. Despite all New Year's affirmations that "this year things will finally change" here we are in November, and nothing actually has. (Ironically, I have lost weight this year.)

Well, that is not strictly true. Change happens, although seemingly glacially (not in a global warming sense, in the building a glacier sense). There are the normal increments of child growth spurts, dog adoptions, relational truces, good grades easily won in school (mine and Angus') and slow, hard earned progress (Violet's and Matt's) in school and work... you know, like, normal stuff. But I so never wanted to be normal. That sounds really shitty doesn't it? Poor little middle class white woman complaining that her job is tedious and she doesn't have time to work on a new novel and that new play that's been floating around in her head for years aching to get out let alone clean the bathroom. And did I mention I just got a new car on Sunday.... ahhhhh... excuse my while I just go slap myself.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Life In Exile: I'm Burnin', I'm Burnin', I'm Burnin'.... for peace

I believe in not burning bridges. It's because I'm always thinking about the nuclear winter. So, I go to personal, at times stressful, extremes to get along with Difficult People (DPs for short).

Disclaimer: If I know you, and you are reading this blog, then by the nature of this very reading, you are not (most probably) a DP and are therefore NOT ALLOWED (notice that is in caps, that means I mean it) to think I am writing about you.

I know Oprah and modern pop psychology are always exhorting us to stand up for ourselves. But I don't always do what Oprah says, and so sometimes I become a doormat, just to keep the peace. Because slashing and burning a relationship - no matter what its nature, is frankly, painful.

And that nuclear winter scenario thing. I'm always picturing the seeming inevitability of burning a bridge and then being stuck in a service elevator that no one uses anymore with that person. Or in a blizzard, with no cell phone reception, day three and no one knows where we are, and the person with the last morsel of food is that person I screamed at and called a wanker in front of the entire Board last week... or something.

Makes me wonder, you always hear about people who have lived at extremes of some idea - the uber-conservative who became a radical liberal. The free love hippy who became a fundamentalist. Between extremes must be the still smoldering ashes of vilification.

See, in order to legitimize oneself in one extreme after having lived in another, one would basically have to badmouth the hand that fed them. It's got to be cool, though. I mean what more street cred would one need! "I've been there, man and they are wack". No doubt that kind of cred would hold the flock in rapt awe, "He's been there, he knows they are wack". Would make one kind of a rock star... if you raked your former self over the coals to win friends and influence people. The evil side of self-deprecation?

It is akin to talking smack about an ex-boyfriend right after he broke up with you. There is an instant gratification in announcing, "Well, I always knew he was an asshole". Aside from the logical next question, "Well what the hell were you doing with him then?", you are sort of being extremely judgmental.

On those occasions where I have burned a bridge I have felt a momentary superiority. But it led to the inevitable vindictive-high crash of reality. I just sort of felt, well, gross... inside... Would a vegetarian fault the grizzly bear because he ate the salmon? (Well, maybe a vegan would) All the while I would have been bad mouthing, vilifying, entertaining whatever supportive audience with stories of misbehavior and my innocence, I would be completely ignoring the fact which is, who the hell am I to judge? Yes, that bridge may be shoddily built and deserve to fall, but should I set the match? And wouldn't that possibly put me in line for arson charges?

It occurs to me that I have been potty mouthing my beautiful prison here in the desert and I am here to apologize desert. Whilst I have been complaining about what you did not possess I have been ignoring your wonderful qualities. I promise to stop being a wanker and get my head out of my ass and pay more attention to reality, you are pretty. You are a nice place to live. And if I pay attention I won't be bored anymore (oh, man, see I knew I should never have started saying that to my kids - "If you're bored you're not paying attention" - I should have known it would come back to bite me in the ass!)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Life In Exile: The Future’s So Bright (but only because it will just never rain in the desert)

You know the problem with being human, right? The problem is the past is so much more vivid to us than the future. And we only nominally live in the present. In actuality, we are living in the present, thinking about past things we liked and projecting those things on the way the future should be. And since we are all Revisionist Historians, the past is way better or worse in our heads than it actually was, depending on your perspective. We are creating now what we imagined was so great about then for later. (“Who’s on first?” – if you understood that joke then you are either way old dude, or a totally cool/geeky film nerd).

