Monday, May 30, 2011

Musical Mondays: Hot Tub Cameo

So my next door neighbor, Jeff, is in this awesome local band that is probably about to make it big. They're called "Hammer No More the Fingers" and they are awesome. They just came back from a pretty long tour in Europe (I think 12 cities). They probably have Avett-Brothers-like chances of making it. We hope, anyway. The thing is, it's hard to pigeonhole their sound. Which I think makes them sort of great, but may impede their ability to get picked up by a major record label. Anyway, Aaron and I are watching closely and trying to spread the love wherever we can.

So today's musical monday is dedicated to HNMTF. Below is their newest music video, filmed by our friend Ned. My neighbor Jeff is the one who looks like a young Tom Petty, wearing the blue and red warpaint towards the end. ALSO! Look for a cameo by my hot tub at the very end of the video (they filmed the last scene there).

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Trains: A Love Story

planes trains

2 hour wait to get on

immediate bording

partial undressing necessary - shoes, jackets, belts, etc

nobody expects me to take any of my clothes off

groped or x-rayed by random people

no one cares

16" of legroom, 24" of seat

24" of legroom, 36" of seat

the perils of assigned seating - annoying people, middle seats, drink cart elbow smashing, etc

choosing your own seat (adventure?)

bag check fees, bag weight limits, carry-on limits

no fees, plenty of storage, no fighting for overhead compartment space

few permissible times to leave your seat

you can always leave your seat

no where to stand even when you do leave your seat

a whole car dedicated to dining; standing room at the end of each car

tray tables

actual tables

one outlet, if you're lucky

one outlet PER seat

overly airconditioned, pressurized, germy ice cubes

the ability to go stand between cars and get fresh air

crying babies, snoring passengers

the quiet car

6" porthole windows

gigantic windows

the view from 36,000 feet

the view of parts of america you may never have seen, up close

annoying, controlling flight attendants

cheery conductors who make themselves scarce



All we have to do is make them faster and they'd be a clear winner. As it is, I still think they're a clear winner, it's just that sometimes scheduling necessitates a quicker method of transport, unfortunately. I am waiting for the train renaissance, man. People are going to have to realize one of these days what a worthwhile investment it is. Think of the jobs rennovating and expanding that kind of infrastructure could create! I own stock in several railroad companies - Norfolk Southern, CSX, etc. I really believe trains are the superior mode of transport, and I'm hoping, someday our country will come back around to that perspective.

Till then - CHOO CHOO!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

More Train Thoughts

So there’s this thing I’ve been doing lately. I’ve become romantically involved with a good friend of mine. It’s tough to quantify exactly what this involvement entails. See, I wouldn’t call it dating, primarily because we live in different states and there is none of the regularity associated with dating, but secondarily because there is no explicit commitment. But neither would I call it not dating, or I should say, neither would I call it just hooking up. There’s more to it than that, for me anyway. BTW - I don’t intend to name him here, but neither do I want to make up a stupid fake name for him. I’ll probably just refer to him by the amusing moniker my boss has given him, “confusing man friend”, or “CMF”, for short.

One of the toughest challenges to our involvement, or perhaps I ought to say one of several tough challenges, is that this unquantifiable nature of things necessitates trying NOT to contextualize, to understand what my CMF means to me and how he might fit into my life more long-term. But most of us, when getting involved in a romantic situation, have a strong natural tendency to want to do exactly that. Else, why are we doing it? But perhaps one of the only things that is clear about our involvement is that my CMF will be in no such position for perhaps quite a long while, if ever, and so there is not much point to my contextualizing him in my life if he is unable to do the same.

And yet, I still sometimes catch myself meditating on these context-dependent, “broad-spectrum” questions. Making observations of his behavior or tendencies and wondering, how do I feel about that? Is it compatible with me? Could I live with it long-term? What does it mean?

I’m on a train today. It’s led to a LOT of time for thinking and analyzing. Also, writing. This is the third blog entry I’ve composed already (though the other two were about food politics and trains, respectively). Naturally, the CMF has been on my mind a good deal. And there’s one quality of his I’ve been thinking about a lot, not for any particular reason, but I feel compelled to write about it to help me sort through my thoughts. Important to note, though, that this is primarily a thought experiment. Or an idle marinating. I know there's no reason in particular to be thinking about it, but I am, so I'm brain dumping.

