Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How We Learned to Love The Things That Suck: Aha Moments

You never know when an aha moment will arrive, or what will cause it to come about. Sandwiched in between two weekends of Dezart Performs' - the theatre company I co-founded in Palm Springs and continue to shepherd - biggest production to date, a powerful aha moment struck.

I have never thought of myself as much of a people pleaser. I don't have many of the typical symptoms - I don't care awfully much how I look, I have no problem saying no, I feel no guilt about sneaking away for an hour of me time, or feeding my children breakfast for dinner instead of taking the time to concoct something more nutritious.

But on Wednesday afternoon I experienced a hit by a truck realization of this complicated triangulation of my, not people pleasing exactly, but approval seeking behavior that has railroaded me to exactly right here.

It is easier to talk about these kinds of realizations when you can think, "If I had it to do all over again I would..." I have been stubbornly adhering to a no-regrets policy. The early iterations were "Everything happens for a reason" all the way to "It's in the universe's hands". But in recent years, and particularly this year I have been growing skeptical that the universe actually KNOWS what it is I want in the first place. I can actually finish the sentence now with no compunction or fear of hurting other peoples feelings. I really now know what I would do if I had to do it all over again.

Well, maybe the universe wasn't the only one who didn't know what I wanted. See, I grew up in a family of semi-stoics. They could laugh, but there weren't exactly heartfelt conversations around the dinner table discussing the college prospects of the children, or reminisces of the adults' past missteps. Everything I knew about what my family, (and I include my grandparents in that category, though we didn't spend regular time with them, only holiday time, their influence was prevalent) I had to ascertain from unspoken messages. No one ever said to me directly "You must go to college", although my mother did say when I graduated high school that I did have to either get a job or go to school full time (I did both). No one ever tried to dissuade me - and I am grateful for that - from pursuing acting as a career. But on the other hand, neither did they seek out ways to support me, or take it all that very seriously. I suspect the family-wide attitude about it was that I would grow out of it.

So throughout my adult life I have been running in parallel tracks. One down the road of the kind of life I have always wanted to have, a creative life. The other track I have been running on is more like a treadmill, trying to prove to my family and the world at large that I am smart, not ridiculous, and an all around hard worker, not the obviously lazy clod that someone who wants to be an 'actor' must be. Clearly, it is not the fault of my family that I chose these paths. It was my interpretation of the unspoken rules and mores of my family, which I often ran afoul of in childhood and certainly put way too much stock in as I got older. But I was just never a 'go it alone' kind of gal. I couldn't have pulled a Demi Moore and rejected my family of origin to pursue my dreams. I would have been a puddle of emotional baggage, some sort of addiction just waiting to happen. What I just could not fathom, and thought I could not possibly tolerate, was the rejection of my family.

And how I came to finally realize all this was in a few short hours when that aforementioned truck hit me. I've been helping out the PS High Theatre teacher, helping some students get ready for festival performances next year. On that particular day, a visiting lecturer from UCLA was in to speak with the kids and help them with their August Wilson monologues. She is roughly the same age as I, but way, way ahead of the acting curve, not just in career success but also knowledge as well, and as she spoke this dread crept over me, the dread of realizing how exactly it is you have come to waste large chunks of your life. I'd always thought that I was pursuing my dreams, but in fact I'd been on those two tracks and the one I'd most often jump to when the gap between them got too wide was the "impress the world" track, leaving the acting track to go around the mountain without me. Here and there I have been able to pick it back up but the need to convince my family that I was smart in a way that THEY would be impressed with always won.


And now what?

This is a fairly good place to end the year though, and this series of blogs. I don't think I have learned how to LOVE the things that suck so much as to tolerate them without having a heart attack. And there have been some mightily sucky moments this year, which is why there are so few blogs from me in large chunks of the year. I have a high tolerance for pain, and not getting what I want. But as I get older I am less impressed with the ability to be patient and reasonable. The more so as those around me seem to feel free to be disagreeable while I am expected to be patient and reasonable. I just might try being selfish and unreasonable in 2012. Yeah, that would be good. Everyone is always making "good" resolutions for the new year. I might just make mine bad.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How We Learned to Love The Things That Suck: Age Over Beauty

When I was young I assumed I would enter into my middle age with resources - for creams, and powders, procedures, and whatnot. So I didn't sweat the load about aging per se - the whole sagging, puffing, plumping business, I mean. Well, none of those goods and services I'd banked on have come to pass. And yet, though I find myself looking hard upon the border between the beginning side and the other - peeking over top of the bell curve of life - I feel... better. I figure 90 for a conservative life span for this day and age, although I keep telling my kids I am going to live to 135 - just to annoy them.