Except somehow it just doesn’t seem to work. Because of this whole present, real time, you can only be where you are stuff (thanks a lot Eckhart Tolle!), things don’t get accomplished except if you are focusing on now, and that’s hard. The mind wanders. Being one with, say, filing, is slightly more difficult than being one with nature. OK, OK, they are both technically in the universe, but seriously. Dictation – running amongst the lilies? Folding laundry – dipping toes in the cool ocean. Which one is clearer? Number one – number two.

Maybe the real problem is getting older. Allow me to expound. When you are say, early 20s, you can spend a little time doing mundane tasks. I’m not saying you don’t gripe about it but you’ve got all the time in the world. And that’s the thing, it feels like you have all the time in the world. The future is out there, you can see it, clearly envision how it’s going to be! All you have to do is one-mundane-task-at-a-time your way to it! But then you get older. And not only is there less time left, but you have clearly become cynical. Yeah, right, you can power your way to positive thinking all you want but the fact is we all get jaded. It is as inevitable as thick hips, chin hair, monkey arms, you name it. Because you have done the ‘imagining your future’ thing and then you passed through it. And guess what? That future when you got there, was not like you imagined it a bit, if at all. But you can bet that later, when you are in the present thinking about the past, that future you imagined but didn’t work out like you had planned, will actually seem a lot better than it actually was. In retrospect. Or worse, if you are that sort.

How many of us have kids, raise you hands. Now tell me, is this just like the adorable, yet familial controlled chaos you (in movie fashion) imagined your family life would be? Who among us can say they made their 5 Year Plan and it turned out just that way, and it is swell!

See, I’ve made those 5 year plans. I’ve done the self-help-y, The Secret-y, Oprah-y thing and it doesn’t really work so much. You work towards a goal and when you get there, or to the marker point where ‘it’ is supposed to be, it’s not. Something else entirely is. The future looks bright when you can imagine good things happening to yourself without the Negative Nelly in your head going “Yeah, right, like that’s gonna happen”. After having been through a few decades worth of 5 year plans, and wandering around aimlessly in the desert, in my beautiful prison, and not getting pretty much anywhere I wanted to be in my career or my life in general, all the while accomplishing amazing feats, one wonders – is it even possible to imagine a reasonable future, an obtainable future? Is it even wise to try?

I could totally slip into a couple of icky platitudes here – hope for a miracle but plan for reality – learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow – think big but relish small pleasures (hmmmm, relish…) – but I hate platitudes. They’re all so quipy and cute and begging to be repeated and meaningful and stuff… Platitudes, so self aggrandizing… Maybe the thing is to just stop planning, be happy to wake up to a new day (and if you need sunny sunshine every day, day after bloody flipping relentlessly sunny day! - move to the desert), do what the hell you want, and stop watching Oprah… No, the money will not come if you follow your passion. The only thing that will happen is you will be looking at the ass-end of your passion…

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Life In Exile: In Isolation

We just got a dog. I know, what does that have to do with anything. Besides cuteness you mean? Well, I tell ya, a dog is by nature a pack animal, yes? Likes the other dogs around, likes the other warm bodies and playful paws and camaraderie. And if a dog likes to be alone, or goes off alone, then something is definitely up.

So I've been thinking about isolating recently - even before the dog - and doing a little navel gazing 'bout it, and I realize that I have been doing this for years. And generally, when I do it, it is because something is wrong (not because I'm looking for a secret place to pee, I know that was what you were thinking!). That something is usually along the lines of 'things not working out they way I'd planned' or 'feeling ostracized/criticized/terrorized'-pretty much any of the cizes will do. And we humans, OK certainly at least me, are also pack animals. We like the warm paws too and if we isolate too long getting back into the swing is problematic.

Simple small, one on one or two interactions I'm fine with mostly. But when I have to go back to the cave and try to fit in, I get a little bile of panic. Ick. "So don't do it" says brain. Which is entirely unhelpful. The fear is, of course, not fitting in, not being liked, or worse invisible. People like to say that kids will take any attention, even if its negative, over no attention. But as adults we learn to skew all attention. It somehow just seems easier that way.