This CMF, see, I’ve known him a pretty long time. We first met when I was 17, so it’s been ten years. While we’ve not always had consistent contact over those ten years, in the style of many of my friendships (and the style I naturally aspire to) we were usually able to pick up where we left off when we did get back in contact, as though no or little time had passed. And long before the romantic part started, when he was just an MF and no C, there was one quality in particular about him that I appreciated and took pains to mention when describing him to others. CMF, with only the rarest exceptions, always tells you exactly what he thinks. And he doesn’t give up on people easily.

As has been discussed on this blog a multitude of times in great detail (most recently HERE), my life has not taken the direction I expected. And I’ve often been unhappy with where my choices have led me. One of the most problematic things about this faulty trajectory is that most of those closest to me, both friends and family, have been either oblivious to it or willfully ignorant of it. Except my CMF. He has never let me forget that I’m not where I want to be, that I used to have different dreams (no matter how vague they were), that I refused to accept this type of existence when he first knew me, and openly mocked or was mystified by those who would choose it. And he has never been afraid to tell me so. I probably have 15 emails saved from the past ten years, each of which contains a little bit of that sentiment somewhere in its long, thoughtful reply. It is so, SO important to have people like that in your life, and they are so rare. It is one of the things I have always appreciated about him. I know that when I ask him what he thinks of a decision, or a thought process I’m having, I’m going to get the honest truth. And when I get complacent, he’s there to remind me I shouldn’t be. He doesn’t let me settle for anything less than what I deserve, what he thinks I ought to deserve.

The thing is, I think this particular quality takes on a different flavor in a romantic relationship. One thing I must emphasize right up front, before I explain what I mean, is that it’s not the honesty part I have trouble with. I would never, EVER want someone I'm seeing to be dishonest with me. I absolutely, one hundred percent think that honesty is the most important characteristic of a successful relationship (though certainly not the only important one). However, more than loyalty, more than affection, if you can’t count on open communication you may as well give up now. There is no chance of survival without honesty because it is the backbone of everything else. For example: loyalty that is dishonest leads to resentment. If someone disagrees with their partner on something but feels the need to agree because they want to be unconditionally loyal or avoid conflict, it will just build up into resentment (either consciously or sub-consciously) until it creates a serious problem, whereas if addressed head-on initially, faces such better prospects of reaching resolution or compromise.

So it’s not the honesty. It’s the small but inherently adversarial essence of this quality that I think could be a problem.


Ok, back to CMF’s unfailing honesty and accountability-keeping. What’s a good word to describe this quality, btw? It’s not just honesty, so I can’t just call it honesty; it’s the confrontational nature of the honesty. Shall I borrow a word from Colbert and say ‘truthiness”? Perhaps solely for word economy I shall. So...this truthiness. I’m not sure this is a universal tendency of people or unique to the way I operate in a relationship but I tend to rely, heavily, on my partner/significant other for support. I desire encouragement, cheerleading, when things are on the upswing, consolation and sympathy when they’re not. And support for the days when I come home and say, “Today just wasn’t my day.” This may be partly because of the E in my ENFJ; my energy is so extroversion-focused on other people that I devote very little time to myself. To being my own cheerleader or consoler. So maybe it’s not universal. Either way, I hardly ever ask for the support I need. Therefore, I think someone who is unafraid to remind me I’m not meeting my goals might combine with my tendency not to support myself and perhaps make me feel like I’m consistently under attack, or being criticized. Which, to be fair, is a feeling no one likes. But it’s especially difficult for me, I think, to deal with criticism (just something I know about myself). I take things personally.

Now practically, this may not actually be the way that this truthiness pans out, but I am theorizing that it might feel that way. I think there is at least one way to mitigate this effect. If the partner couples that tendency to be truthy with a strong, vocal tendency to support and comfort, and affirm, it would probably be ok. But see, when you’re not in a relationship with someone, or at least not a quantifiable or committed one, it’s hard to know exactly how supportive they are as a romantic partner, and how actively they voice that support. I mean, don’t get me wrong, CMF has been SUPER DUPER supportive as a friend over the years. But it’s just totally different in a relationship. It’s inherently not the same. You can’t use one as evidence for the other.