I'm less insecure than I used to be for no apparent reason. I'm certainly not as thin as I used to be. In those days I didn't feel it though. I look at pictures of my younger, svelter self and think, "Stupid git! She didn't even notice!" I'm less fit than I was before I had children, less gainfully employed, less free. But also less anxiety-ridden. I've learned, counter-intuitively, that if I slow down I actually get more done. I've learned, rather imperfectly let me point out, to shut up and listen more. I rarely have too little to say and generally in the opening of one's mouth less really is more!

I'm less hard on myself and other people - and by that I don't mean to say I thought so much ill of others as I'd assumed they'd think ill of me, which is an accusation of bad-behavior if you think about it. I've learned that self-loathing and self-pity, while they may illicit sympathy for someone young and pretty, at middle age and above just make you look like an asshole. I'm certainly years past the powdery buff of beauty intrinsic to youth. But I've learned that outer beauty is for catching partners, inner beauty is for keeping them.

I don't claim to be wiser though I am older than I used to be - but aren't we all?! I didn't come by any of this through smarts, or searching, or spirituality. I think I just got bored. How long can one keep up the self-deprecating? And since my standup comedian career never materialized it wasn't really doing me any good anyway. So, at some point I just figured, eh, why bother. I'm fine. Or in the infinite wisdom of Popeye, "I y'am what I y'am".

If I had a porch and a rocking chair you'd probably find me in it, hand tucked in waist band, watching cars go by. Certainly much more fascinating than picking on myself.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How We Learned to Love The Things That Suck: Mild Scrapes and Minor Humiliations

So Monday, I'm walking to the bus stop after work and just thinking to myself, "Gee, (I do say that to myself actually)I'm managing to maintain my dignity about having to ride the bus pretty well!" Despite the heat (over 100 degrees every day now) and the inevitable and unsightly sweating that goes along with, despite my odd foot virus that makes it difficult to walk comfortably, despite the waiting and what could be, wasted time. Earlier that day, the street on which I catch my first bus in the morning was under repaving. The flagman assured me that the bus would stop in the middle of the street for me, after all there was no sign from the bus system saying the bus stop was closed for the day. All stops within walking distance on that line were coned off, so the construction and bus system must have coordinated this... surely.

At 8:24 on the nose here comes the bus and there goes the bus. Not even a wave, or a point, from the driver! I had to call for a ride to the next stop. That afternoon when I was feeling proud of myself you see I had good reason. I hadn't been incensed or sorry for myself, I just handled it, found a solution, got on with the day.

As I turned the corner to the stop that Monday afternoon, I thought briefly, "What's up with my left ankle, hurts a little" then I noticed the early bus, I am never in time for, sitting there! I started walking faster, could I possibly catch it? I waved at the driver when I was within sight and shockingly he pulled away from the curb! I started running and waving at him thinking he must not have seen me, but I'm so close now I have to try. Then, just as he pulls back toward the curb - SPLAT! Down I go, flat on the ground, my right foot having hit the concrete edge between sidewalk and landscaping. I lay there briefly, swallowed in a puff of dust. I pick myself up, don't even bother to dust myself off, and get on the bus. I realize my right knee is bleeding through my pants, my left ankle twisted and throbbing - see, somehow it knew.

Then the driver says to me, irritated, "You didn't have to run, I was pulling back to the curb. You're alright I take it".

Yeah, sure, all except my dignity.

Monday, August 01, 2011

How We Learned to Love The Things That Suck: I Am One

Sometimes the only way to deal with things that suck is to be one with them.

Yeah, there are things that suck. Everyone has some (at least one) thing that sucks in their life. But sometimes the suckiest of the sucky thing is the way you look at it. So, if you can just relax your mind and let things that suck, suck, well then at the very least you can get perspective.

The difficulty is in not letting the "this is" attitude bleed into a "this is and that's not fair!" attitude. Not an easy task. I think if one could accomplish it for more than, say, a few minutes, that would be a colossal achievement.

I think of all this because I watched 60 Minutes last night wherein they replayed their interview with Mark Wahlberg. Now, that is a guy for whom things could have sucked for a lifetime. And though he may be more talented and/or determined than the average bear, he certainly is not more deserving. Herein lies the rub. Deserving. Oooooo. It is the elephant in society, at least since the 80s (good job by the way baby boomers on changing the tone of the nation - I'm assuming its all your fault - see, I'm laying blame, a sure sign I have not yet grappled with things that suck in my life, I'm trying...). This idea that if you are wealthy, have a good job, married a pretty person, have well behaved children, that somehow you have been divinely touched. Or maybe you went to the right college, made the right connections, have "talent". Maybe you said all the right affirmations or were able to unleash the awesome power of the law of attraction on your ass! That, if you have all these things, you somehow (in a way unknowable to us mortals and thus inarguable) DESERVE it. The implied and ancillary meaning, that if you don't have all those things (i.e. if your life sucks) that you do not, in fact, deserve it.