I know that I particularly feel like crawling under my bed (except there are too many candy wrappers under there from my sneaky kids!) when I've been accused or lambasted, particularly for something that either I didn't do or wasn't entirely my fault. (Sometimes I wish I too had the mighty high opinion of myself that I could control all under my purview.) And this just makes one jumpy, ready to be thwacked at any moment - skittish doggie. I get to the point, in that perfect circular storm of criticism, isolation, and awkwardness where it just seems natural, expected, that people (read: anyone other than me and a few close friends and my children) will look at my and react badly - "Wrong! Whatever you're doing, and I don't know what you're doing but I'm certain it's wrong". I'm way beyond "why me?", which is not good because beyond the Forrest of why me lies the desert of "of course" despair. I just don't expect good things to happen... to me, anyway... anymore... and that is bad.

I'm trying to teach my puppy (Buttercup) and my children (and husband by osmosis - because he hates when I try to teach him stuff directly) that good things still can happen - even though number one son might have a hard time believing that one. His fish died today. Remember that kind of 8 year old sad? That is a bummer and a quarter, because he's super sad right now and probably his whole day will be ruined. But hopefully not his attitude or his whole life... can't let him isolate - 'cause 'whole life' and 'nothing ever good' only comes of that.

Deep breath, stick out a paw. Ruff!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Life in Exile: The Long Hot Summer of My Discontent

As the stores start putting out the down jackets and corduroy, we here in the desert look forward to dipping into the upper 90s. While you all out there are experiencing sweater weather we are still months away. And even in December we may get temperatures so mild that really a long sleeve shirt will do. No need to get all crazy and don pants people.

As summers here go this one was not too bad. We have birthday parties in May and June for our kids and usually by June it is just too hot to be outside, so by about 2 o'clock everyone migrates indoors. But this year we spent all day outside, adults under the covered patio, cool drinks in hand, kids on the slippy slide. And even during the true summer months it was still cool enough in the early mornings to sit on the patio.

See that is the thing that gets to you. In other parts it may get to high 80s or even 90s in the day but by nightfall it gets cool again. And one off-shore or northern breeze can sweep the whole thing away. But not here. Sure temps may dip by 20 or so degrees at night but if you're starting at 110, well...

I used to say 104 was my threshold, that after that point I was disgruntled and everyone might as well just stay away, leave me alone because I was going to grumble till October (yes, non-desert dwellers OUR summer is from roughly mid-May through the end of September, sometimes October so eat that June complainers!). OK, that last comment was grumbly, and I apologize, because what I was going to say is that my threshold seems to have risen. Either that or the mildness of this summer's temps have not thrust me over to the dark side.

Or maybe it could be that I have a plan. I'm not saying it's a good one. I don't know that I've ever made a good plan for my life, and at this point in my life I'm not gonna go getting all cocky about it. By normal weights and measures it may not actually turn out to be a good plan, but it is a plan nonetheless. I am getting a teaching credential so that I can teach to my degrees (see, I told you it was not necessarily a good plan). Where, you may ask, could I possibly teach something having to do with theatre and or film and television in the desert! (Don't you dare say, "You should move to LA" or I will roll my eyes so hard at you!)

Well, though this may not be the mecca of media innovation and creativity (although we have a Mecca in this valley, I just don't know what it is a mecca of... sand possibly, or trailer parks, boasting the largest welfare check rolls per capita... I know stop me now, and it's not even hot today! Only about 95!) there are a number of colleges and universities within shooting distance, well long-commuting distance. And though I have never really wanted to commute, or teach necessarily (I attribute that last comment to high school peer pressure, you remember, the old "those who can't do teach" saw that only makes sense to 16 year olds) I am thrilled at the prospect of thinking about and researching theatre, film, and television or any combination thereof.

Or maybe I am maturing. Or maybe it is my forays into raw food eating (and subsequent "oh my god I lost how much without even trying!" weight loss) and focusing on getting healthier. I am a relatively old mom afterall. I will need to be a fit bird if I want to live to see and pester my grandchildren. I also may be working well into my 70s since there is no pension waiting for me on the other side - I just better not get to the other side! (of working, not death, relax) So if I am to possibly be the oldest living waitress at Sherman's then I'd better get ready. Or maybe all those self help and new spirituality books finally kicked in.