I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll be able to see how this theory comports with reality. And that’s sort of tough. But sounding it out and understanding that it’s a potential challenge has value in and of itself. Or at least to me it does. I like to know what I might face because then I can think about how I might deal with it, or speculate if I could. It’s one of the very few ways in which I’m future-oriented (being generally more past-oriented). So today it’s been on my mind, and now I’ve sounded it out. And it helped.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Didn't Realize How Much I Was Looking Forward

Anticipation is a bastard.  He sneaks up on you and worms his way into your chest, undetected until the moment fate charts him a new course and he swoops off leaving a gaping, vacuous hole in your chest where he had been living with hope.

It's nobody's fault, it's just the nature of Anticipation.

Amended to add - it's really ok. Sometimes you just need to get the feeling out. Catharsis and all that. Plus being able to put a name and description to that which ails you can be healing. Gonna go enjoy the sunshine for awhile.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

We Didn't Start the Fire

I may have stumbled on an interesting theory when eating dinner with family two weekends ago. 
I forget (ha) exactly how we got on the subject, but we were talking about memory.  Specifically, early memory.  In the conversation, I recounted an upsetting incident from my AP psychology class in high school.  While we were learning about memory, one of our assignments had been to write a short paper about our earliest memory.  Then we talked about them in class, identifying which parts of the brain may have been involved in their storage, the types of imprinting likely used, etc.  I had a REALLY hard time with this assignment.  I could not really come up with a good early memory.  In the end, I made something up.  Most of what we had talked about with early memory was that it was pretty one dimensional - oftentimes being dominated by just one or two of our senses.  A strong smell of cookies say, and the sight of your kitchen table's yellow gingham tablecloth.  Or the feel of your favorite white blanket, tufted under your fingers, and a memory of seeing snow outside.  I don't even remember what I wrote, but I do remember that I made it up.  It seemed like no one else in my class had a hard time with it.  Most of them picked out memories from somewhere around 2 or 3 years old, some a bit earlier, some a bit later.  Now, I know lots of things that happened to me around that age, but I am certain that the "memories" I have of these things are actually just the memory of someone telling me about these things happening.  I lack that visceral sensory connection to a certain feeling at a certain place in time.  For example, I broke one of my collarbones when I was just a year and a half old, falling off a bench.  I have no memory of this incident, but I could tell the story start to finish like it happened yesterday.  How they didn't know what happened at first, but when my mother was giving me a bath later I just wouldn't stop crying when she touched my shoulder, yadda yadda.  But all that I would tell you is what I have heard.  It was frustrating, I explained to my family, not to know what my earliest memory was.
Later in the conversation, we were talking about some things that had happened when we lived in Parsippany (where I grew up, from birth to age 16).  Somehow, the subject of our house catching on fire came up.  For those who have never heard the story, when I was about five, my mother's white station wagon spontaneously caught fire in our driveway.  Unusually, it was parked only about 6 inches from our garage, which quickly caught fire and spread.  My parents were out somewhere, a movie maybe, or dinner.  Aaron was already at college.  This left just Rachel, Seth and myself.  Apparently, Seth and I had already been put to bed for the evening when our neighbor from across the street, Mrs. Polito, called to tell Rachel she saw smoke coming from our garage.  Rachel apparently then let our dog, Max, out into the fenced in backyard, rushed upstairs to get Seth and I, and whisked us across the street to Mrs. Polito's.  I'm sure at some point, someone called the fire department, though I don't know if it was Rachel or Mrs. Polito.  All that setup is recounted from other people's memories told to me (and perhaps not even 100% accurate timeline wise), but what comes next is my own memory, strong as the day it was created.  I remember standing on the Polito's lawn.  I remember the feel of the grass under my bare feet (no time to grab shoes).  I remember the feel of my cotton nightgown blowing against my legs in the soft night breeze.  I remember the horrible smell of smoke drifting across the street on that air.  And most of all, I remember the paralyzing feeling of fear.  A little bit of fear for myself, though we were out of danger then, a little bit of fear for our 'stuff', if the whole house burned down, but primarily - fear for my dog.  I hadn't seen my sister let the dog out of the house, and even though she assured me that's what she'd done, I remember feeling absolutely convinced that my dog was still trapped in the house and was going to die.  My beautiful, wonderful dog - my best friend for as long as I could remember.  I was so afraid.  I'm certain at some point we were brought inside the Polito's house, and I think at one point I even remember there being hot chocolate, and I remember sirens when the fire trucks came, but these things are all sort of disjointed and out of sequence.  Everything except standing on that lawn fearing for my dog's life.
And when recounting this piece of the memory to family, I realized how much it sounded like the earliest memories of my classmates I had described.  Just two or three senses involved, just a single, powerful snippet.  It occurred to me at that moment that the fire may just be my earliest memory.  Which to me, raises a whole host of interesting questions.  Sometimes, traumatic experiences create 'repressed memories' - where memories of the event are pushed out of explicit (conscious) memory into subconscious memory.  But what usually goes missing is the memory of the event itself.  In this case, I have a very clear memory of the trauma itself, but no memory of anything before it, at least that I can recall as being from such.  I wonder if there has ever been a case where trauma made you lose memories that came before.  Certainly I've never heard of such a thing, unless it's physical trauma (i.e. a brain injury, where parts of the temporal cortex used for storing memories are actually damaged).  It would be an interesting thing to look into, to see if such a thing has been observed clinically.  But furthermore, I wonder about the potential ways in which that event may have shaped my brain.  In my AP Psych class, I wrote a paper about how I had suffered from deep separation anxiety for about 3 years after the fire.  I didn't want my parents to leave the house ever, being convinced something horrible would happen if they did.  On the rare occasion they did go out, I insisted upon being allowed to sleep in their bed, with my brother, until they came home and relocated us back into our own beds.  I think I thought that if something bad were to happen, at least I wouldn't be alone.  Or maybe that my brother could somehow protect me.  To boot, I often found it difficult to sleep, plagued by recurring nightmares of home invasion or kidnapping, or fire.  Or I found it difficult to GET to sleep, thinking I constantly smelled smoke.  I would come downstairs and declare to my parents, "I know I smell smoke!" and would only be satisfied there was none by a walk around all the outlets of the house to show no fires had started. But in the years subsequent to that class, I've actually sort of started to believe it was more than just separation anxiety.  I think it may actually have been a form of PTSD, though certainly a less severe one than happens to adults, especially those of non-contextualizable things like wars or natural disasters.  But still.  PTSD can have longstanding effects on our ability to process things, emotions, etc. or cause us to be more anxious than we ought be.  Mess with our flight or fight instincts a bit.
Anyway, I don't know what all that might mean for me, but its certainly been interesting to think about for a time.  In general, memory is something I always feel like I need to devote more time to, though I think I live more in the past than the average bear already.  Tough to explain what I mean without beginning another long story.  Therefore, this is all, for now.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Musical Mondays: A Perfect Game

