Friday, September 25, 2009

Permission to say something totally boring?

I just got off work. I clocked in at 9 this morning and haven't thought about anything else since but this intrinsically fabulous thing: five o'clock. At five I'll be able to, I don't know, eat what I want, watch television, stare at the wall if I choose, make a phone call? Mail a letter, organize my bills, clean my room, or-- ???

Christy read something the other day about work and I can't stop thinking about it. Why is it so boring to us or so awful? Sure I am not particularly thrilled with my job. Fine. Sure I'd rather be riding a jeep around Africa taking pictures and writing about my culture shock. Who wouldn't? But since I'm not there, and since there's no where else I can be between the time I clock in and the time I snap off my name tag and walk through the sliding doors, hadn't I better just relax?

I hear it all day long: “Do _______. It makes the time go faster!” or “I hate ________! It makes time go so slow.” And of course I say it too, and I think about it all day, and it positively rules me. I want to cram the hours into a shredder or space out into complete oblivion. But today for some reason a small miraculous voice in my head reported the bleak calculation that I spend over thirty hours a week (and this is quite optimistic) wishing the time in which I am living didn't exist. Think about this for a moment. What is reality but time?

Ah, but this particular time is not my reality, you say. This time is not me. What I truly am is a biker/banker/philanthropist-gardener/listener/lover/computer nerd. Well, okay. And maybe it really is so. But a job is a job is a job, and earning the money may be merely the means to an end, but it is (hopefully, unless you pay your rent with buttons and pocket lint like I do) a forty-hour means. And this deserves consideration.

Why is 'shop talk' taboo again? I just spent eight hours there. I'm not talking she-said-he-said, but you know, the stuff. When I'm at work my mind is a whirling file of expiration dates and case labels. I know the prices of at least a dozen products including the SKU for a bag of lemons which is, by the way 00917827 and rings up at 1.39. I think about hummus (garlic); I know what case it comes in (about the size of a Asics shoe box); when it expires (10/09/09); when it is delivered (4am, seven days a week). This IS my day. And when I come home at five, this is why I don't remember anything I've done: because (other than one's closest friends who are of course, exempt from most of this discussion because you talk about this sort of stuff anyway) people just don't ask me what its like, what the stuff has been, and I'm too ashamed to say so. Why?, you ask. And its a great question. But isn't the answer obvious?

Because its boring as hell.

And this is true; no one will argue. But something about it still nags at me. The statement that work is 'boring' or that the stuff of my day isn't worth talking about when I get home is the result of an assumption that what I say must, as a general rule, be exciting and as an obvious addendum, what I do. What we say to each other must have a flavor of interest, uniqueness and certainly reflect a certain type of identity. You all don't want to hear about my day because, let's face it, it's uninteresting, un-unique and as a bonus, it doesn't have a thing to do with the main event, me!

If I tell you, for example, that I spent the morning organizing spoiled food into banana boxes, and that I got chicken juice on my hands, but still managed to eat my poptart and only got a tiny smudge of Lily pollen on my t-shirt, it would be, sadly, nothing different than most days, nothing of my own importance in the world and far less interesting than nearly getting eaten by a tiger.

But its what I did all day. So what if its not how I choose to spend the time I'm off work? So what if its not a job that defines me? Because when I look back on my life from the unimaginable future at the year when I first moved to Seattle and away from everything I knew, I suspect a great many of my memories will be hitting the alarm at five AM, pulling on a hoodie and staring up at the Dips case, deciding what to pull.

I am all for deep conversation and reading books about concepts. Great, let's do it. It'll change the government and the economy and the way we think about reality and ethics. But I'd like to make a plug for wide conversations also-- it is possible to talk about a little of this and a little of that, which happens to be my day, and doesn't need to be awesome or unique to be true.

Additionally, the truth is that in order for our society to work, a very few of us can have unique, life-defining jobs. The rest of us have to learn to push a broom, count boxes and talk to customers. This is maybe why I love running so much: that I'm constantly overwhelmed with my own presence in the moment, even though my immediate desire is that this moment be over. Its a bewildering, invigorating space between let this end and here I am. We must of course not labor under the delusion that we will change our lives or the lives of those around us. But if we keep doing well what we must keep doing anyway, we do have the overwhelming opportunity to be present in a single moment. Not to love our jobs with reckless abandon. But just to say on any given day, here I am, here I am, here I am.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Lamenting Virgin

Sunday I took two buses to get to church early and meet with my priest to talk about getting a job, but I ended up telling her how lonely I am instead. She was unbelievably helpful: a good listener, but to the point, and talked to me about Meyers-Briggs, which I love. In the end she helped me to realize that maybe I'm not crazy for feeling trapped in the grocery store. Maybe I just really do need a job that's less immediate, tactile, and more goal-oriented/intuitive. So I guess that's where I'm headed next; I'm going to reconfigure my resume.

On the way back to the front of the church, I ran into a friend I've only met once before whose wife is home sleeping off an over-night shift at the hospital. He told me hello and that there's a Russian festival in Capitol Hill later and do Pat and I want to go? Which, of course we do, but he's not with me at the moment to ask. I took his card and promised to call.