Or maybe you can only be grumpy for so long, particularly if it is not in your nature, which I don't think it is in mine. Mine is circumstantial grumpy. Although to be honest I can hang on for long periods of time. And you know I did have 7 whole days off in a row, how you say, vuh... cau... vay... va-ca-shun? which I haven't had since 2006. And I did get to drive to LA-ish for my friend's babyshower and spend some time with her and another friend. That made me happy. I could still be riding those oh-you-mean-there-is-intelligent-life-somewhere wave.

Or most probably, my kids are 8 and 6 and that has an impact. No longer can I fool myself into thinking that I am not influencing who they hope to become with my mood. Especially my daughter. I see my kids trying on their parent's behavior for size quite often now and it is scary when it is your darker moods they are emulating. So, there you go, a slap in the face by your adorable children. Snap out of it Ryan! Fhhhhwack!

So life gives you lemons you make lemonade. Or if you drink too much lemonade - there are lots of lemon trees growing in the desert - the summer drink of choice, and since summer here JUST NEVER ENDS, maybe a nice meringue pie? Oh, or what about a lemon chiffon cake with lemon icing! Oh you know what would be good, shrimp sauteed in lots of butter and lemon juice... lemon curd on toasted brioche, yum....

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Life In Exile: Hitch Your Wagon

You know, I hate to be cynical, but when one has been reared by sarcasm, it’s hard not to be. I say this because what I am about to say may sound to some of you rather negative. But here goes.

Not that much has changed for women in marriage since the women’s revolution. The division of labor is largely the same as it has always been and women are still defined by the man they have married. I can hear the empirical evidence pouring in already: “My marriage isn’t like that! My husband stays home with the baby!” But I’m here to say, I think not so much.

I have noticed, in the last several years, articles and studies popping up about how, shockingly, marriage is not so great for women. Has it ever been? Ladies, who does most of the housework and childcare? We are freer now only to have two jobs, instead of just one. The balance is tipping certainly towards more women earning more money than their husbands, but until there is wage parity, clearly this perk will hit a ceiling. And despite who makes the money, as with housework, there are still divisions of spending labor. We will, I will venture to guess, see our husbands in our golden years be the ones to put gas in the car just as we now see our grandfathers, fathers, uncles on Sunday mornings at Costco filling up the tank. And I’ve no doubt most women, barring a few rogue and foodie men, will continue to do the grocery shopping and cooking. Or microwaving, as the case may be.

Natural affinity for certain things? Social pressure? Probably both, and the fact that social change just takes bloody time. There are things that, generally speaking, men do, and things that women generally do. Lines are being crossed all the time, I’ve no doubt. But if I can make a gigantic gross generalization - boys will be boys and girls will be girls. Even when they are all grown up.

What comes to my mind foremost in marriage, however, is the buy in, the basket that all the eggs are now in. By definition marriage is all in. When you get hitched you must take all that is in the package. When you marry a man, you not only ‘marry’ his family, his friends, his social status, his wealth, but you also acquire a new public persona. No longer will your self be defined by yourself alone.

I just heard on the radio an interview of a blogger, who lost her husband in Afghanistan, ask (out loud!) of her place in the world, “Am I still a Marine wife?” Who you are as a woman is, in no small part, defined by who you marry. Because you marry a particular man, you marry his particular habits and routines. You go full hog into where he is willing to live, what he wants to do with his spare time. How your lives will be arranged socially, financially, emotionally. You marry in to how many children he is willing to rear and who he is willing to spend time with. If you are ‘lucky’ you will have an ‘understanding/kind/loving’ husband who is willing to take your opinion into consideration.

My husband asked me the other day in the middle of an argument why I didn’t move to LA when I was younger (it was a ridiculous question in context but it started me to thinking about this subject now). Without going into immense detail about that time, simply, I was married to a man who had no interest in living in LA or NY or anywhere I might have made a go at a career in acting. I did go against the marriage grain by enrolling in graduate school in San Diego (a city he seemed moveable towards, though clearly he was not immediately convinced as he did not move until I had already lived there 8 months) – without him. We were still married but I wanted something different, so I moved alone without him. As I now know, had we had children it would not have been the same. I probably would have made do with a program in commutable proximity.