Had a nearly perfect game today. And this song captures my feeling of positivity perfectly. It's about me today. Which is nice every once in awhile.

Two Door Cinema Club - "Something Good Can Work"

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Living More Alive

I'm still feeling it, every day a little more. Lately, I am feeling so much about so many different things. Some days, I think my heart will explode right out of my chest. I feel it straining the bounds of its container right now. I didn't remember what it felt like to live this way, it's been so long.

He knows me. How does he know me so well? His intuition is right on. I am a restless soul. I do take things personally. Insights. Turning my eyes inward, I do know a few things.

I need to get rid of some stuff.

I need to help people.

I need to love myself a little better.

I need to make some changes.

I am like one of those flowers that closes its petals at night. I wake up every day and have to remember to bloom all over again.

I was floating down the river, resigned to float forever. Now I'm entering the rapids. I am paddling paddling and the water feels alright.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A New Kind of Understanding

I haven't cut myself in eight years. I realized something today. I am still a self-mutilator.

I am laying on the cold tile floor of some bathroom I don't recognize. My head is swimming, or thinking of swimming, a child orbiting a pool of obsidian blackness and occasionally dipping in her toe. My body is alternately a furnace and a glacier, fluctuating with dizzying speed. My clammy hands are clenched into fists and I hug myself while rocking slowly in time to the waves of pain. Time slows, and the misery feels like a train traveling through an endless tunnel. I can't find the light. I've been in this place before. Or a place just like it. It is so dark.

Eventually, the pain starts to recede, turning down the volume that's been screaming in my ears. I begin to unfurl my tensely fetal body. Still not ready to be vertical, I slide an arm under my face, eager to relieve my cheek from the frigid floor. With my other hand, I trace my finger over the tiles, making block letters with their uniform squares. A-B-C, creating the alphabet. D-E-F, letters that form the language of my destruction.