OK. There, I said it out loud. Almost as hard as saying pretty women have better lives... oops, didn't mean that to slip out. What I am trying to get at is that this idea of 'fairness' is entirely erroneous. In fact, any explanation you try to lob at any life situation comes up short, because there are ever exceptions to every rule and platitude you may step on.

So, here is what I think. My husband is unemployed. That sucks. I have a crappy, underpaid job to no where, my talents sorely underutilized and non-appreciated (see, not even 'under', that really sucks). That sucks. My daughter has ADD and struggles with school work and behavior. That sucks. Because my daughter gets so much attention due to her ADD my son feels neglected. That sucks.

Now, in the very next breath, you would expect me to start spouting all the unexpected but wonderful side effects of the above chock full 'o suck situation. But then we would be getting on the boat for a trip down denial. Trying to look at the bright side of a lousy situation is one normal human response, which could be characterized as either healthy optimism or delusional, depending on your particular perspective of the moment. Wanting to doooooo something to better a crappy situation, also normal and questionably good, again depending on your particular philosophy at the time. Ignoring said suck-o-rama, also normal, could be defined by the self-medicating and more lazy among us as healthy, or, easier. But none of these is what I am talking about. What I am talking about is that awful aphorism I have avoided till now, "It is what it is" (usually used by the lazy, I am aware of that).

One with the things that suck. Really, just allowing things to be the way they are without mentally changing or judging. Not so easy, but if you can achieve it, even for a moment, it can be relaxing and even, dare I say it, enlightening. Things that suck, still suck, of course. But without the judgement or need to do anything beyond observe, a little bit of stress and tension may fall away.

Now, of course, you can't do this forever. Only Eckhart Tolle can make a living just 'being'. But maybe, if at least for a few moments, we can look at the things that suck as 'what is' at the moment, we can really connect with life, our own life. Instead of always trying to get distance from it...

Monday, June 27, 2011

How We Learned to Love The Things That Suck: Slow Ride

You know what I used to love, and what now sucks? Taking the bus. For a number of reasons and not just the obvious.

Where I grew up in the Bay Area if you were a kid you actually COULD take the bus to the movies or to the mall or an audition or rehearsal as I used to. I doubt if that would be possible now. I don't know that I would let my own kids ride the bus, even in the relative safety of my current community. But it was a different time (and there hadn't been a 24 hour news cycle to make it seem like hundreds of thousands of children were being kidnapped each year) and so we felt it to be a bit of freedom to hop on the bus and take the nearly one hour ride+walk to our town's nearest movie theater or wherever. Inevitably we'd see two or three, get out of the theater after dark and someone would have to call a mom to come pick us up. Mom's couldn't be bothered to drive their kids places, even on weekends, when I grew up, when they could just as easily shove a couple bucks in your hand and tell you to take the bus.

But even beyond freedom it was a great learning ground. Since the Bay Area is a large and diverse population one could always count on great people watching. My friends and I engaged in something you might call people speculating. Convinced we can know a lot about a person by the way they look, human beings have always made lots of decisions about the value and interest of a person on that basis. We just did it out loud (not loud enough so they could hear of course) to each other on the back of the bus. Not satisfied with the realistic for long, our speculations soon diverged into the wild and implausible. Consequently, my childhood bus rides were populated with Russian spies, embezzlers on the lamb, and any manner of wealthy and/or mentally impaired eccentrics.

In my later teen and college years I too often reverted to "someday I'll have a car" thoughts to have much fun on those rides. But I always observed people. Everyone does the visual sweep upon stepping on the platform - see who's on, who to avoid, who to sit next to. In the Bay Area, generally people were too occupied talking to companions, or tired from work, or sleeping, to notice or care who came on. I would make mental commentary on who looked weary, or sad, or happy and wonder intensely what had just happened in their life to make them so.

