14 September 2009

The world's longest learning curve

This has been an interesting year. Usually when someone tells me they've had an interesting year, it is usually always positive. In many ways my interesting year has been positive.

I got a fellowship that will pay for my research. (FINALLY!!!)
I got a raise with said fellowship.
I got the data I need to make meaningful progress on my research.
I had a couple of dates.
I got to travel again all over the west and I got to take Jake with me.

But on the other hand, much of my interesting year has been..well...I don't want to say negative but something of the "lessons learned the hard way" variety. There was a short period of time in my life....from about the ages 24-27, that I felt I changed significantly. Around that time I felt like my thinking came into clear focus and I began to "consciously" live my life instead of just living from day to day, taking whatever came my way. I was deciding how I felt about the world and my place in it. I figured it for a normal growth pattern--part of the process of growing up.

I don't mean to imply that I thought I had it all figured out (although youth is notorious for that), I just felt like I was self-aware. Today, I realized that at no time since in my adult life have I changed that much. That was, until this year. This year feels like a second growth spurt.

I noticed quite early this year, that I had become increasingly quiet. I didn't talk as much as I used to. I didn't impress my opinions on others like I had done as a young adult. I didn't really enjoy debating EVERY LITTLE THING like I once did. I did get mad and get all "henked up" as Bek says, but usually only when I felt like I was the victim of some injustice. But recently, I haven't felt a need to comment or speak up or lead a discussion where I wanted it to go. I've relinquished leadership positions. It isn't that I don't care. I care a great deal about things and people and the world. In fact, I think I care more now than I did in my youth. I have wondered whether my education has caused me to talk less and listen more. Or maybe I realized that all that energy and hot air I expended never changed a thing. Or maybe it's a trait that comes with age. Or maybe I was just getting tired. Or apathetic. I found it curious, but certainly not so curious that I thought it abnormal.

I'm not sure whether it accentuated or exacerbated the problem, but I traveled extensively this year. I love to travel. I must have been a gypsy in a former incarnation. Most of that time D-dog Jake was my only companion. Jake doesn't say much on a trip. When you spend that kind of time alone, your bad habits begin to come into focus. Or perhaps I should say, more appropriately, your personality defects begin to emerge from that quiet place where they usually hide when you're paying attention. With no on there to distract me, the irritating things I did didn't have a haze of activity and conversation to purge them from my short-term memory. I had no one there to agree with me when I wanted to put my own spin on a situation. Eventually, I just had to deal with the facts and the fallout alone. On one of these trips, I had a conversation with a man I was dating and that conversation went badly, then went from bad to worse, and then from worse to relationship ending. I realized that I drove that conversation to its natural conclusion. It was like I couldn't help myself. It was like watching a train wreck but being impotent to stop it.

At the same time, I experienced a rather abrupt change in my primary professional relationship--and with that one I was strapped in the passenger seat. I am still unclear why this change happened and whether I contributed to the relationship's decline. I don't know what will be the ramifications of this change. All I know is that things were said to me that I found unfair, unfounded, and unforgivable. I felt betrayed. And I never saw it coming. I haven't forgotten those painful words, but neither have I have spent months analyzing what happened. Perhaps it was the severity of the comments that prevented me from taking them seriously. Like the way that deep cuts don't hurt. You just sit there and watch them bleed with some sense of awe. Somehow I managed simply to put the issue aside. To leave it alone. To not deal with it as a way of dealing with it. Yes, my relationship with this person is permanently damaged. Where before we were often friendly and shared life events with one another, now there is nary a word that passes between us that isn't work related. I have simply accepted that this person must honestly believe those hurtful things she said, and move on. I am not going to let someone else's bad opinion of me stand in the way of my goals.

I realized, in quite glaring terms this summer, that I'd do well to shut up most of the time. Not every thought in my head needs an ear. And I learned this as those thoughts piled up in the ears of people that I didn't necessarily want to push away. In the work relationship, I think I've done the right thing. I don't think about what passed between us, I simply don't think about her at all. By ignoring the offense I've managed to maintain at least a workable relationship. In the personal relationships, I did the wrong thing and both were lost.