You see, Pat wasn't with me that morning because he went to the Free-Methodist church instead, the one right by his new house on his new side of town by a new school, a clear sign to me that our relationship is on its way out. And even though we still have plans get married next year, I now find it almost inevitable that we'll also never go to church together, fundamentally disinterest and disappoint each other, and end up estranged and miserable. So after my talk with Mother M. I decided to skip church, and walk through Queen Anne to meet him.

It was a beautiful walk, almost breathtakingly quiet, and the streets were shrubby and quaint, and the sun was shy on my face as I climbed the hill. I thought about how what M. said is true, that finding a job is another full time job and that I just can't waste my energy imagining how and why exactly each job doesn't want me professionally. It's probably nothing personal. (Or else maybe it is. It is possible that I'm stunningly incompetent and write soppy, worthless cover letters. But either way, I guess it makes no difference whether I dwell on it, and I really have no choice but to press on.) Then and there, or else on the way, I somehow stumbled upon the will to go to the grocery store Monday morning with my head held high. And I have to say, the past few days of work have been cheery, even content, something I haven't felt since January.

When I got to the church dizzy and flushed with fresh air, I asked Pat if he would leave me if I become agnostic. He sort of patted my shoulder awkwardly, staring at me with that befuddled look of exasperation and pity I know so well, then said, “Kristin, meet J, my classmate and pastor here at the Free-Methodist church.” I shook her hand and she told me how much she loves Patrick and how smart he is, which I told her I already knew. Later on the bus to Capitol Hill while I was trying to call S, squinting at his business card, I saw Pat shake his head out of the corner of my eye, grinning. “Agnostic,” he said, almost whispering, and put his arm around me.

We both found icons at the Russian festival: Pat's is St. Simeon. Mine is the lamenting virgin. I've only ever seen it in a book before, and I think it is incredible. It is a picture Mary, obviously, and as is typical in an Orthodox painting, she's robed and beautiful with big almond eyes and invisible hair. Her arms are outstretched as if holding the tiny Christ-Man, but in this particular version, he's not there. Mary simply holds out her hands, her head and body leaning to one side, the corner of her eyes turned down in an unmistakable expression of piercing sorrow. She is supposed to represent the words spoken to her by Simeon the first time he sees Jesus, “And a sword shall pierce your heart also.”

I fell in love with it the moment I saw it in Pat's icon book. To me it is a heart-breaking foreshadowing of what humanity faces forever after the death and disappearance of God. This empty longing, this wishing for something we don't even know how to name. The desire not just for a scrap of truth or hope or morality to cling to, but for a body, a piece of flesh, a reIncarnation of the divine.

I couldn't help it. The icon made me think about my job. There is a pitifully similar elusiveness in the longing I feel: I want something I don't even know right now. Not just an idea to carry me through the next eight hour shift, but something I can lay my hands on: something mundane and made of flesh.

The icon is as long as my pinky finger and twice as wide. I tucked it into my pocket and S and his wife convinced us to come along to a friends house, where we were not really sure we were invited. We stopped on the way to buy flavored Triskets and Tillamook cheddar cheese to offer as an apology for crashing their party and headed on over. At first it was strange and awkward and nobody offered us a chair. I was horrified that we'd ruined their evening, and then suddenly everything changed. In an unforeseen turn of events, I wound up in a conversation with the hostess and suddenly we were talking about jobs and religion and our families. And when she and Patrick debate the issue of going to a church where you fit in vs. going to a church where you feel doctrinal tension, I found myself seeing Pat in a new way. I've always just wanted to find a place where I feel known, and where the questions that bother me the most aren't ignored, and I can finally stop appearing cynical and pushy and just relax. But Pat doesn't feel that way at all. Those are his questions you know? And he wants to sit with them through his tangly Methodist roots. And even though I'm still not sure I'll go to church with him ever, I still think he's smart and good.

The conversation turned and the hostess vaguely mentioned that she is in the process of adoption. “Wow!” I said, “That's exciting.” And she nodded, and I found myself a little unsure of what to say next. For some reason I couldn't remember what questions are rude, and which are allowed. “Is it a... long process?” I tried. And she launched easily into an explanation of her agency and how they're not choosing a baby, but waiting to be chosen by parents looking for help. “Oh,” I said, surprised. They're just waiting? There's no timeline? “So... when...?” I asked gingerly, and she smiled sadly and shook her head. “Any day.” She glanced at her husband across the picnic table laughing in the midst of another conversation. “We're just waiting for the phone to ring.”

My head swam with sudden empathy. I knew just how it felt to stare at the phone, willing it to ring. The emptiness, the helplessness. And then my stomach blossomed with shame that I could ever compare our situations at all.

“Its been seven months,” she said quietly. I thougth ruefully of my month of melodrama. “We just have to stop thinking about it every moment,” she went on, smiling, “And enjoy sleeping in while we still can!” We laughed, relieved. A few minutes later it got too dark to see and we exchanged numbers and shook hands and Pat, S, J and I walked to the car. On the way home I unburied my icon of Mary and stared at her arms reaching, the sad tilt of her shoulders, the heaviness reflected in her bright eyes.