In those years, particularly in college, I would even venture to take the bus (and BART) home late at night. A whole 'nother drunk and/or high, on for the night homeless, just going to or coming from an underpaying hard scrabble late shift would be on board. Occasionally there was a scuffle, some "what you lookin' at" would erupt but I had the young-with-my-whole-life-ahead-of-me-and-nothing-could-go-wrong bravado propping me up. I felt like one of them in a way and yet not. Always conscientious of being a white girl in a minority world, I didn't swish or flaunt or try to appear too affluent or happy - sometimes I would adopt a sad countenance to ward off potential advances of any sort if the compartment had just that right mood where it felt slightly dangerous. I rode with the confidence and air of someone who was not so different from everyone else deep down inside but sure that I was destined for greatness, to succeed, to make things happen.

Flash forward some 20 years and taking the bus is a whole different experience. When my husband lost his job in February we also lost our second car - a company car. We'd been juggling kid drop offs to school with my work and errands pretty successfully until gas prices started rising. I realized that the 10 mile drop off and pick up to my work was costing us nearly $10 to accomplish. We were filling up the tank twice a week - unheard of previously - and with prices over $4 and one less job in our pockets, it was painful. So it is not like I made the decision unwillingly.

But it is a whole different time, and place. After all, the me-me-me 80s and earn-earn-earn 90s and spend-spend-spend aughts have passed us by, leaving in their wake a recession, but also a general attitude about ourselves as a society that now no longer squares. "We're number one" does not resonate exactly the same way with the unemployed or underemployed as it used to. Economic factors do have an influence on attitude and on how we perceive ourselves and others. And in Southern California as well, there is a force of opinion that blasts "You don't have a car!!!" when one steps on the bus.

What is similar is that I am, generally, though the numbers are smaller, still one of the only white faces on the bus. What is new are cellphones and mobile devices, and the solitariness that comes with them. If no one looks up to see who is coming on the bus it is probably because of the despair of the long slog (our valley is geographically huge with few and far between bus routes which means lots of transfers, waiting, and walking in high heat and wind) but just as likely that they have their face stuck in their cellphone or are talking (way too loudly) on it. One tries not to seep to that place but I often find myself, face stuck in Kindle, just as bad. No more the long sweep to see who's conversation I might overhear - there are rarely people traveling together and when they are they are usually silent - nor do I search for a place in the back so I can watch people unperceived as I used to. Now I just quickly find the nearest place in the front, put my head down, enjoy the airconditioning because it will be soon time to get out and walk the 1/4 mile to work in the heat. There were always the people who couldn't afford a car, or the car in the shop people, on the bus in the Bay Area. But there were also the "I'm doing this for the environment" people too. But So Cal does not so readily cotton to idealism.

I am just like everyone else too, still. I am underemployed, struggling to get by, deeply debt leveraged (though mine is student loan debt primarily) with little chance of ever getting out. My prospects of better employment seem just as dire as my companions on public transportation even though I am highly educated. The difference 20 years has afforded me is experience. My experience of the feeling "this year things will happen for me" in my 20s not really being true then, or my 30s, and now half way through my 40s. Though I still remain hopeful, and believe in possibilities, and my own abilities, I am no longer under the misapprehension that that is enough for "things to happen". I now know that sometimes life, the world, the universe, for a reason you may never know, just doesn't notice you or your talents or potential or rewards you for it. That even when you know for sure and follow your passion, you still can be just another rider on the bus.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How We Learned To Love The Things That Suck: The Age of Reason

We all know the age of reason hits a child at around their 7th birthday. That moment in time where they really begin to understand that they are an individual apart from their parents and family, and moreover that others are individuals too. It is a beautiful thing seeing your child develop their very own sense of compassion. Less so, and a little bit painful, to see them gleefully make conscious separations from you! But as the child passes into this phase there is a corresponding enlightenment that happens for the parent as well.

If we are really paying attention, it is at around this age when we begin to relax a little bit about what our kid is up to. As they begin to make the separation between themselves and their parents so too do you, as parent, begin to get more comfortable with the idea that your children are not necessarily little extensions of yourself. And if this doesn't happen naturally there just might be something to knock it into you.

My daughter has just recently turned 7, and been diagnosed with ADD, and been recommended by the school to repeat first grade. That's a kick in the head for ya! Any one of these things alone might be enough to send a momma into a "my baby!" spiral. But three! Come on! Of course, the difficulty in school follows hard on the heels of, and logically, the ADD diagnosis.

We noticed that she was struggling with behavior and attention, aka following directions, even in preschool. Not a squeaky wheel nor a severe ADD case, educators and doctors gave us the "oh, she's fine, probably developmental, let's see how she does next year" through preschool, then kindergarten, then most of first grade. A(quiet) squeaky wheel was turning inside my head however. How I wish that in this post I could wax triumphant about a mother's knowledge of her child over the reluctant authorities. But alas, I cannot. "OK", I said, accepting their assessments instead of insist that there was something abnormal.

