Faith?

I don’t know how many other people engage in theology at 6:30 am on a Tuesday when they should bloody well be asleep, but….apparently I do. My guilty secret is that even though I loudly declare myself to be an atheist, I actually want to have faith in more than just the spirit of a fat man in a velvet suit who shimmies down the chimney once a year to leave presents for children. (I’ll spare you my musings on the existence of Santa for now).

I have been following a homemaking blog for almost a year now. I liked the author’s personality enough from the get-go to be willing to ignore how many times she interrupted her posts to talk about Christ (I normally find such behavior annoying). She believes in God for reasons that are solid and right for her. She spreads his word in her own way, not because she believes Christianity is the only true religion, but because she wants others to be as happy as she is. I can get down with that, honestly. I truly respect her faith, despite knowing that Christianity is not, and never will be, something I can get into.

In all honesty, I am ever so slightly envious of her ability to ride through life’s storms by clinging to the divine power that she believes in.

How different would the last few months have been if I had had that kind of faith? Would my heart hurt so badly if I had truly believed in a divine reason behind all the trauma?  Would I have felt less alone if I had truly believed the Goddess heard me when I cried like a lost child, begging for a miracle? Would I have stood stronger and made better decisions if I had thought an almighty power had my back and would show me the way to a better life?

How do people continue to believe in a loving divinity when they are going through hell on Earth?

I really want to know.

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The Abyss of Loneliness

I have a hard time making friends…and that is a massive understatement.

I don’t know how other people do it so easily. My sister (and my husband) can walk up to a complete stranger, chat them up, and walk away knowing how many kids they have, what they’re having for dinner, and what their bad habits are. Me…I have a hard time even conversing with the person ringing up my groceries. My shopping expeditions usually go something like this:

Me: “Good morning!”

Cashier: “Good morning, how are you?”

Me: “I’m okay.  How are you?”

Cashier: “I’m doing okay.”

Silence. Thundering, embarrassing, overwhelming silence.

Cashier: “Thank you, have a nice day.”

Me: “You, too….”

What I cannot convey to these passing strangers is the aching loneliness that fills me when I walk away from such an exchange. How much it hurts to realize that even if that person recognizes me later, they usually won’t go out of their way to greet me because I didn’t give them enough of myself to find a connection with me.

It extends beyond such exchanges, of course. The world of social media has actually made it worse. It is terribly depressing to log into Facebook and see 250 acquaintances, and realize that there is only one person on that list (outside my family) who could show up at my door with no warning without sending me into an immediate and world-shattering panic! Everyone else…I know of them. They know of me. I know some of them follow what I do and truly care, but I am terrified to break the ice and speak to them beyond the random exchanges that happen about cat memes and political videos.

E thinks the solution to my loneliness is to “go out and meet people” and he gets very frustrated (even angry) when I try to explain that that isn’t going to solve the problem. It never has, it never will. I think seeing me struggle to interact with the other parents in our birthing class has shown him that it really isn’t that simple for me, but still we get into angry spats about it.  Trust me, my love: I WANT to go out and meet people. However, I am scared…so scared that sometimes I literally curl up in a corner and cry just thinking about it. When faced with a social situation I usually feel like a four or five year old again, sitting in the corner with my thumb in my mouth, ashamed of the marker all over my face. It’s hard to approach adults on equal footing when you feel like a child. There have been so many times when a person I would like as a friend has asked if we could hang out, and even though I have desperately wanted to say “yes”, I have made up an excuse –no matter how flimsy- and stayed home.  Why? Because I’m afraid….of rejection, of inevitable gossip, of making a fool of myself … the list goes on.

It took me a very long time to acknowledge that what I am experiencing is not a temporary issue. I always thought I was just shy, or that I was trying to be friends with the wrong people. “When I’m older and can go out by myself, it will get better,” was one of my favorite mantras when I was a teenager. I blamed it on the fact that I was homeschooled for a while- but my brother and both of my younger sisters were also homeschooled, and they have no issues with social settings (quite the opposite, actually). Then I tried to find contentment in the idea of being an introvert. “I like my alone time,” I told my mother one time, and she nodded understanding. The truth I have never admitted before is:  I don’t. I actually really enjoy having company, but I’m scared of seeking it out. Most of my hobbies and skills are solitary, it’s true…but I like to have company while I do them. When I am alone the silence roars around me like a howling wind, and I know if it sucks me into the void no one will even notice I am gone.