I am not well. I am sick. When I look at myself, my eyes do not know how to interpret what they see. All mirrors are fun-house mirrors and the blueprints for the architecture of their curving glass surfaces are filed away in my mind. When I open a drawer, I never know what kind of plan is going to pop out. There are no labels, there is no organization. Sometimes it is a lovely design, some soaring building of boundless beauty that would be a testament to the highest capabilities of human innovation. More often it is a dilapidated, vandalized eyesore, not even worth the money to tear it down. Distorted and exaggerated in the curves of the mirror, flaws sometimes grow so large they are all that can be seen.

I am afraid of the mirrors. Instead, I seek a reflection of myself in others. Danger there, so much danger. For a fun-house mirror, while confusing and unpredictable, offers no judgment. It only silently offers distortions of what is real. But a reflection in others automatically implies a different perspective, a judgment and comparison of viewpoints. Instead of one voice offering criticism, there is now a river of voices. It is so much harder to quiet a crowd.

Do you know what almost always quiets a crowd? Food. You get ten people around a dinner table and they're going to laugh and chat it up while they wait for their food. But once it comes, there is suddenly silence - the quiet immersion in eating, the pleasant distraction.

Flash back to the cold bathroom floor. It is food that brings me there, and food that has been my downfall. No longer having the stomach to rend my flesh, yet somehow having the stomach to stuff myself. To watch myself expand, filling up with food and suppressed emotions. How many times have I had the same conversation with myself, prone on the bracingly chill floor? About how it's the last time I end up there (at least in my control, I've occasionally ended up there outside of my control). About how it can't be good for me. About how I ought to deal with the emotions that send me there, rather than trying to drown them in a torrential downpour of mindless calories. About how I promise to love myself enough not to do this to myself anymore.

But I do not know how to love myself unconditionally. Or if I do know, I forget more often than I remember.

It is so much more complicated than a simple metaphor can make it. I still must dig deeper, get at the roots of the problem. I am just so tired. And so sad. Still, there is value in understanding the problematic behaviors that are offshoots of the tree grown from the roots. I must understand everything there is to know about me.

I think the solution lies not in looking in mirrors, nor looking in others, but in looking inward. Yet there too I see things I do not like. How to make peace with the things I dislike and value the things I do is a lesson I never learned. I am trying. I really am.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ummm, Excuse Me...

...but when did THIS happen??? As Liz Lemon would say, "I WANT TO GO TO THERE."

Photobucket         Photobucket

Photobucket         Photobucket

I'm not usually one to go out for celebrity crushes. My ex once asked me if I could sleep with any celebrity who would it be, and I was all, "Eh, I'm over it." Particularly because the usual Hollywood standard of beauty for men is all 'barrel chested' and 'chiseled jaw' or whatever. Blech. But damn, JGL, you may just make me change my mind.

Also, even though it's not musical monday or anything, I've got some more music to share. Courtesy of Nikki of Pasta and Pistols (see link at right), this song just makes me want to bob my head with the windows down on a sunny day. Not the video, so much, which is actually a little creepy. But the song for sure!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Happy Mother's Day - Belatedly

I'd like to stop and take a second to tell you how much I love my mother. Figured since it just passed, I could make it a belated Mother's-Day-Related statement. My mom and I have an amazing relationship. I think we have a closer, more honest bond than probably 90% of parents and kids. I credit the year we spent in Michigan without my father with making a big leap in growing our closeness. When there was no one around but the two of us, there was no choice but to spend a lot of quality time getting to know each other, and sharing with each other. I mean, I suppose there was a choice - I could have been the typical petulant teen, and not given her the time of day (instead a bunch of lip) but I knew that would be a lot less satisfying for both of us. So we grew pretty close, and we've managed to maintain that. The other thing that's totally awesome about my mom is how she never fails to surprise me. I always think I know her completely and then she'll share something with me, or react a certain way, and I'll think - I've just scratched the surface on this brilliant, loving, wonderful lady. And I can't think of anything better to illustrate both our closeness and the quality I just described than the following anecdote, from a conversation she and I just had today:

~(all names changed to protect the anonymity of those concerned)~

Me: So I was over at Trey's house last night, and Liam called.
My Mom: That must have been awkward.
Me: It kind of was. You know, now that I think about it, I think they both think I'm sleeping with the other one, when in reality I'm not sleeping with either one of them.
My Mom: Keep up the good work!