See, now there is the icky bit, "abnormal". Frankly, it took my husband, who himself has ADD, much less time to come to terms with the obvious (to us) fact that she had ADD. Because, of course, he could relate. But also because she looked a lot more like an extension of him than me in that regard. He didn't have my problem - the "I don't recognize that in myself" problem - the problem that is essentially an ego problem. That's right, I said it. I essentially did not have my child diagnosed sooner because of my ego. My husband didn't push the issue either, but then he probably forgot (That's an ADD joke. For the uninitiated and uncomfortable, it's OK to snicker).

And it is so easy - before the age of reason hits - to buy into the 'developmental' and 'she'll probably grow out of it' and 'all kids are distracted at this age' deflections. Because, well, you sincerely hope that your child will not be *gulp* abnormal. Who wants to jump the gun and slap a label, a potentially debilitating one, on your own child? Who wants to force the issue or speed to call your child 'different'? It's not of any obvious benefit, barring Munchhausen by Proxy syndrome of course, if there is no ensuing treatment.

Do I sound like I'm justifying here? You may be right. And it could be a little bit of both. Nothing like "repeat first grade" though to make you self reflective of your motives. We pushed her as we could without causing conflict (because children with ADD are experts at causing it) and sometimes caused it anyway, on a number of things ripe for it - homework, extra reading, keeping up with the class. I admit to feeling panicked when it was clear that she was far behind her cohorts in reading and recognition of high frequency words. But my panic and guilt at not finding a way to push her harder only added to her already just below the surface stress. At one point, early in the school year, I even attempted to bribe her with a Nintendo DSi. But, as we now know for sure, long term rewards do not work for people who can't really remember what day it is.

And, being an attention hound already, I didn't want to inadvertently (or vertantly, arh arh) create in her a taste for or create a lifelong pattern of garnering attention for bad behavior/illness/incompetence... Even now, having a brain doctor of her own (Daddy already has one so the concept not unfamiliar) is enough to make her feel special in a way that makes me cringe. Too much of that pull self up by boot straps, keep nose out of air upbringing I'm afraid seeping through. But stiff upper lip away her very real challenges I cannot. And so I head full on into the age of reason, right along side her. She is not me, and I not her. You know, on an intellectual level, that your children will not be exactly like yourself. But on some deep instinctual plane you just cannot help harboring hope that they will be. Reason says, do what you can to make it easier for her, make sure she's not falling behind, or not being noticed, or being misinterpreted. Reason does not say bury head in sand, ignore what might work, just because ego says so. Her life and little self doesn't get to be the way I imagined it just because that's the way my ego pitched it in my head. Shut up ego, deal.

After all, they don't call it the age of unreasonable - I guess that would be the teen years.

Friday, May 13, 2011

How We Learned to Love The Things That Suck: Time and Gravity

I was never one of those obnoxious twenty-somethings that was loud and pretty and attracted a lot of attention with my antics (sober anyway). So by the time I started graduate school at 27, even I was irritated with the perky little things that lackadaisically swarmed the campus of SDSU. "Time and gravity, girls. Time and gravity, happens to us all" I used to think as I did my Bay Area-I-have-somewhere-to-go-walk across campus and the be-booted shorty shorts clad late teen/twenty chicks ambled around as if they had all the time in the world. I understood even then, being myself only slightly less pert and perky than my school peers, that we would all grow old and fighting it was a fool's mission.

Fast forward some mfehmmummblemum... years later (see, vanity) and I get it. I eat my own words. I really get it. On the inside. I mean that quite literally too. I now understand that one cannot eat 5 pieces of birthday cake in a week's time and skate into the end of the week un-internally-scathed.

When one is no longer twenty-something, (thirty-something might be pushing it) some foods are just no longer an option. Never one to have much in the way of digestive issues, it has always been a big red flag for me to not eat any more of that (that which just went in the gullet) when the tum goes rumble, I have benefited, clearly, from the instant effect of being in touch with one's body. The cumulative effect however I am just now noticing.

Woke up feeling quite hungover and blech. But I had drunk only one glass of wine - how is that possible? Frosting. Lovely, fluffy marshmallow frosting from my daughter's birthday cake of last Saturday. That, plus one on Tuesday evening (Tuesdays and Thursdays are dessert night, they are designated, that's right. I have children, if you don't designate these things they get quickly out of control), one at her actual party, one chocolate one at a friend's birthday that same day, and one later that evening. It was one of those "darn it, it won't all fit in the container" pieces. You have no choice really, you have to eat it. The Chinese children of my youth would cry if they knew I had let food go to waste.