Once my, then, husband moved to San Diego I was no longer the same person as I had been. Time constraints, surely (you do have to spend time with a spouse to keep being married to them, of course) but there was also the matter of how friends and colleagues perceived me. There was a discernable difference. When my husband was still in the Bay Area I was not seen as ‘really’ married – evidenced by the number of times I was hit on. Once he moved to San Diego I was seen as more ‘married’ but also, as a sort of extension of him. Parts of his personality were attributed to me without my permission or knowing, let alone control. People treated me differently. This had been true where we lived before as well, but it was in the relief of being alone and then him being there, that I really took it in.

There is this idea that spouses can somehow ‘control’ the behavior of their significant others. Wives are looked down upon if not seen as ‘reigning in’ the more extreme parts of their husband’s personalities. Women are supposed to somehow socially engineer their husbands into smoothed out forms that fit tidily into behavioral norms. If not explicitly expressed, we have all experienced those long sideways glances when our husbands are telling fart jokes loudly or screaming at the TV in company. The message: “Why don’t you do something about him?” The method, (which everyone seems to think is some sort of universally effective punishment), to withhold sex. Can I just point to the rebellion that is ‘man caves’ or exclusively male spaces, as evidence that said man-molding is ineffective.

Too, you women, will be hitching your wagon to a particular kind of marriage. Whether you have a spiritual bond, shared household chores and childcare, mutual hobbies, long romping vacations without kids, is largely (if not wholly) a product of what your man can and will tolerate. Believe me, I’ve been married three times and not a one of those marriages was alike. My current life would not be discernable to either of my previous husbands. Clearly, I am a compliant sort (my marriages looked more like my husbands’ personalities than my own) and there are women (I dare say many more now than in our mothers’ generation) who are not so. And the divorce rate keeps going up – not because of the lifestyles women are creating for men that they just can’t tolerate, but because women want more from marriage than to sustain two jobs (three, if you count yourself wife to a challenging man).

I have learned finally that my house will never be clean unless I clean it. I will always be responsible for managing child schedules, no matter how much I throw in my husband’s lap, he will be able to manage only what he can. And the rest will fall by the wayside. Onto the floor. Where it will sit. Until I pick it up. Because he will not even see it unless I point it out and then is just as likely to walk right passed it saying “Oh, I didn’t see that there” as rush over to pick it up to please me. There are just certain vacations I will never go on, certain conversations I will never have, certain colors my living room will never be painted. People will always look at me as a different person as I stand next to my husband as when I stand alone. Not because I have a difficult husband or an uncaring husband, but because I have a husband. My marriage will simply look more like my husband’s personality because I am the one willing to bend. Because a marriage really is a bend or break proposition.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Life in Exile: Denial Is Not Just A River In Egypt - But The Weather Is Very Similar

And now a little word about what you do when your life is not going your way. A word about denial. You read that like it's a bad thing! But it is a normal, natural, useful human capacity. I say we need it and we, frankly, have all done it.

Denial is that cushion that gets you through a bad patch (or few years) and keeps you relatively sane if not at least functional until... well, until reality sets in. I had to engage in some willful (if not totally conscious) denial upon moving here to the desert. What I told myself, and everyone else, was that I had agreed to try it for three years so the hubby could get his job started, move up in the company, etc. (I never let myself believe it was the permanent move it has turned out to be.) Then we'd go back to LA. Therein lies a tasty little slice of self-deception, that my career wouldn't suffer too much if I were out of sight for that long. It is a perennial bit of womanly denial (in all but a small few select exceptions) that you can exit a career for a few years to raise children and then get back on again, like exiting a roundabout and then swinging back onto the highway, like you never even slowed down. We all know, deep down inside, that that is not really true. You do, in fact, have to start practically all over again.

And if, like myself, you are starting all over, with fewer resources and less options you have to paint a picture for yourself of those opportunities that makes them seem much more rosy than they actually are.