LOL. I died laughing. Never thought I'd hear something quite so cavalier and coquettish from someone normally so conservative. That woman is crazy, and I love her HUGELY. And I just thought I ought to let the world know.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Martha Graham

Today google celebrates the founder of contemporary dance, Martha Graham. As a person who loves dance and danced for over ten years, Martha has always been an inspiration to me. Like Margot Fonteyn or Baryshnikov, she was a living embodiment of the power of expression. Some of my most alive moments were found when wrapped up in the uncorrupted outlet of free movement. Today, prompted by the google doodle, I spent a few minutes researching and remembering her. And I found the following amazing quote, which I wanted to share. It perfectly describes how I used to feel about dance, and how I wish I could feel about anything these days:

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."

Thank you, Martha, for your inspiration. I'll keep searching and keeping my heart open, listening for inspiration and the call to be an instrument.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Musical Mondays: Time Takes Time

Great album, great song. On my brain today so that's what ya get. Sorry it's nothing new~

Sunday, May 8, 2011

She's Nearly Crawling On Her Knees

Don't you want to know how the joke ends?

Oh, like that one's not in the rotation.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Your Dreams Are Trying to Tell You Something

There are two recurring dreams I have with regularity. They speak to an insidious fear, and they are very similar in what they try to tell me, though their occurrences are quite different.

In the first dream, I have a dog. Usually it's a very small, white, helpless looking lap dog. Maybe a poodle or a maltese, or a bischon. At the start of the dream, I'm super excited to have the dog. I haven't had a dog in years; my dog Max died when I was 15. After that, through my rapidly improved allergies, I realized I had been allergic to Max all along. In the dream though, I have somehow gotten over my allergies and can once again have a dog. So I am super psyched. For a little while in the dream, I'll spend time hanging with the dog, playing and snuggling and all that. But eventually I'll leave my house, with the dog at home, and I'll go off to do stuff. The activities in the dream are always different, and hard to remember. It may be grocery shopping, going to work, hanging with friends - whatever - but the idea is that they're just mundane life stuff. But then I suddenly remember that I've been gone for far too long and have forgotten to feed my dog, or leave food out anywhere. So I'll rush home and the dog will be dead, or emaciated, or will have run away because it was starving and needed to find food. And I'm crushed. That I have forgotten something so vitally important, shirked my responsibility so horribly and fundamentally feels awful.

The other dream I have constantly puts me back someplace I have mixed emotions about - school. College really, although sometimes it's high school, almost invariably it's college. Similar to the dog dream, I'll be hanging out with people, doing things socially or otherwise, and the semester will be progressing. Then, 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through the semester I'll realize I've never been to class. I don't know what my schedule is anymore, I haven't done any work, and I'm in danger of failing. But I don't know how to figure out what they are, without having to show up and admit that I have never even begun. Again, it's this feeling of having a responsibility or an expectation to meet, and failing utterly. Forgetting something really important in favor of something totally unimportant.

There's a common theme here I think. I think on a very surface level, the dreams speak to my desire to be a dependable and responsible person. But digging deeper, there's more to it. In these dreams, there's always this sense that the activities I'm doing in place of what I'm supposed to be responsible for are mundane and unimportant. I can't help but feel that the dreams are a manifestation of my inner desire to be doing something more meaningful with my life, and that desire's struggle against more unimportant aims. Even though I've never had a particularly good sense of what that is, I've always had the feeling. And it's been growing all the time since I got to North Carolina.

Moving here, I took a job that involved less challenge and less responsibility than the job I held in New York. I don't have the ability to take ownership as much anymore, I don't have opportunity to exercise my entrepreneurial spirit, and above all else is in an industry that is not one of my passions and never was.