Funnily enough, for us mfehmmummblemum-somethings (vanity, again) sugar is just like booze. Easy going down, queazy in the processing. Who knew...

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

How We Learned to Love The Things That Suck: Or Rather, Things That Ache

Ah Spring! You may all say. But I say, "No not yet!" I know it is here because my head starts to ache. Something about the heat changing the pressure or the sun or the brightness of the... who knows. It's ouchy. I'm grouchy.

See, Spring here in the land of 363 days of sunny-sun-sunshiny days (pinch me!), is what the rest of you, across the country, call Summer. And it never seems to fail: Family will be descending, or rather ascending up to us from that Mediterranean climate/heaven that is San Diego, this weekend because of a little girlie's birthday party. And in typical fashion last weekend was lovely, moderate, cool breeze... this weekend will be 90s, no cool breeze in sight. From Spring to Summer in one short two hour drive.

Spring to me, marks the time of year when I must steel myself against Summer. Summer here is like everyone else's Winter. Except you can only take off so many clothes, before you get arrested. And even still, hot sun on bare skin is ouchy, make me grouchy. Maybe this year I will purchase a pair of sunglasses though. Seriously, I don't own any. It's sooooo sunny here all the time - relentlessly so (have I mentioned that before?). I just figure, what's the point? You'd have to wear them every single freaking sunny-sun sunshiny day. And frankly, I've never been that cool.

In other news: check out my new blogger digs. Eh? Eh? Nice, eh?

The reason for the change (my old template was so aughts) is that I am prepping for (read: trying to learn how the hell to do it!) self-publishing my novel, Pernicious Pill. I will be offering some short stories I've written on this site. So follow me here, or at Twitter, or Facebook, and I will let you know when I post a story and when the novel will become available.

Your comments here are welcome. I would love to know who my readers are and what you're reading these days.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How We Learned to Love The Things That Suck: Mama's Trying Week or The Can, The Bug, and The Egg

I think I am done now with Life in Exile blogging, as it were. Ready to put that beat bit of prose to bed. I cynically/optimistically now begin a new series perhaps called, "How We Learned to Love the Things That Suck". Past tense, because, of course, we haven't actually learned yet how... If I was learning as I went along it might be called "...Am Learning To..." But I like the irony so... here we go...

So Friday, the 18th my lovey and I are sitting at lunch, just about finished, and somewhat relaxed, considering. Just a couple of weeks earlier he had been let go from his job. It was a stressful, difficult to learn job and he'd been feeling the pressure. Reassured one week that he had time to learn (he'd been doing investigations on his own for only 7 months) and would not be allowed to fail, (in fact, they had just implemented the ironically named "No Investigator Left Behind" program) only to be let go another. In the letting go process the company had made a number of, one could argue, cruel mistakes. Being reassured that you won't lose your job and then being let go shortly thereafter is bad enough. But they had let AMX know he was being un-employed long before they let him know. So the letter canceling his company card arrived before the canning did. They also called on a Monday to schedule a "we've got to talk to you" meeting on a Friday. ??? "Honey, I'll be home from Paris in a month. Can we have a sit down and talk about the continuation of our relationship then? No, we'll talk about it then... buh bye" - like that, only more vague and evasive when asked a direct question.

So during the "we've got to talk to you meeting" they make some noises about stats and not being up to par and "should be farther along"s and whatnot - and hem and haw when shown the reassuring "don't worry we won't let you fail" letter. So they make it look like a firing for cause, but really it is more like a layoff. A number of weeks earlier supervisors had requested a volunteer to go "independent contractor" status, and no takers. Weeks after being let go, his job is still not posted on their website - they never had any intention of replacing him, only getting rid of low hanging fruit. So much for No Investigator Left Behind - probably modeled on Bush's No Child Left Behind, which should probably be renamed, Failing, Well Screw You! (Either or, take your pick)

The company also did the not so nice, and a violation of state labor statutes, thing called delay in getting final pay stub to former employee. When you let someone go, 24 hours baby. That's all you get... a week or so later, lovey's finally arrives so NOW he can file for unemployment... and with a high unemployment rate in our county, that nerve wracking phone call is delayed by a further week.

So by the time we find ourselves at lunch on a sunny Friday afternoon, after a morning of us both volunteering at our kids' school, we are finally feeling some sort of equilibrium come back into our limbs when... the phone rings and it's the school - come pick up your kids, they have head lice.


