Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Who Am I?

I have been rereading this blog lately, from the beginning. And I keep running smack dab against an overwhelming question:

Who is this woman?

I have changed so much in the past two years that in many ways the woman I was seems a stranger, light-years away from the me that lately has been feeling so old, so empty, so ....


I am no longer involved in my church. The story behind that is a long, painful, and odd one, which I do not have the fortitude the discuss here. I am still devastated by that loss, even as I recognize that most of the culpability lies with me. Perhaps as a result of this, I have been undergoing a profound crisis of faith: in spite of the fact that deep down, I do believe there is a God, I have trouble believing that He gives a damn about what has happened or what will happen to me.

My children are rapidly becoming adults. The Not-So-Little Drummer Boy (who now no longer plays the drums, sadly) is nearly twenty, and will be entering his sophomore year in college this fall. I am afraid for him: this is a dangerous time of life. At the same time, I have to stand back and let him fall on his own, if for no other reason than he has to learn how to pick himself up again without my help.

My middle child, a wrestler no longer, will be a junior in high school. He continues to struggle with his Asperger's, although he is getting much better. He has shown an interesting love of entertaining, and organizing social events for his friends. He is an extrovert -- something I marvel at all the time. (Being an introvert of the first order, I have a great deal of trouble understanding extroverts, even though my husband and two of my children fit that description.)

Echidna Boy (who still does love echidnas) is turning out to be ... an interesting kid. He starts high school in the fall. On his Facebook, he has friends who are girls at high schools in different cities who are two to three years older than him. He had a crush on a young woman, and wrote her a sonnet. An actual honest-to-God sonnet, with the proper rhyme scheme and everything, and which included phrases such as "thou art brighter than starlight's face in june" (okay, so capitalization and spelling are not his forte) and "for one tender kiss, a mountain I would wring." I did not even know what a sonnet was at thirteen. Did I mention that he has red curls and is really cute? Personally, I think we should just ship him to a monastery NOW and save all of us a world of trouble. He likes to watch documentaries, discuss politics and physics, and has read all the way through Goedel, Escher, Bach, which is more than than I can say.

He is also trying to learn to be a computer programmer. Our rules are simple: don't do anything that will screw up the operating system so that we'll have to reload or that will result in permanent damage or loss of data, and don't do anything that will result in the FBI showing up at our door with a search and/or arrest warrant. He rolls his eyes at that last one, but I know my kid: he will go after anything because, in the words of Sir Edmund Hillary, it is there.

To see them grow up creates such conflicting emotions that I don't know what to do. I am pleased with the people they are becoming, yet a large part of my raison d'etre for the past twenty years is deserting me. If you identify yourself primarily as a mother, finding out who you are beyond that is a frustrating and bewildering task.

I am in pain a great deal of the time. Fibromyalgia is not my friend, although it is my constant companion. I have not yet hit a point where I cannot work, and work helps keep me from fixating on how much everything hurts. I cannot hide the pain from my face, however, with the result that last Saturday, two different supervisors asked me if I was okay. "I've worked through worse," was my answer, which satisfied one of them, although she did remind me that I could take however many breaks I needed provided I accounted for them on my timesheet.

The other gently replied "But we don't want you to have to," when I mentioned that I had worked through worse pain. "Do you need to go home?" "If I go home, I'll just ruminate." "Okay, then! Pull up a comfortable chair!" (That comfortable chair is often his chair, which I swipe whenever I can, because it hurts less than any of the others in the office.)

I am currently temporarily employed by the federal government as a census clerk. I love the people at my job, although the work is often not, how shall I put it, the most engaging endeavor I could be involved in. Pulling in a paycheck, even if it is a relatively modest one, helps as well, as does the realization that, yes, I am capable of working full time outside the home,* something which has not happened for eighteen years before this summer.

I used to write better than this, I think. A lot of that had to do with simple experience: I wrote a great deal more in 2006 and 2007. Practice may or may not make perfect, but it sure does help one improve.

Yet, looking through those old blog posts, some things still resonate: my politics are about the same, even if I have been overcome by "outrage fatigue" over the past few years. (Do not get me started on the current Republicans, or the Tea-Party people, or the ways in which the Democratic Party has failed to make real change.) My belief, too, that we need to recognize the humanity of those on the other side -- even when they are acting like unmitigated horses' asses -- and make some attempt to try and understand them remains intact. My pro-choice and anti-death penalty** beliefs are, if anything, more deeply held.

My hatred of torture, by whatever name you call it, and my fury at those who espouse it, stand unabated.

Art matters.
*** Poetry matters. Music matters.

And I am still here.

That matters, too.

*Yes, stay at home mothers do a lot of work, too. My blog is not the place to engage in the mommy wars.

** Some of the law in that link is outdated, but the general point is not.

** Not too long ago, I found a list of the top ten art museums in the world. I have been to seven of them. This makes me irrationally happy. I might have a chance to pick up another -- the Vatican museums in Rome -- this fall, and I am trying to figure out a way to go to Florence to see the Uffizi. And I will get back to London some day to see the Tate Modern. (I had a brief visit to the older Tate, to see the pre-Raphealites.) As I said, art matters.

Friday, June 25, 2010

To everything there is a season, and
a time to every purpose under heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1

The last two Enumerator Questionnaires rolled into the office today. NRFU (Non-Response Follow Up) is done.

It is bittersweet.

Sweet, because this was what we were working towards. All those days reviewing hundreds upon hundreds of EQs. All the evenings when I left late because I was frantically entering information into the Census databases before the system went down at nine o'clock (my nominal ending time).

Tonight I left on time. I felt... odd.

Bitter, for me, because it threw into sharp relief the transitory nature of this work. It will be done before too long. I will say goodbye to the good people whose company I have come to enjoy so much over these past two months. Work which has been fulfilling will be over.

This job has been a godsend. It has let me hear adult voices other than my own; voices full of warmth, humor and intelligence. It has given me common purpose with others.

It has let me be part of something larger than myself; something that matters. A job which I originally took on because I desperately needed the money became so much more than that.

I have been useful. I have been competent. Through all the many months of unemployment, I had forgotten how satisfying that feels. It soothed a craving in my soul I didn't even really know I had.

And now...

Once this is over, it is back to the depressing round of resume after resume being sent out, usually with no evidence that human eyes have ever seen them. Of emptiness. Of loneliness.

I am determined to enjoy the next few weeks. If I have to lose this so soon, I will at least have gotten every ounce of benefit it has to offer. And then, its season done, it will become only a memory of a time in my life full of purpose and companionship.

I'm going to miss it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The wisdom of Yoda .... yeah, right.

My youngest son graduated from middle school last week. It made me feel old, and odd, to think that from here on out, I will never be the mother of small children. On the back page of their graduation booklet, they included the famous quote from Yoda: "Try not. Do or do not. There is no try."

Other than the bizarre fact that they are looking to a fictional character for guidance ..... What the hell sort of advice is that to give to anyone, let alone thirteen-year-olds?

Just think of the message. No race should ever be run unless it can be completed. No project or experiment should be undertaken without certainty of success. Trying is for losers.

Wrong. Trying -- and failing -- is how we learn things. We gain insight into ourselves, and we learn skills to help us do better next time. At the very least, we learn that perhaps we shouldn't have tried that in the first place, which, if we stop to figure out why, can be enlightening indeed. More often, we learn what it is to strive, to work towards a goal, and that value lies in the journey, not merely in the destination.

Much better is Samuel Beckett's take on these things: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Best of all is Robert Browning: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"