Now a brief digression here to include the hubby. Not in a mean spirited way, mind you, I just think it bears saying that he too thought that somehow things would be easier for me here. Less competition was part of the equation of his thinking, I gather. He always thought it would be easier for me to make a movie here, in the desert, than in LA. And I have had friends who have made successful careers for themselves, making movies, here in the desert. But that idea of 'easier' is like trying to flatten a waterbed - one side of it may be smoothed out but then you get a bulge on the other. And I, in some way, hooked onto his optimism that I would at least find something fulfilling to do.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't lay down after three years living here, when that magical moment (or rather months) passed and reality set in. As that three year mark came and went and I realized that my hubby was not ready to move back, career-wise or otherwise, and there was no career in the offing for me to drag him back for, I decided the thing to do was to tapdance till the time really came. (See, I was still engaging in denial that we actually would ever move back to LA) Fake it until you make it, as it were. I scoured the newspaper and craigslist for a (better paying, more full-time and entertainment related) job and cobbled together a string of gigs that were satisfying, uplifting even. I wrote for a local, short-lived lifestyle magazine. I wrote and performed a one-woman show (I still rest on that tired laurel as often as I can). I started writing what I thought would be a short story and ended up with a novel. I taught some theatre games classes to little kids. I was even employed for a time(ever so briefly - that's a whole 'nother story) with the largest local arts organization. I was busy! I had paying gigs! Things were looking a little up and dag gum it, I was even happy. Then, as they do, things fell apart. In some cases I knew why, in others I knew not.

So, OK then, time for a little personal examination. Knowing I was going to be here for the duration, I had to figure out how to do it so that I didn't make myself and everyone else about me miserable. I did A New Earth seminar with Oprah online. I did targeted (targeted mind you, they're better!) postive affirmations, read The Secret, read Four Questions and questioned and questioned myself. I did journaling (lor' help me how I hate that term - almost as bad as 'good to go' or 'he's good people'), The Artist's Way, yoga, worked out, talked to myself as I drove to work. Pilates.... walking around the block on my break at work.... and ugh... each has its own little tidbit of value certainly and strung together they kept me limping along till now, so I can't really knock 'em. But...

Disclaimer: OK, do I really have to do this people? Fine. I am not badmouthing nor would I badmouth any of the above mentioned endeavors as cockamaimy or ridiculous. I would, and in some cases probably will, engage in some of them again. My relative un-thusiasm is no commentary on their relative value. Happy?

A little move diversion: Can anyone say what is the difference between denial (an unconscious defense mechanism used to reduce anxiety by denying thoughts, feelings, or facts that are consciously intolerable) and delusional (a fixed false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact)? Maybe only that one comes with pills, the other with religion - you decide which.

But here I am. Seven - yes, count them, seven! years later, still in the bloody desert, still working at the same parttime, part-film, part-whateverneedstobedone job and not much higher on the happiness scale than I was at the three year mark. Chalk it up to the seven year itch maybe? I dunno, but I come smack against reality every day and the face of it is this: I have no career. There may be no career for me to be had, ever, in my chosen field here (there may not have been much of one for me back in LA either, it would be speculation on my part to say that there absolutely would have been). My family is what it is (that is a whole 'nother post) and I am where I am. With nothing new on the horizon. And did I mention the massive student loan debt/guilt I incurred while getting a degree for my chosen field? A debt I have no hope of ever paying in full?

What does lie ahead is a whole lot of reality knocking me about the face and arms, forcing me to switch career aspirations. Will my hubby up and move back to LA? No. I will not be holding my breath. Could we even afford LA anymore? I dunno, dwellers of said city, any opinions? If I found a fabulous job there? Possibly, but neither am I holding my breath for that fabulous job - anywhere, let alone LA. Good sense says, find something to do with a pension - or at the very least more pay! And do this without incurring yet more debt I will never ever pay off, how again? Not sure. I have ideas but face it, we are in a recession and the job market is depressed for every kind of everything I might be able to think of or be good at. Let alone be able to tolerate. Because face it, I could do a lot of things for money, but will I sacrifice my last shred of self worth and sense of self (because I only have a shred left) to do any mind numbing and/or back breaking and/or spirit crushing work I can get just for money? Probably not.

If I were another kind of woman, one that domesticates more easily (I could, just not willingly) I would be happily floating down this river, gardening, baking bread, playing with my children, engaging them in activities (all things I do with joy, mind you - I just can't to the exclusion of all else), watching my middle adult years float by untapped. But I value work. I value my brain. I value accomplishment. Aside from the home I can make for my husband and my children there is not an endeavor I have yet found out here that can serve those needs and value me in turn. So I continue to float, willfully if not wantonly, down this river in Egypt, believing that just around that next bend there may appear some reason for me to get off.