This is not a phone call one welcomes. But spring into action we did. So 12 hours later - after treatments and nit picking hair and spraying and washing and changing of sheets and towels, etc. - the last load of laundry goes into a hot hot hot load to wash out any potential critters at 1am. Oh no, but that is not the end, my friend. If you, or some small one you love, has ever had this affliction you know, our party was not over. It seemed like (though this is not literally true) I spent my entire weekend with my face in children's hair, combing out lice eggs (nits) and squashing live ones between my fingernails. I now have a new appreciation for and deeper understanding of some parts of the English language, such as "nit picking" and "louse" and "bug eyed".

Come Monday morning our daughter was still not ready to go back to school. No live ones allowed in school! But thank goodness for the leniency of NOT having a No Nit Policy. That would just be maddening, and detrimental to a little girl who is already behind in her studies. Finally, she gets the go ahead on Thursday. I relax, just a little too soon because...

When the kids and lovey came to pick me up from work that afternoon I noticed a red spot on her forehead. She had bumped her head on a metal pole at school and a giant egg had grown there. I asked her a few questions and she seemed to be fine. But as we made our way home and I began to make dinner (breaking a glass sending me into a stress-tizzy for a moment), Natasha Richardson kept creeping into my head. I was worried. But I couldn't exactly point to anything to be worried about. After dinner (Thursday is dessert night, don't you know), having no treats, we headed to Dairy Queen. When girlie started complaining her egg hurt we were close enough to the Urgent Care to swing by, so we did. As the physician asked the girlie questions her face changed. Seems she lost consciousness for a couple of seconds - and any loss counts. Off to the ER we go.

You learn things, being in the ER, for 6 hours on a Thursday night.

Number one) If you land yourself in the ER everyone will show up. If they are within driving distance they will arrive, if only to wait and worry-ish in the lobby (there will be a good amount of giggling, though I don't think at the inflicted's expense). So be heartened if no one shows up in your actual room they are probably all in the lobby. Making noise.

Number two) It's scary when the ER goes on lock-down because 'something' is happening or criminals or suspected criminals or some unknown something is happening 'back there'. As subtle as the staff try to make it, being a mom alone with a 6 year old daughter in the middle of the night in the ER, when it goes on lock-down, is not the most comforting place to be. Trust me, I experienced it, three times.

Number three) If you must go to the ER on a Thursday night and you are in Palm Springs, make the hike to Indio to JFK. Thursday night Street Fair apparently attracts trouble and the ER ends up busy. Who knew?

Number four) After midnight hysterical single women will visit the ER. That's not entirely fair, I don't know, they might have been married. But three of them, really. I think they just wanted to talk. I know how that is, I've woken up in the middle of the night too all stressed and worried that my life isn't going the way its supposed to. I suppose that is the prophylactic effect of children - they (mostly) keep you from going off half-cocked in the middle of the night. (Bet you never thought you'd read that sentence in your whole entire life.)

So, there you have it. It is now Tuesday and I am still tired. I feel something like someone has taken a cheese grater to my psyche. And yes, still nit picking, thanks for asking! Every night. Twenty one days. Go on, I know you're jealous you don't get to make your children hold still for you for twenty one days.

Note to self: some day this will all be funny, some day this will all be funny, some day this will all be funny...

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Life in Exile: No New Year's Reso-bleeping-lutions

As the new year begins I think back, not on all the great things that happened in the previous year as many do (though I know there were some pretty great things that happened, namely making a new acquaintance and starting a new job with a lovely lady, meeting a new great friend, starting a credential program so that I can validly apply for teaching positions, theatre things all well and revving forward) but rather thinking about all the mistakes I've made. Not just in the course of the last year. Why limit myself! But mistakes or should I say missed opportunities, and wondering whether I would be sitting here, in the desert, in a lonely office working a parttime hourly wage job, needing to supplement it with two other parttime jobs the sum of which does not even amount to one decent job wage wise or anything that could remotely be called a career. Or do all roads lead to the same destiny and I just need to breathe and learn to love the things that suck?

I go way back to when I was young and pretty and wasting my youth auditioning (when I could get them), waitressing and bartending at midling chain restaurants, married to an alcoholic. It was December one of those years and I coincidentally had an audition on the same day as my husband's Christmas party. He worked at a small company in SF and they were having their party at a restaurant in downtown, my audition was some blocks away at a new theatre company. I said I would meet him at the restaurant and all was agreed, but he got home early from work or didn't work that day (I can't quite remember) and decided to go into the city with me. We got off at the stop for his party, not my audition, and I was just going to say hi to the guys then get right back on the BART train. But when we got there, no one else was there. He said he would just wait at the bar. Doing the hours till party starts to possible consumption of alcoholic beverages (of an avid alcoholic husband in a party mode) quickly in my head, I decided to blow off the audition to stay with him, go for a walk around the block and hopefully reduce the cocktail intake. I was not successful and I remember his boss saying something along the lines (in all somewhat levity, of course) of "He's crazy, you should try to control him" meaning, "don't let him drink so much"... which of course I had tried, but his disease got the better of him and me as it usually did and made him look a fool and me even more foolish for being with him.