On Monday I got up at five fifteen AM and walked to work in the dark with my thumb on her face, clenched tight in my pocket and hoped that the phone would ring.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An unmarked anniversary

It's been one year this month since I moved to Seattle. The weight of what has happened is so heavy today as I walk around cleaning that I can hardly breathe.

I don't know what I thought would happen if I moved here, but I'm glad I'm not leaving, because it hasn't happened yet.

The quiet unraveling of a friendship I never even expected, the dark, shifting feelings of my own self, the job that I wanted so much, now a reality pressing so heavy that I feel paralyzed.

I apply and apply, but the phone doesn't ring. I know its normal. I know it happens, and they've got a lot to do. But if they knew how much was at stake-- if they knew it was the difference between forward and no where at all--


I guess if they knew the kind of lunatic I've been this week, crazy with my desire for something pressing and structured in my days, they'd have even less reason to pick up the phone.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Still Broke(n)

Right after it happened, I heroicly emailed my ex-prospective employer and asked, very dignifiedly I think, if there is anything I can do to interview better in the future. Even though I thought the email had a distinctly business-like tenor, she responded with less help for the savvy working woman in me and more comfort to the pathetic sap who stayed up till three and woke again at 7:30 to think about being alone for the rest of her life.

"Don't worry!" she cooed. She is, after all, a preschool teacher. "You did fine! It was nothing you did wrong at all!" And "Good luck to you! You did great!" Smiley face, exclamation point, smiley face. Jesus, could she hear me weeping? But it was kind, and very generous of her to take the time to write to me at all.

Even though I would have been pissed as hell if she didn't.

But she did tell me something that will help. The individual they did hire, she said, has a minor in music and can wear two hats for the program. This sort of snapped me back to my senses. I have to start selling myself! (End boyfriend/lover analogy HERE.) I am great at music, as a general, preschool-level skill, and I guess my resume doesn't say so. I was a band freak in high school (this is one step beyond geek), and I led music at Girl Scout camp all the time. Why, when she asked me what I'd bring to the program, did I ramble on and on about how I think kids need more than the love of a teacher, and that individuals should be taught in individual ways? I never thought to say, "I am great at music, and would be comfortable singing with the kids." And now I will. So thank you, heart-break. You've taught me yet another lesson.

* * *

My Stages of Grief

1. Crying
2. Splurging
3. Hibernating
4. Eating Cereal in Bed (this constitutes an entire, separate stage, independent of #2)
5. Solitude or Running
6. Writing

The Break Up

Christy is always telling me that applying for jobs is just like hanging out with a new boyfriend. To which I of course reply with vehement disagreement.

"No, its not," I sigh impatiently, "and we've been through this. You can call the job you want as many times as you want and its not needy; its determined." And I always believed this was true. Until today at 4:16, when I was dumped.

By a preschool.

And suddenly I'm back in college, freshman year, huddled on the floor of my dorm with my roommate, eating microwave Easy-Mac at twelve in the morning, hysterical laughter spilling over the throb that sits right behind my soft pallet, tickling my throat, the corners of my mouth, tempting me to give into the tears and the grief and the loss. Why, why, why

As it was then, its not the actual lost thing that represents the first prickly wave of grief. It is instead an overwhelming sense that one's life is now somehow less organized and meaningful. I am familiar with this notion, and I've always resented it because I don't believe it is true; I am convinced that life is powerful and wonderful and necessary with or without a mate. Yes, everyone needs The Other, deeply, complexly, compellingly. But the other, the lover? Optional.

But this evening as I sit sifting through my thoughts about the job, I realize that its not the particular lover that is at the heart of the loss; it is the trajectory this one represents, or has represented- the sense that one has momentum. And with the loss of this direction, the infinite alternatives sprawling ahead are too paralyzing and lonely to compel the adventurer you once were. The first pain, I realize tonight, is the loss of your own identity and motion. And as a result, the particular specifics of one's loss isn't really immediately felt. That, unfortunately, comes much later. Because of this, sometimes it is less painful than it initially seems to be. Sometimes it is worse.

I imagine in this case it will be much easier than it feels now. To be honest, I knew about the preschool for less than 48 hours, only waited thirty hours in between the interview and the actual break-up. But they were a beautiful thirty hours, filled with plans: how can you not? Budget configurations, many phone conversations with my enthusiastic mom, a new schedule drawn up, a decision to buy a bike, vision after vision after vision of myself: peddling to work, talking to the kids, seeing them later at the grocery store, little by little regaining the self-worth I've laid to rest working at a job where I feel less than myself.

So tonight I will do what I've done before: buy a huge tub of chocolate ice cream and watch Gilmore Girls. Erase my new budget, schedule, spend the money set aside for the bike on something pretty and useless. And maybe tomorrow when I wake up at God knows when, I'll have the energy to make my bed and take a shower. Maybe I'll even make a few phone calls.

Then again, maybe not.