It's either that or I try one of the two things I have not: pills or religion!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Life in Exile: No Concept Left Behind

Part of what I left behind when we left LA was a concept I had of myself, one which worked there but does not work here. In fact, this concept I have carted around since I was, oh seven or so, has managed to serve me well, so long as I was striving for a career.

But in the desert there is no striving wagon to hop on. I’ve lived in the Bay Area, San Diego, Los Angeles and now the desert. In all those other areas there was an energy of building something; lives, careers, communities. But the desert is a retirement community, a second home community and a vacation community. Those of us who are left here to wrestle with the whole of the year and not just some pleasant three month sojourn work primarily in one of those leisure industries. What we moved out here for, in fact, was a job (my husband’s) in a hotel. So, life, by definition and execution, here is transient. People have either come out here to relax or retire. Basically one is either golfing or waiting to die.

Of course, if you follow life to it’s ultimate conclusion death is the result for everyone anywhere. Period. But we like to think, as free Americans, that how we occupy that time before death is up to us. My choice was to occupy my time as an actor, then when it was clear that was not going to happen (face for radio, voice for print) to the degree of success that would keep me… well, fed frankly, I looked around and thought to myself, if I can’t be in them, then I at least want to have a hand in making movies. This aim took me through the Bay Area and college, San Diego and grad school and finally LA and career. A career IN the industry of my dreams, mind you, if not exactly the dream job. My foot was firmly in door.

At the time we left LA my job had just ended. I had been working on a TV pilot and then I had our first child. Having a baby in an all consuming industry was going to be difficult, I knew that, but I was confident I would work it out. I had a friend who was pregnant with her first and just getting married, another who was soon to be married, another pregnant with her second. I had a friend and former boss who seemed to have the hotline to babysitters and child entertainments. I had a network that, as more babies of friends were added, would only grow stronger.

And then the move to the desert. Not only did I leave this burgeoning network and (I hoped) an equally swelling career but suddenly the concept I'd indulged all those years no longer worked! And it is not as if we had lived in LA for a while with a baby, tried it, found it too frustrating or frightening (before we left we could walk around with the baby in the Grove or to breakfast in Hollywood and literally be the only people with a baby we ran into all day – it is now baby haven as my last trips back have shown) and made a categorical decision to leave for more child friendly climes. Nor had I tried my hand at Hollywood, failed to get a foothold or achieve what I set out to and in disgust packed up and left as soon as the Fall leaves back home began to change. In Hollywood you can tell the seasons by the yard sales. About every three months, as the failures and disappointments would mount, Moms would call sons and daughters to extol the beauties of the Fall/Spring/Winter/Summer leaves/blooms/snow/gorgeous weather, and followed would be a lot of justifying with, no doubt, some swarthy swearing and impulsive packing of it in. This was helpful actually as Hollywood is fairly mild weatherwise. But I was not one of these casualties. I wanted to be nowhere else on earth at that moment in my life.

Sure I did have disappointments in my career and no doubt more were sure to follow. But I felt certain that I would find another job, act in another play, write another script, make another friend, work on another project... in effect, continue to strive. There were possibilities, you see - energy, movement, people were achieving things! And now, in the desert, I was not amongst them any longer. Worse still, I would tell people I met what I had done for a living or that I was a writer and, at best, the blank stares of incomprehension were monumental. You could hear the crickets in between blinks. At worst I would get the “You know you should move to LA for that” response. I felt pride at my great self-restraint in never yelling “That is where I just bloody said I had been living!” at anyone. Not even once.

So here I was, isolated, (I wasn’t working the first few months) not meeting many people and when I did… well, the above mentioned crickets. The energy as stagnant as a deaad of summer wind. And here is me, with this caaaawn-cept of myself which keeps landing flat and sliding off a cliff. I am Wiley Coyote and this concept is the Roadrunner. No one here it seems to me is striving for anything. I mean (at the time we moved) if you weren’t in real estate everyone else thought you were kind of a numskull for not. So it’s not like I had anywhere to fit in and wasn’t. There was no ‘in’. Not as a preexisting condition at least.

So this feeling, that I’m creative/special/driven/talented/stubborn/lucky enough to accomplish something – to make films! (which, no matter how little the film when you first make them that brand of 'special' is stupendous) fails me utterly. And then is run over by a steamroller that just happens to be passing by, in this hot hot, hot hot desert.