I’m going to be 28 in a little less than 3 months. I am having some life problems that I can’t write about here that would be so much easier to field if I had some girlfriends…but I am terrified of talking to anyone but my mother about it. I am also expecting a baby in six weeks- that baby is going to grow into a child, and that child will want friends that I don’t know how to find for him.  I want to home school him, but is it fair to do something that will inevitably stymie his social growth, given my won personal issues?

The anxiety I feel is debilitating. The loneliness is crippling. The empty hours of silence when other people would have someone to laugh with are horrifying. I am humiliated by my inability to fill a pause in a conversation without seeming too loud, or awkward, or downright rude.  Why do some people seem to always know exactly what to say? Why can’t I be one of them? What is wrong with me?

My loneliness has gotten so bad that I have decided to seek professional assistance in overcoming it…but I can’t afford that right now so I have to weather a little longer without it. If I’ve made it this long, surely I can wait a few months, right? I just have to cling tight and find joy in the small things as I always have.

Having difficulty finding cheer today, but it has to be there somewhere…

M

Intimidation

In my last entry, I spent almost 5 solid pages of 10-point type telling the world that I am happy and successful specifically because I told society’s expectations to fuck off.  Ironically enough, I find that since then I cannot write in my own freaking blog. I am paralyzed by the knowledge that even 1% of the people who read the “Story of M” might come back and scan my mundane plans, be bored silly, and write me off as another random loser.

Very few of those people will ever have any recognizable individual impact on my life, so why do I care what they think? I shouldn’t- and it baffles me that I do.  I have spent twenty days trying to talk myself past how intimidated I feel, and I can no longer ignore the fact that somehow getting all that attention -no matter how passive or distant it was- changed how I view this blog. I went from writing for my own emotional health to feeling like I had to write to please an unseen audience…from one second to the next.

I am posting this entry tonight as a way of challenging myself to keep going despite how self-conscious I feel. Tomorrow (or perhaps sometime over the weekend) I plan on posting about my plans to buy a house in the next couple of years. I also want to write a bit about what’s going on with my pregnancy, what my husband and I have been doing lately, and my plans for Christmas.

Yawn-worthy to everyone else on the face of the planet? Probably.  This is where I have to force myself to say “oh well” and write about it all anyway. Increasing a viewer count graph is not the only worthy goal in the world, after all.

Cheers,
M

The Story of “M”

I am annoyed, and the annoyance starts with this image:

I ganked this image from this blog entry, where a total stranger made some fairly offensive generalizations about a very broad spectrum of people, and upset me so badly that it’s taken me four days to finally figure out how to say what I want to say about it.

WBY (and everyone else), I would like you to meet M.

M was born in 1986, and thus falls smack dab in the middle of the “Generation Y” WBY is talking about. M was lucky enough to be home schooled by a  ridiculously intelligent (actually, Absolutely Freaking Fantastic In Pretty Much Every Way) mother. She also grew up in what was basically the lap of luxury due to the one thing WBY’s post got right- her Baby Boomer father did indeed have a great career, and he was remarkably open to his family living however the hell they wanted to while he worked his butt off far away. She owes him a lot for that experience, because without it, she would not be who she is today. Not only did he provide for her and allow her to grow up in a great environment, he set an insurmountable example of what it means to be a hardworking parent.

M is one phenomenally talented individual. Oh God, you’re thinking at this point. Another egotistical artist. You might even be tempted to close the window.  But wait- there’s more to this story. M is phenomenally talented…but for many, many years she had zero understanding of how important her talent is. That giant ego demonstrated in the first sentence of this paragraph did not exist.  You see, even though M grew up in an incredibly nurturing environment where she essentially got anything she wanted, could ask any question and get an answer, got to teach herself at her own pace and ignored the subjects she disliked in favor of constructing tiny replicas of Stonehenge out of found objects, M’s potential was stymied by social expectation. It started very, very early.

The social pressure went something like this:

Who do you think you are? You are not a unique and special snowflake in ANY way. If you acknowledge you have special aspects to yourself, you are an arrogant jerk and no one will ever like you. You are a failure if you do not focus on and succeed at practical skills. You deserve to be unhappy because you are a silly girl, and there are at least eight million people who are better at what you do than you are. Your place in life is to work, and to keep your mouth shut.  You are a terrible person for wanting to do something different.

It felt like the entire world (except for her family) had something bad to say about her creativity and passion.  The pressure came from her friends; from books and magazines; from the radio; from the internet, and from TV and movies. Artists were not successful people. Artists got mocked and lived in attics and never had enough to eat.