For those who aren't familiar with my situation, I was a history and politics double major. And for a long time I assumed I was going to go into politics, or work in non-profit, or do something else that allowed me to use the idealistic beliefs I had spent years cultivating. But then, I spent that summer working for Pelosi and it was a big disappointment. While there were exciting moments, I left DC feeling like congressmen don't really do anything, that they don't know anything (requiring their LAs and the CRS to educate them), and that they're most concerned with connections and re-elections. More concerned with politicking than politics, than issues. I was feeling totally crushed and thinking, what do I do with myself? I went back to school and started to think that if I wasn't going to go into politics, perhaps I'd become a lawyer. If I can't change things in the political world perhaps I'll be a defender of people and ideas in the legal sphere. I took an LSAT prep class. I researched law school. But summer was fast approaching. The last summer, I had had to pay to live in DC and not gotten paid, so my primary concern for the following summer was to find a paying internship. And through some connections I managed to get a job with my present wealth-management firm (which I cannot name here, per my agreement to be allowed to blog, so henceforth I'll just refer to them as "my PF"). I worked at my PF all summer and found it a pleasant enough place to work. The people were nice, the perks were great (as was the pay) and there were exciting jargon words being tossed around like "leadership" and "ownership". There were people who embraced me as a leader, whereas in congress I had felt mostly like a peon. You have the right great idea and you're recognized, and recognition was a big theme, which worked for me as an approval/praise seeker. So in the fall I was back at school and was all set to start applying to law schools. I had scored relatively well (93rd percentile) on the LSAT, started receiving a few application fee waivers, gotten letters of recommendation, all that jazz. It was early October and I was narrowing my list of schools to apply to, working with Hiatt (who never stopped to ask me why I wanted to go to law school, btw). While I had an idea of what I wanted to accomplish as a lawyer, I had no idea about the practicalities of actually becoming one, or of going to law school. The more I learned, there was one thing I feared - the cost. Having to take out loans started to seem prohibitively expensive. The reality of what debt might mean for my ability to be discerning in job selection after graduation was frightening. Thankfully, I had had older friends (mostly debaters) who had gone to law school, and I had seen their struggle between selling out and taking a big-firm job to pay off debt, or enduring financial difficultly to follow their dreams. Hardly any of them took the latter path. They were cautionary tales.

It's safe to say I was feeling a little doubt the crisp fall day the phone rang. It was my PF. They asked me how I had liked my summer internship, what I had disliked, what I might be planning for after graduation. I told them about law school and not being sure. I told them I was applying to other jobs. I had a pretty good, pretty honest convo with this HR guy, who was supposedly trying to 'get feedback on the internship program' because it was new. About a week after this chat, he called back and informed me that my PF was ready to offer me a full time position (and more money than I could have imagined being worth upon graduation) in a brand new, 2 year long analyst program. They were offering me a guaranteed job - an alternative to a job search, a mountain of debt, or an insecurity that law school was the right choice. I took a few weeks, debated it with pretty much everyone I knew - both family and friends.

Eventually, I took the offer. The feeling of relief was immense and immediate. The idea that I didn't have to worry, like all my other friends, about finding a job or what I was going to "do with myself." Because what I was going to "do with myself" has always been a big concern to me. I have had a lot of interests, a lot of passions, but not a lot of direction or focus throughout the years. Accepting this job was, almost in the same way that college was, a chance to postpone having to find a direction. For two years. I thought, okay, I can work, I can live at home, save some money. I don't really like finance, I don't really want to work in finance long term, but this will give me two more years to defer and decide "do I want to go to law school" or "do I want to do something else" or "if I do want to do something else, what is it?" And I could sit here all day and tell you about what the reality of those two years was like. But I'll spare you. The overarching theme was, "While I constantly questioned whether or not it was something I should be doing, I did not use the two years productively to make a decision that it was or wasn't, and then a subsequent decision about what else I should do." When those two years came up and my PF offered me a permanent job with increased responsibility, a promotion, more money, and more buzzwords about leadership, I thought "Wow! Cool! Someone believes in me and trusts me, I must be doing great in this thing I don't actually care that much about!"

You can guess where that led. This July it will be six years that I've been working for the firm. I was promoted three times in five years (in New York) and one thing led to another. I was able to continually say, "Well, I haven't spent enough time thinking about what to do next to make a decision right now." Every time those decision points came up and it seemed like there might be a reason to make an exit because I was bored, or unsatisfied or unhappy - there was something to keep me there. It was like my PF had spy cams in my head; when I started to doubt it, I got a raise or a promotion or a role change or an org change or a new manager. Whatever, something to shake up my day to day and convince me that whatever this next thing was it would be enough to solve the problem I was having. But of course, it never did. Because the actual problem was - this is not what I want to do with my life.

