Archive for April, 2016

Bipolar World

April 30, 2016

For more than two years I have been working at my day job (and weekend and night job) at a demanding pace more suited to a much younger person who is still trying to build a career. Partly because my employer was not adequately staffed for the number of clients who chose our organization, partly because I’m enough of a perfectionist about work that I am not easily able to leave things half done.

Since November, the workload has begun to come down, and I realize that I have mastered enough of the quirks of our horribly user-hostile data base to be moderately efficient in how I enter my case documentation. My client load, as of today, is only modestly above the target set by the State agency that contracts with my employer – a state of affairs I find curiously unsettling. Used as I am to a pressured work week, I’m not sure what to do with myself when I encounter a few days at a time with relatively little scheduled.

Today was such a day – the visits I thought I would be making were postponed by the clients, leaving me with a few calls, some extended “verbal hand-holding” of highly anxious individuals, the organization of my visits and calls due to be made in May – and quite a lot of “down” time.

The change has been recent enough that I haven’t identified the “next less urgent” level of work to which I can actually now turn. Whatever those projects prove to be, they must be of the sort that can be initiated and then set aside, to be picked up again as and when I find myself without client contacts to be made. It’s the nature of my work that new tasks can be assigned at any time, and also that clients may call at any time with new needs.

Being always available is one of the job descriptors. As is being flexibly ready to rearrange one’s planned day at a moment’s notice. Also patience with people who don’t return calls, don’t keep scheduled appointments, don’t notify of changes in contact numbers, and the myriad other small annoyances that come with working on behalf of somewhat irresponsible individuals, or those with mental/emotional problems that interfere with focus and communication.

Like the client who described our recent weather as “even more bipolar than I am”. Which indeed it has been, warm into the high 70s one day, below freezing, snowy and windy by the following night.

I begin to sense in myself an analogy to bipolar behavior, in that I feel as though I’ve been dropped flat in a trough of non-doing after the high of constant pressure to meet deadlines and to get to all the clients on my (formerly excessive) caseload as often as mandated. I’ve functioned without spinning out of control in the manic phase, but I feel less sure of my ability to maintain an appropriate energy and pace now, fearing that I may lose myself in a lightening of the load that feels too much like depression.

There would be no risk, if I could divert the “free” work time to other uses. There are more than enough activities and projects I’d love to resume, that I’ve set aside for lack of time, during these past two years of intense work. But I can’t become unavailable for those empty periods; I have to be reachable by both phone and email, if I’m not out of my office at a client visit.

Not doing, because one is waiting for the phone to ring, is a guaranteed means to bring oneself down. It is strongly discouraged in dating and other social environments, and I know it is not healthy for me during my work day either. Determining what one can accomplish, beyond housework, while being simultaneously “on call” is an interesting challenge. Suggestions, anyone?

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I needn’t have become concerned. A recent hire, completing the roster of my coworkers, has already given notice, there’s an uncovered caseload to be parceled out once more, and I’ve had a new member assigned to me as well. That State mandated target caseload is once more fading into an unreachable goal, and my risk of falling into the depressive side of this bipolar world is gone.

Signs of the Times

April 24, 2016

I order books from Daedelus, usually fiction, often mysteries. I enjoy exploring places and time periods unfamiliar to me, via the settings of the stories, and am particularly happy when the writing is really good – vivid, original in its imagery, witty or incisive. I have been especially pleased, recently, with my discovery of Richard Crompton whose lead character is Detective Mollel, a Maasai working in modern Nairobi. Crompton skillfully weaves tribal culture into the present-day narrative.

But the interplay of traditional and modern African culture is the topic of a different essay than this.

Quite by chance the previous two books I read each featured a lesbian protagonist. What stayed with me was not that coincidence, but rather the matter of fact tone of the stories, each of which adhered to the expected blending of investigation into “who/how done it” with development of the character of the investigator. One was a current inhabitant of the U.S; the other an historical figure, a writer herself of “puzzlers”, now cast into the role of investigator of fictional events which might have occurred in her life. Both authors (Ellen Hart and Nicola Upson ) meet my criteria for a good read – they create the backdrop world for their stories with clarity, originality, and a fine use of language. Both present the love relationships of their protagonists in a style appropriate to the time period in which they take place. And both happen to present those relationships as lesbian.

What most struck me, as I read the novels, was both how matter-of-factly the lesbian material was included in the stories, and how matter-of-factly I accepted it as normal and natural to the characters. I think I’ve always been comfortable with the fact of homosexuality, certainly never one to think sexual orientation should be relevant to employment, housing, entertainment or any other aspect of public life.

One of my first (boy) friends shared with me that he enjoyed dressing in women’s clothing and sometimes thought he was born into the wrong gender body. Later in life he began exploring the process of changing gender identity. I lost touch with him about the time he met a woman whom he had come to love deeply, and whom he said he could share his life with as he was, “somewhere in between”. Perhaps for Jan, and many others, the solution to the North Carolina bathroom crisis should be the European model familiar to me from decades ago – unisex bathrooms, with the calm expectation that women would walk past men using the urinals, to reach the stalls at the back of the room.