When M was 14, her mother started pushing for her to go to Art School.  Their conversation went something like this:

You see, M had a dream in her head. It was pretty simple, and it looked something like this:

That dream trumped everything else. Being a smart cookie, she knew that the unstable lifestyle and income of an artist would not allow that kind of dream to come true. She didn’t dare acknowledge that for some exceptionally talented people it can come true. The social voices in her head wouldn’t allow that kind of arrogance, after all.

In order to achieve her dream, she reasoned, she would have to find the same kind of job security that her dad had.  With this goal in mind, she studied hard until she turned 18, and then she got her GED. She passed the tests in the 99th national percentile (in case you aren’t aware, that’s Really Effing Good), and proceeded to field a lot of Random Junk Mail from prospective college while trying to figure out how to move forward in life.

M spent the next nine years of her life trying to figure that out. She worked a lot of different jobs, most of them at or just over minimum wage because that was all anyone was willing to pay. She always did fabulously; in fact, in all of her adult life, M has only “lost” one job. Oddly enough, the job that seemed the most secure and promising lead to complete disaster, while the job that seemed the most like a slacker Dead End Job ended up being her closest ticket to what the world would recognize as “Success”. Here’s how it went:

M decided to change her major from Business to Web Development, and went to school for several years. She did that because she felt that would be a more practical and focused career in today’s internet-based world. When offered a job as a junior developer for a small local business, she took it with glee. Here was her key to success! Finally, she could be a Real Life Web Developer!

9 months later, the economy crashed. As the least-tenured employee, M found herself laid off. To add insult to injury, because she was attending college, she did not qualify for unemployment. She did not find another job….for a very….long…..time.

In that time, she broke up with her boyfriend and had to move back home. She was extremely grateful to her parents for allowing her to do so- after all, she truly had no other option. She stayed at home for five years. For a year of that time, her entire life was crammed into a space smaller than a twin bed. At some point during that year, she also had to grin and bear it when people she had thought were her friends chose to publicly humiliate her…multiple times. She didn’t think it was very funny, but they sure did.

A few months after she moved back home, her brother told her “The pizza place you worked at a few years ago is hiring again.” She had liked that job a lot, but had left it when she became a Real Life Web Developer. M had nothing to lose, so she went in for an interview. Of course she got hired, and six months afterwards, she finally achieved her very first TRUE reward for hard work: She got promoted to supervisor.

M worked there for the five years she lived at home, and in that time she learned a lot. She learned about cost analysis, labor control, and other important aspects of running a restaurant. She learned some Spanish –a great skill to have in the restaurant industry- and how to keg carbonated beverages. She also learned how to lead by example, keep her mouth shut, and maintain focus on a goal. Unfortunately, despite all she learned, there was some truth to the idea that she had a Dead End Job, even as a supervisor. Her employer could not afford to pay her very much, and because it was a family-owned business there was no room to move up. She could not afford to live on her own while working there, no matter how hard she tried.  She was trapped- and despite applying for hundreds of jobs, she never got a call back.

Also during that time, M suffered from a series of severe stress-related breakdowns that resulted in abject academic failure. In three years of school she had maintained a 4.0 GPA no matter what else was happening….and that term she just couldn’t keep up. She got Fs in 4 out of 5 classes, and a D in the 5th. She was put on academic probation, which she successfully fought, but then decided not to go back after all. Instead she went on medication for her “depression” and decided to transfer to a different college –and a different Major- to see if that would help. Despite all her efforts, she couldn’t make it, and she failed again.  For the first time in her life, M “gave up”: she never went back to school.

There were times in that five year period when M struggled hard to even make it through the day, and it was impossible to see a future that looked like anything other than this:

In those times, M found herself turning back to her talent for comfort. She produced more art in those years than she had in the entire decade before. She explored new areas, discovered new processes, and covered the walls in her room with a visual map of her state of mind. She donated hours upon hours of graphic design time to a nonprofit organization she was part of, as well. Once again, her mother started asking her “Why don’t you make art for a living?” Once again, she responded with her old practical arguments, and tried to re-focus on her restaurant career.

Of course, at that point something rather unexpected happened:

The Occupy movement happened, and M’s life changed forever.

Seriously.