Meep meep!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Life in Exile

I was compelled the other day, by the birth of a friend's baby, to write once again about my feelings living here in the desert. "My life in exile", as I think about it, though my husband despises this phrase, or "my beautiful prison", equally despised by husband, of equal measure amusing to my sister.

I have long thought ('mused' sounds too whimsical for a practice that is normally for me a downer but that is actually a more correct characterization of what I do - thought implies direction, a move, but in the musings about my situation there is no logical resulting action) of living out here, in this desert, as a sort of undefined sentence. It makes me feel sad, angry, humble, extremely difficult to get along with, and at times (way too many, in fact) lethargic - the lethargy, I assume, of a prisoner marking the end of the first decade of a, say, thirty year confinement. Sometimes I feel all those things at once, sometimes back to back in a (for my husband especially and no doubt too for my bewildered children) confusing and irritating string of nebulously-connected-to-any-real-event bad moods. That can last... and last and last for... I dare not say for how long lest social services or my ex-therapist come with the men in white with the funny jacket to sweep me off to somewhere I can be safe. But don't worry, these are mostly times of implosion, and less often, a lashing out at my husband.

No solace there, however.

I know that for my husband this is a done deal, that I'm just engaging in post-mortem equine abuse at this point. But is there any satisfaction for a difficult situation you just can't get out of? Why can't I move on, in fact? I have often wondered what is wrong with me. "Beautiful prison" is only funny because of the kernel of truth it holds. I could barely hope to have landed in a more picturesque place than the valley that embraces Palm Springs, California. Surrounded by rugged, gorgeously light-changed mountains, living in a well run, ecologically friendly city. Kids attending what is now officially one of the best elementary schools in the entire state and the best in our region. So, really, what the hell is my problem?

But I can sooner stop fussing about my predicament than I might, realistically, pack up and move back to my chosen city. I am, for all intents and purposes, stuck.

I have written myself out of some lousy moods before - notably I wrote a novel whilst living here with two toddlers, two cats, not enough money and an alternately always working or underworked underfoot husband in an 800 square foot apartment. I figured it was time to take this exile-hood of mine head on and write about it. It's time, if not to somehow write it away, then to at least put a finger on it, open the curtain and get this thing to rear its ugly head at me. Then, maybe at the very least, I can replace some of the anger and lethargy with amusement.

So, back to this baby that was just born of a friend of mine. I wrote in my journal, "I feel viscerally all the milestones, big and small, I've missed because of my proximity so far flung - the firsts, the births, the heartaches that couldn't be shared in person over a glass of wine but had to suffice over emails, MySpace (yes, I've been gone that long) and Facebook. The friendships I left were only 'off to a good start'. Foundations laid, common experiences shared and the establishment of mutual affections made." But not yet set in stone. So I am not a 'best friend' or someone to 'make sure to get out to visit', but that friend who lives in Palm Springs that is mildly concerned, amusing and/or interested and/or interesting. In short, what I get to share are the neat and tidy formalities of a well wishes cards. Electronic or handwritten and stamped, they are still, necessarily the same finite, detached sentiments. I don't get to get in there, down in the muck of regular life with the people whom I consider my friends. I am peripheral and thus extraneous.

Which, feeling this way, is at least a step up from feeling unwanted. Isolation can do that to you. So, well, that's progress.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

You Make YourSELF Look Bad

I just got yelled at by an old, fat, red-faced white man in a gigantic SUV (god I love it when the Bob Hope comes to town because, really, there are just not enough rich people in this valley already!) about my Obama bumper sticker. He rolls down - or should I say lifted a finger to push the button down - and yells "How's that hope and change working out for ya?" several times, because I did not respond, until he got his green left arrow and then did his best evil laugh as he drove off. Why are conservatives so mean spirited?

I suppose the best I can hope for is that it bothers him all day that I said nothing. I am being called a stupid twat over a martini right now I imagine.

Possible retorts I thought of after:

"I suppose you're a banker?"

"Watch Fox News much?"

"Guess you got yours!"

"Do you speak Russian?" (I actually almost said this, only to confuse and annoy him all day long, trying to figure out if I was actually Russian or if I was making some commentary)

"How's that SUV working out for you?"

"Why are you talking to me? I am one of the little people you so despise."

I dunno... others? Ideas anyone?