But I digress from my original point, that mystery novels now include lesbian relationships as a matter of course, are marketed to a general reading public, and are not singled out or “flagged” except perhaps by the intolerant few who still think they have a divine right to judge. With so much strident name-calling and ugly rhetoric usurping public dialog, it’s reassuring to find quiet examples of tolerance and acceptance between the covers of a good book.

Making Friends

April 17, 2016

My husband’s current work schedule is such that I am alone on Friday evenings. I’ve been scheduling late client visits for my own work, or a massage or other self-care activity into those evenings, but this past week my appointment was cancelled at the last minute. I found myself, after shutting down work at 7 PM, in that odd state referred to as being at loose ends. Sort of wanting to get together with someone for conversation and perhaps a drink, sort of not wanting to be put to the effort of driving to town (twenty minutes). And I was made aware that I do not have much of a list of people to call to meet with at short notice. In the end I settled on the couch with a small drink and a good book and read the evening away. Enjoyable, relaxing – but not sociable.

Between chapters I guess I also thought about the nature of friendships, and socializing, and the fact that I’m one of those who has a few close friends (not necessarily close in proximity), and so many personally engaging work interactions that I usually want quiet and silence and solitude at the end of my work day/week. Spending long working hours helping people with their health needs seems to use up my quota of “people contact” tolerance, leaving little to devote to building friendships of the sort that can provide either planned or spontaneously arranged relaxation.

Or maybe it’s just my personal makeup?

Being an only child, raised by parents who preferred not to “be responsible for other people’s children” as my mother expressed it, and consequently not free to invite playmates to my home, I think I lost out on learning how to relate easily, happily, casually with others. I don’t “do” party chitchat, and never know the latest gossip.

It occurs to me that my strong preference for writing – as emails, letters or this blog – rather than talking on the phone comes from the same lack of learning to connect in that way as a young person. It must seem strange to those fully comfortable in the current “connected” environment, that I was in my early twenties before I lived in easy proximity to a telephone. There weren’t home phones in Saigon, and only very few in Paris where my father did have a phone in his study, but it was paid by and used only for his work.

To this day, I very rarely spend more than a few minutes on the phone in conversation. The exceptions are those special times when I talk with a dear friend who lives at some distance from me, Washington (the state, not D.C.), Minnesota, or Singapore for example. Our close personal connection is already established, I can “see” the person I’m speaking with, and am able to make myself ignore the discomfort of hanging onto a phone. (Don’t say to put the phone on speaker – my conversation is not for all to hear).

A preference for writing over talking should not be taken to mean I do not enjoy dialog. On the contrary, my close friends know that I take great delight in a lively discussion. One of my clients, an elderly gentleman living in a tiny hamlet in the rural “frontier” of New Mexico, saves up news tidbits from his TV watching, that he hopes will “get me going” on a social or political topic. He’s been known to be intentionally provoking, most often when he has also been shorted on good conversation. We agree more often than not, but both enjoy dissecting the broader implications of some current event. He is fighting cancer now – seemingly successfully – and during a recent celebration of a “cancer undetectable” medical report, he humbled me with his comment that he wasn’t ready yet to leave our debate dates.

One of the measures of self-acceptance is purported to be the ability to be comfortable with one’s one company.  Achieving that status does not, apparently, confer freedom from self-questioning, at least at the “I wonder what/why/if” level. I’ve not just spent time alone, but have traveled, eaten in restaurants, gone to night clubs, to the theater, and camping with only myself for company, enjoying all those activities as readily as I have savored them while sharing them with others. My evening with a glass and a book was no less satisfying than it would have been in the company of a friend. I do wonder what would have to change, for me to have a circle of people whom I could have called to share the evening with me?

I’m not one to say it’s too late to change – especially not with the huge alterations to my personal life that have occurred in the past few years. I do question, in the specific case of my social interaction patterns, whether I’m sufficiently motivated to change. I’ve tried, at times in the past, to participate more readily in casual social events and achieved some modest success, measured not just by people coming out at my invitation but by receiving invitations to join them on short notice for coffee, or lunch, or to go to a party. Those periods didn’t last, largely I must admit, because I don’t fundamentally enjoy what feels to me to be superficial chitchat. And yes, I am aware that my lack of enjoyment is recognized.

“You’re too intense (substitute intelligent, intimidating, independent) for most people” is the feedback I get.

With Popeye, “I yam what I yam”, and it’s okay.

Which doesn’t prevent me from wondering at times what it would be like to be someone different, at least in the area of socializing. Perhaps I’ll find that out in my next lifetime? Meanwhile, I have a good book to get back to reading, a stack piled on the shelf waiting for me when this one is done, and an amazingly compatible partner due home in just a few minutes.

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What Am I?