If you’ll remember, WBY, you said that “GYPSYs” expect not only a green lawn, but also flowers and a unicorn. When M got involved in Occupy, she came to the sudden realization that despite working herself to the point of a mental breakdown, she had yet to see a single green blade of grass in her future. More importantly, she realized that it wasn’t selfish depression making her future so barren.

It wasn’t barren because of unrealistic expectations. It wasn’t barren because of laziness. It wasn’t barren because she was a bad worker. It wasn’t barren because of poor career choices. It was barren because of the subconscious messages she had been receiving from society at large since she was very young. It was barren specifically because she had so single mindedly focused on what society expected of her, rather than what she expected of herself.

M came away from Occupy with a new resolution in her heart: She would prove them all wrong. She would succeed in her own way, and she would be happy! Riding that wave of confidence she updated her resume, applied for more jobs….and shortly had her choice of opportunities. She accepted a position as a Real Life Manager of a regional dining chain. She made a salary. She got married to the man of her dreams.

Although things seemed to be getting better on the outside, nothing changed on the inside. Her futurescape remained barren, and she was no happier than she had been working at the Dead End Job before. In fact, it was worse. She was now in the position she was supposed to be in according to society’s expectations and she had earned it honestly. Despite what the outside world thought of her success, inside she knew that she had simply played right into their game again, and in terms of her own happiness had gotten nowhere. Despite dreading her work days, she did what she had done at every other job before: she dazzled her managers with her competence, dedication, and ability to learn new skills and conform, chameleon-like, to any new environment or process. She had to support her family, after all, and M does not believe in doing less than her best.

Then M discovered she was in danger of getting cervical cancer. She had to have an extremely expensive procedure done to remove the high-risk cells, and the surgery required that she have her birth control removed.  Six weeks later, she saw this:

M and her husband were fabulously excited! They had both wanted a baby, though they both knew that “now” was not exactly the best time. They knew having a child was expensive and difficult even at the best of times, and that they had a lot of hard work ahead of them. They got to work right away.

Unfortunately, M had to learn the hard way that She Is Not Superwoman.

The ten hour days on her feet that she was required to work as a manager were difficult even before her pregnancy… and over the course of the next six months became so terrible that she spent hours of each shift crying in the bathroom.

The six, seven, and eight day weeks they started scheduling her for once they learned about her condition were impossible. They did not honor the work restrictions her doctor placed on them.  For six months, she went to work, came home, ate, slept, and went back to work. Each day was a blur of pain, tears, and stress-spawned fights with her husband who only wanted to help. Her midwife grew more and more concerned about the possibility of serious complications or miscarriage if she did not get a break.

M began to recognize the signs of what had happened the last time she got this over-stressed. She started forgetting conversations, losing track of priorities, and making crazy decisions that she would never have made in her normal state of mind. She cut herself off from her friends rather than allow herself to pick fights with them, and spent hours each day staring mindlessly into space, crying.

It was right around that time that M started to seriously think about what her mother had been asking her all those years. Why didn’t she make art for a living? What was actually holding her back? She had sold art before, after all. Expensive art! Why was it so far beyond the realm of possibility for her to continue to do so and make a living?

Do you know what happened next?

A unicorn walked into M’s life. That’s right. A fucking unicorn. A unicorn walked into her life, waltzed around her house planting flowers she hadn’t even known were missing, and then knocked on her door and said he would do all her chores and give her a foot rub if he could just crash on her couch. Naturally, M wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that.

The “unicorn” was otherwise known as M’s big sister, who had made a successful career out of her ability to sell pretty much anything. She was now the creative director for a very prosperous group, and she wanted M’s help. Specifically, she wanted M to work from home, part time, making more money than M had ever heard of…

…making art for her clients.

It couldn’t be real, could it?

Oh, but it is. It’s very, very real.

I am M (and that’s my husband E on the right).

I was a sad, depressed, crushed little girl who watched herself getting more sad, depressed, and crushed with each passing year, and could never understand why I couldn’t find happiness.  I was doing everything the world told me I should do (including having an abysmally low level of self-respect that infuriated my family and drove my poor husband bananas) and I still wasn’t getting anywhere.

Five weeks ago, I admitted that I simply did not ‘fit’ in society’s views of what I ‘should’ be doing. Three weeks ago, I got the job offer of all job offers, and I achieved a dream so far beyond my wildest expectations, so much sooner than I had ever hoped, that I am still reeling in shock.

