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!