April 10, 2016

Once one has lived a moderate number of years, a large variety of situations can lead to reflection on the nature of self, what it means to be K, or N, or Mrs. M. Retirement planning seminars stress the importance of developing a set of interests outside of one’s profession, to ease the transition to a new concept of self. Being abruptly laid off due to down-sizing prevents this sort of planning. So does the onset of physical illness, or an accident which seriously alters ones capabilities. Even a slowly progressing illness can reach a turning point, where activities previously manageable suddenly become impossible.

 

A common expression of the challenge faced in such a transition is who am I if I’m not … working as a plumber, teaching classes, acting in plays? At a still more sensitive level, who am I if I can no longer button my shirt, use the bathroom without assistance, or sit outside in the sun when I wish to do so?

 

In an ongoing conversation with a dear friend of long standing, this transition has been jokingly referred to as the Do Be Do Be Do discussion. My friend recently referred to an unnamed source whose contribution to the topic was the statement “God is a verb”. I took that into contemplation today, during our monthly Quaker Meeting for Worship, and found myself reflecting that both doing and being are verbs, i.e. action words. Shouting, dancing, running, doing are perhaps more noisy than sitting, dreaming, accepting, thinking, being – but all are verbs, all are forms of action.

 

So standing and waiting is being active, albeit in a passive-feeling way.

 

My friend’s dilemma arises partially from his career as an actor, radio personality, radio program director – highly satisfying activities which involve exchange with an audience, a cyclical/reciprocal engagement with contributing to the lives of others that has been a primary value throughout his life. Now that he can no longer participate in those roles, and must often measure achievement in successfully moving himself from point A to point B (because Parkinson has control of his body) he questions what he is contributing to the well-being of people around him. Is it sufficient, to accept gracefully the offers of help which others do feel good about extending? That is only half the cycle. What is traveling outward, to be received by the other, processed and returned?

 

If God is a verb, and Being is a verb, then in simply being, we are godly. If also God is Love – loving is a verb – then in loving we are being godly. Loving travels outward, to be received by others, processed and used – and hopefully also returned. Reciprocation need not be tangible to be complete.

 

Another participant in today’s Quaker Meeting contemplation shared her morning’s experience of “shedding” – elk on her property shedding antlers, a friend shedding light on a problem, and the value of shedding outdated concepts of oneself. Shedding is a verb. Perhaps the key to a smooth transition from active verbs like doing, to quieter ones like being, is to be ready to shed constricting definitions – of self, of what constitutes contributing, of what it means to love.

 

The challenge – in a positive, active sense – becomes one of accepting a new and refined sense of manifesting that of God within. Aging with grace, letting one’s love shine out in a smile, holding a state of being such that others walk away from one’s presence feeling enriched and glad to have been there… these are valuable contributions. In the noise and busy-ness of daily life, such sweet giving is too rare. We need more of such Being, more of God manifesting through us, to both strengthen and soften our human interactions. I can’t think of a more important purpose to incorporate into daily life.

Returned

April 3, 2016

I’ve done the one thing I’ve been told is lethal to a blogger’s career – abandoned posting without an explanation. Do I have any followers left? I guess I’ll find out now – or maybe not, since I rarely received comments even when I was posting reliably, although Cheryl at Artzzle always responded and I greatly appreciate her for that.

When I started this blog, I thought I was embarking on a new phase of a sporadic writing career that has spanned decades. I finished a novel and was starting to look seriously at marketing it; a blog with followers was a step toward finding an avenue to get my novel published and read. Then I got a job – a really good job with most of the characteristics I desired: working with people, working from home, good pay and a modestly flexible schedule. The volume of work has, however, been rather overwhelming, stretching to 55 or more hours a week. My limited “free” time has been devoted to a new marriage and other changes in my personal life. As I said in one of the few posts to go out in the past year, I’ve been too busy living to reflect on or write about my experiences.

The demands of my job are finally reducing a bit, to something closer to 40-45 hours a week and the schedule within my personal life has settled as well, giving me two evenings a week, alone, which I can use for interests that have been shorted of late.

One of those interests is reading. Most of my life I’ve buried myself in a book whenever I had an unoccupied moment – even standing in the grocery checkout line, or on occasion when stuck in a traffic jam. I was fortunate to be encouraged to learn to read very young, sitting in my grandfather’s lap and following along as he read me “I Went for a Walk in the Forest”. Fictional worlds soon became my escape from an unpleasant family life. Long before the household was transferred to Asia and then Europe, for my father’s work, I had visited many countries – both real and imaginary – and had great adventures solving crime with Nancy Drew, or uncovering ancient tombs on archeological digs on the plains of Argolis.

What better indicator of just how demanding my job has been, than the realization that over a period of 18 months I read at most 6 books – the number I normally devour in a month. In the past half year, I’m pleased to see, by the size of the pile of books ready to go to the exchange, that I’ve been able to resume reading at something closer to my habitual rate.

And with reading comes reflection, ideas, and the urge to resume writing.

So here I am, probably not with any consistency yet, but back from the deep silence of the past … oh my goodness, nearly a year!

My apologies for the abandonment.


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