The sad part of my fairy tale is that if I had stood up for myself as a teenager and said “NO, I am doing what I love and the rest of the world can just deal,” I could have skipped thirteen years of misery.  My mother tried to get me to go to art school over a decade ago. I pushed that fantasy in the mud because society –comprised of people like WBY- had been telling me that being an artist was a waste of time. I had been told so many times that it was sheer arrogance to expect to make my living on my talent, that I actually believed it. I truly believed that I needed to focus on having a secure career rather than focusing on what brings me joy. On top of all of that, I believed that it didn’t matter how hard I worked, I didn’t deserve to get anything in return but more work, and that is why I never spoke up for myself.

In retrospect I have wasted an alarming amount of my life pretending that I am just another lemming simply because it might offend someone that I had something they didn’t.  The truth is…I AM special. I do stand out. I have an unusually high level of creative talent, and I can now finally admit that I  am proud of my skill. I will never again sit by and let another human being degrade my ability, or tell me that my life choices are wrong.

I don’t know if what I have to say will get through to WBY, or if that person will even read this post. All I can hope for is that maybe somewhere out there another sad, depressed, and crushed human being who has been stomped on by society at large will read my story and realize that they, too, are special…and they, too, deserve to be happy doing what they love.

We all do.

Cheerfully Yours,

M

In the field of opportunity, it’s plowing time again.

The opportunity that will make or break me landed on my door step last week. Well, actually it landed last year around August, but for some reason I was still afraid to fly so I didn’t take it. It’s a good thing the person offering me this opportunity is familiar with my talents and skills and was willing to offer it to me again! This time –if I can pull myself together- it will be my salvation.

I have been offered –and accepted- the opportunity to work as junior creative talent for a group that does design work for big corporations. Assuming that all goes well on Monday I’ll be a contracted freelancer (I think that’s the correct terminology….don’t hate, I’ve never done this before!) working from home. It pays well enough that even if I only get ten hours of work a week, I’ll be able to squeak by paying the minimums on my monthly bills. If I do well and I start getting, say, 20? Life will get really easy. Finally, if I do REALLY well, and get more than that…I can finally say good bye to debt. I have to say…that’s some damn good incentive to do well, even if I’m not taking into consideration all the other benefits of the job!

By this time next month, I could be working from home, and using the talents that I have always felt so insecure about to support myself in a legitimate career. It’s not exactly the crazy artist dream that sparked the creation of this journal/blog /thing, but it is a very good start. I’ll be working in an environment that provides me with all the support and direction I need to succeed … and I will never, ever have to interact with clients. It will also provide me with more free time than I’ve had since I was a teenager…what on Earth will I do with it all? Thinking about the freedom that is just within my grasp is utterly intoxicating!

I am going stir-crazy while I wait, that’s for sure. I can’t start until next week, and I can’t turn in my notice at my current job until I know for SURE that this will work out (so…say…two weeks from Monday?).  I want to turn in my notice tomorrow. I want to tear all my manager uniforms up, and buy clothes that actually fit me. I want to dance, and sing, and howl “hallelujah!” at the moon.  I want to paint my son’s nursery in a rainbow of colors and glory in the fact that I don’t have to scrub it off until I feel like it. I want to stay up all night and watch the sun come up tomorrow while eating ice cream and talking about the future with my husband. I want to celebrate in every way I know how, in fact!

And yet, I have to wait…and while I wait, my insecurities and neuroses creep up on me like childhood monsters, threatening to take away all my joy. Even being aware of them, they are hard to push aside. I am naturally a worrier, and one of my biggest concerns right now is that the people who recommended me for this job might have vastly overestimated my abilities, and set an expectation that I will not live up to. The only way to get past that concern is for time to pass and for me to prove myself not only to them, but also to myself. My family is convinced I will be fine, and at moments like this, when I am reveling in all the positives, I am also extremely confident that everything will work out great. I’m just….not very good at waiting. I never have been.

Good grief! Why did I let myself believe that being in the restaurant business was better than pursuing what has been the center of my universe for my entire life? I kill my soul for 50 to 60 hours a week at that diner. I come home tired and sweaty, unmotivated and grumpy, and I never have the time, money, or inclination to do anything I love. Meanwhile someone who shines like the fucking archangel Gabriel has been standing by patiently waiting for me to notice her through the doom and gloom. She wants to pay me the same amount of money to work less than half the number of hours because she needs my talent, and I’ve been so wrapped up in my own insular world that I forgot she even existed.

What the hell was I thinking?

My son seems to have picked up on the fact that I’m feeling better. He is kicking and kicking and kicking, and every movement makes me smile a little more.