And so, I think these dreams I've been having are just a metaphor for the fact that I'm a square peg trying to shove myself in a round hole. I'm never going to fit, and I know that about myself. But I'm betraying that - I'm not feeding the dog, I'm not going to classes. I'm just putting on my blindfold and marching out into the world without fulfilling the responsibility to myself which is to DO SOMETHING MORE. I cannot let it continue, I can't keep trying to shove myself in that hole. But what now...?

I was all ready last fall to apply to graduate school, to a program that I thought would make me happy. A great second career - guidance counseling. Understandably, considering the struggles I have had throughout the years, one of the things that draws me strongly to this career is the ability to help kids not make the same mistakes that I made. To help them realize that just because they don't know right away what they want to do, they don't have to do something antithetical to what they believe because society or their parents expect it of them. That there are ways they can make connections, have experiences that will help them figure it out, to get closer, that I just didn't know about or explore or consider worthwhile, that they NEED to consider. I don't want anyone to end up with this feeling. I think I'd be great at the other parts of the job too. I've been on the other end of recruiting, so I can help them look for jobs. I'm super organized and can keep track of changes in college requirements, testing, scheduling stuff. I even can do the interpersonal counseling aspects of the job. I have had a variety of experiences - a kid who was bullied, a teenager rushed into decisions too soon. I think I can talk to kids without being preachy and patronizing. Help them understand what they might face in the real world.

But if I'm truly being honest with myself, even though I love all the things that I just described about that job, it still feels like making a choice to make a choice. To me. I still don't feel a sense of larger purpose, of what I'm waiting for. Some sign that's going to clue me in to what I'm meant to do. Maybe that's a fallacy. I still struggle with that. Am I doing it to make a choice or for a higher purpose? I think the reason I have doubts, or struggle, is because there are so many things I want to do that picking any one feels something like betraying the others.

Let me give you an example. On OkCupid, a dating website I'm on, one of the questions it asks you to fill in is, "I spend a lot of time thinking about..." and my answer is "whether or not I could pull off the whole earth lifestyle." I've read tons of books and articles, and have strong opinions on the subject of food politics in our country. The death of genetic biodiversity, our relationship with food, the allocation of our farm subsidies. And it's not just about food, that's one piece of the puzzle. But it's also about living more simply - growing more of my own food, having fewer possessions, be less attached to my electronic devices. Things that are a certain way as a product of the era in which I was born. I'm not just inspired to make these changes in my own life (which I feel I've done some of but could do much more), but also to do something politically that's related to those goals. One of the things that I've thought about doing in the past is getting an MPP or something similar. Tufts offers this awesome degree which is an MS in agriculture, nutrition and environment. Which is sort of like doing the science mixed with the legislative piece of it. You're not going to get an MPP and be a statistician because it's designed to get you working with the grassroots organizations themselves, rather than in a think tank somewhere regurgitating numbers. There's some of that, but it's not the primary focus. Which is appealing to me. However, one of the things the program looks for is demonstrated interest in the subject matter. And despite the fact that this is an issue I'm really passionate about, the only real experience I've had with it is my own struggles with nutrition and weight throughout the years. I've never worked on a farm or on environmental reconstruction or anything. So sometimes I get this fantasy that I'm just going to ditch the job, go work on a farm. It would be grueling and crazy and unlike anything I've ever done before, but damn I think it could be positive for me. And a great way to get a foundation if I did decide I wanted to go after that degree or a degree similar to that in the future.

So then, when I think about that, I think, "Well that's another career I could be really happy in." If I could be equally happy doing that as being a guidance counselor, what do I do? Do I just pick one and decide? I also think I could be ecstatically happy owning my own photography business if I could make it work. So I just feel like, with so many passions, how do I focus? How do I narrow? It's paralyzing. It's one of the things that has kept me from jumping off the train. Certainly by knowing that these things are options I'd be happy with, I'm a lot closer than I was when I first starting working at my PF. Part of that is due to my ongoing and dedicated effort to identify and question and understand what's important to me and what I enjoy. But I'm not any closer in the sense that I have not actually made a decision, made a change.

I'm wrestling, I'm trying, and my dreams are not letting me forget.

Monday, May 2, 2011