Which brings me to today and the reason for this post. I went to a meeting today in support of my peers in a fellowship program. My peers wished to express some concerns they had about an assignment. They had questions. They felt abused. They felt the need for solidarity to have their concerns taken seriously. Whether or not I agree with their concerns (which actually, I did), I certainly agree that professional issues need to be addressed in a professional manner. They appeared dedicated to addressing their concerns in a professional manner. This I can and did support with my presence.

The group set up a meeting with "management". As is usually my habit these days, I think it is important that younger people get some experience doing the hard things in life. So when the time came to speak, I allowed them to speak. They fumbled a bit. They were apologetic but determined. They were nervous. They perhaps could have more clearly thought out how to communicate their concerns. Unpolished, yes. But they were never, ever unprofessional. I sat quietly and listened as one professional member of "management" blew a gasket and called our concerns "outrageous" and "unbelievable", and then stomped out of the room never to return to the meeting. I watched all this transpire with a sort of "wow, you don't see that every day" sort of disbelief. I didn't personalize it. I didn't internalize it. I didn't accept responsibility for it. I recognized it for what it was. Bat-shit crazy behavior. I realize that while I witnessed bat-shit crazy behavior, I didn't have to "deal"with bat-shit crazy behavior. I don't have to feel guilty just because someone else hopes I will. I don't have to smooth over ruffled feathers or speak my mind. I don't have to do jack shit. And that is probably the smartest thing I could have done. After the meeting had concluded, I told the remaining manager that our purpose was to ask questions and express concerns and discuss an issue of common concern. Our purpose was not to attack management. I felt that was the most important thing that should be communicated to the manager who stomped off. And then I stopped thinking about it.

Tomorrow is another day and I have bigger fish to fry.

I wish I'd just figured that out before I fubared two personal relationships in one year.

06 September 2009

Am I fearless?

I was reading through a series of blog posts by The U, and dude got me to thinking. He posed a simple question. If you were to make this statement:

What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.1

What would you be talking about?

That got me thinking. This isn't about fear of dying. Death removes all fear or dread. Job intended to convey a fear he had to live with. What befell Job was, to him, a fate much worse than death. A fate from which there was no relief. If Job's fate befell me, what would that circumstance be? What is it I fear most?

I have accepted that those close to me will die one day, as will I. Death is a part of life. I don't fear it or dread it. Illness leading to death, no matter how painful, slow, or debilitating is also a part of life. I don't welcome it, but neither do I dread it. Dying as a result of some awful accident? Really, does it matter the form in which death comes? It is coming and it is relentless.

Loss of my senses. Sight. Hearing. Troublesome, yes. But I would adapt and lead a full life, I think. Loss of limb. A mere inconvenience. Paralysis. I'd learn to do wheelies in my chair. Can't communicate? I have a full life going on inside my head most of the time anyway. My thoughts would just be my little secret.

So what am I afraid of? Loss of freedom? Having to be or forced to be dependent on someone? I have a brother in prison. While I agree that prison is not an enviable lifestyle, I think I would survive it.

Rape? As someone who has dealt with sexual assault, I can say with confidence that it can be overcome.

Being alone? I'm not one to get lonely. Fear of dying alone? We all die alone.

Fear of failure? Fear that I have wasted my life? Fear of being forgotten? Fear that I will disappoint my loved ones? Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. I will fail. I have wasted a grand portion of my life. I will be forgotten. I have disappointed my loved ones.

I think people who have children have fears I will never know. Fear for a child's health and safety. Fear for their future. Those are not my fears.

I was beginning to wonder if I was fearless. But then something began to nag at me. Something small. And the more I thought about it, the more the lack of it seemed to fill me with an emptiness that I didn't want to consider. Because I am living with that thing I dread everyday.

My fear is that I will die before I know love. I'm 46. I'm past the halfway mark here. I haven't found a loving relationship in my adult life. I don't know what it is like to love and be loved in return. I have looked, not looked, waited, pursued, turned over rocks, kissed frogs, given up, taken up the search again. Zilch. Nothing. Nada. I'd love to say I loved my husband, but it's a lie. I don't know what a loving relationship feels like. I don't know what an honest love between a man and a woman feels like.

Funny thing. Unlike Job, for whom the thing he dreaded most arrived on his doorstep and settled in for the long haul, I live every day with that thing I dread most, and the only thing that keeps me going is the hope that one day it will move along and leave me to my happiness.