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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.