Missing that audition still haunts me. I try mightily not to engage in what ifs as I do not believe they have any inherent value per se, but sometimes that McClelland melancholy I inherited gets the better of me. That was the only audition I have ever missed.

Then we move to several years later when taking classes to qualify me to get into graduate school I turned down an opportunity to become a TV news reporter. Granted, there was no guaranty of a job but there was the implicit indication of help in that direction in the "Ryan, you've got talent, you're going places kid" support and encouragement. I turned it down because my classes in electronic journalism I found depressing. I didn't want to spend my life investigating bad news though I apparently would have been good at it. I just thought it would make me drink more than I already did (if you can imagine what that was, being married to an alcoholic and all you might see the validity in my worry).

But I often wonder if that wasn't a mistake. Would I have been successful?

Then shortly before the end of graduate school I got yet another one of those "You're going places kid" offers of support from a professor I had an internship with. "What about working at Qualcomm, or something like that? They start at $65K" Nope, I said, I'm goin' to Hollywood to make movies! This proves at least that I am not greedy, lest anyone was wondering. But scary to think that I might have been better off. The idea that I make just about the same as I made in graduate school is frightening, not to mention wrist-slashingly-depressing... thank goodness I have children to keep me sane. The only upside to that career track not taken is that some years after I moved to Hollywood and was gainfully and happily employed working for a producer and 'going places', Qualcomm laid off some 60,000 newly hired workers in the tech bust.

Then there was my break with above mentioned producer. I had worked for him for four years and needed to have some bigger role in the company or learn something new. Only so much can be learned in Hollywood behind a desk and I had reached that limit. While looking for a job I was offered one with a foreign sales company. It was, however, shockingly similar to the one I had just sat in for four years. Alone in an office, making just about the same money but not doing much different than what I had been doing. I laugh now at the 'career assistant panic' that made me turn the job down (as well as the $ offer being reneged on just as I was to step through the door). What I was worried about then I wallow in now, but not even as good as I could have had it there... because I am here.

The only upside to that missed opportunity is that 9/11 happened shortly afterward and the job would have entailed traveling that October to MIPCOM. Having not done much for work travel I didn't have the kind of familiarity comfort that would have been needed to stave off the post-9/11 traveling by air fear that took over almost everyone. Plus by that October I was pregnant and sick sick sick.

Then there was the Israeli film festival which hired me for a day, "just to see". I can understand why they did this. They had a panic exit, in case of bombing you know. But with a 10 month old baby, and lactating like crazy, it was uncomfortable being away. Who knows if I would have done well or not. It was essentially a sales job and I is no salesman! When later that day my husband got the job in Palm Springs he'd been hoping to get - to restore his place as breadwinner and bolster his self worth after over 10 long months of unemployment - I willingly gave up the film festival job. But what I also gave up in one fell swoop was my career in all total, such as it was, living in LA for good, such as it seems, and the building of relationships that comes with raising children alongside your friends in the same area.

Already far away from any family in LA, in the desert we were now far also from friends. I didn't realize the isolation that would grip me or how difficult it would be to shake off. The wrongfully imprisoned inmate still sees himself as a prisoner, and can't help but comport himself so. Even still, visiting friends in LA (even if rarely) I feel as though I have snuck temporarily back into the fold and will be kicked out if discovered at any moment. I have to learn to navigate all over again the outside world, so cloistered and dim is this one.

I was even offered a job with the film festival here but I had very small children at that time and a husband who worked odd hours. The income and hours I would have put in would have put me in the red in the final analysis after all the various babysitters had been paid. It just didn't make sense, as much as I would have liked to have been out of this office once and for all.

But here I sit, welcoming a new year, wondering if I could have done better. If I had been more selfish?, more hungry?, more ruthlessly driven? I don't suppose this is a calculation men really ever have to make, or do, but I wonder if I had just not considered the effect of my actions on my spouses and done what the hell I wanted, if I'd be any better off. Or maybe in some strange sci-fi like fate driven process I'd be here now anyway.

Anyway, happy new year... my non-resolution (because I do it now anyway) is to take my fate cheerfully, like so much medicine... maybe I will try harder this year to learn to love the things that suck.