Monday, May 31, 2010

Update 2: Second Month of Quest is Complete

Friday was May 28th, the 2nd month anniversary of this blog and my quest to find out who I really am, what I want, and how to set myself on the road to getting what I want.

It has been a very busy month. My husband and I have a number of big personal projects in the works. They have practically become full-time jobs in themselves. Some of them might even make us a little money, which would be useful. I also had one job interview and applied to a dozen or more other places which ignored me entirely. I was turned down for that one job about three or four weeks after I interviewed (even though I was perfect for the job, in my opinion). Since I lost my job, I've also taken on more volunteer responsibilities and two of them have become quite active. I've been a publicity person for these groups quite a bit lately, designing posters and postcards, and generally doing some interesting work.

Perhaps because of all of these projects, I've done little towards my stated goals. I've done no recent work on my novel (and probably won't while my current project is taking up so much time--it will be done mid-July, but until then I have to do a lot of work for an event). I've done some house organizing, mostly in response to visits from friends, but some of this cleaning was more triage than real cleaning--more shove stuff out of sight than find a way to deal with it for real. Hence things will get more chaotic if I don't bring this stuff out into the light and organize it for real very soon. I'll add that to the upcoming plan list.

I'm disappointed that in two months I've made more promises to myself than I have actually kept. That is, after all, the very pattern in my life which I was trying to break by starting this quest.

On the other hand, I've been amazingly productive and done some really interesting work both for my personal projects and my community organizations.

I've decided to cut myself a break here and not beat myself up on the lack of progress in my stated goals. I let others thing take priority and that's okay. I wasn't goofing off at least.

For June, I'm going to concentrate on getting my current projects done, particularly focusing on getting the Important stuff done before it is Urgent. I'll call this month's theme "Project Management." If I get far enough ahead on some of these projects, I will find it easier to sneak some novel time in there before July.

I'm also going to review my 41 Things list and see if I can't sneak in one or two fun, creative ideas from that list into my month. All work and no play makes RealMe a dull girl.....

Friday, May 28, 2010

Social Capital: With a Little Help From My Friends

The broader your circle of friends, the bigger your family, the better you know your neighbors, and the more involved you are in your community, the more social capital you have. (And the more social capital you contribute to others — it’s a reciprocal thing!) --Get Rich Slowly

I've been thinking about networking, social capital, and friendship lately for four reasons:

1. I'm looking for work (which everyone tells you is all about "who you know")
2. I recently attended a social function for a group where I only knew three people
3. I volunteer with a lot of community groups
4. We had a "friend" over for lunch yesterday whom we hadn't seen in 10 years who then offered to do us a favor

The "Get Rich Slowly" blog just had an article about Social Capital which talked about the gains we get from being involved with people--doing them favors, working for the community, etc. Apparently, as long as we are not doing it for a reward, we should take comfort from the fact that doing things for people will reward us. That seems a bit odd. All of these people writing articles on Social Capital are happy to tell us that we get something for doing things for others but we are all supposed to pretend like we don't know that. If we do something for others with the idea that someday we will gain something too, then that's bad.

I agree that going into it all "quid pro quo" or mercenary is not a good thing. It isn't attractive to help someone with the expectation that you will be rewarded. However, I think it is a little disingenuous for writers to encourage us to increase our social capital but pretend that there is nothing in it for us. We gain from helping others; this is a good thing!

Some of my volunteer activities I chose specifically because I thought that I would gain both valuable experience and contacts which might eventually help me find a job I liked. Should I be considered a bad person because I hope to gain from my work? I'm still giving to my community. The fact that I have a few items to put in a portfolio and have met a lot of people is bonus. I'm also having fun and helping others.

The social gathering last week was enjoyable but I also partly went in the hopes of meeting new people and maybe making connections both for my community organizations (I'm their publicity person so I spread the word about the groups I volunteer with, wherever I go--I got three people at that party so interested in my community groups that I think they will stop by) and for myself (one person asked for my resume).

I don't know that I have ever benefited from networking and I am certainly having a horrible time finding a job (I recently found out that the position I interviewed for that I was so excited about--they hired someone else). However, I figure it can't hurt to keep trying to meet people, let people know I'm unemployed, and keep working hard for various groups without pay to see if one of those leads to a paying position.

One side benefit is that I have many more friends--and the articles on social capital are right that there are benefits to friends. My husband and I have a number of personal projects we are working on and some of our friends have been helping out lately. They've volunteered to do things for us. Even the old friend we hadn't seen in years whom we got into contact with again recently, upon hearing about what we were up to, offered to get some stuff for us to help. Another friend has been bringing us gifts when he visits, including some dvds and some fun gadgets--because he thought of us when he was buying it for himself. It's been a wonderful kindness which I really appreciate, and especially useful when we are both unemployed. Another friend insisted on buying both lunch and dinner when we were out together for the day, saving us the expense we had expected to have to pay for ourselves.

Ten years ago I would have said that I knew many, many people but that I couldn't point to very many friends. I had "friends" but they were mostly long-distance friends whom I mostly knew through email and maybe saw at an event once a year, at most. I have a few "friends" I've never actually met but I correspond with on the internet. I'm glad to say that my work in the local groups and my expanding social circle means that I have more local friends, people I actually see in person, but I wonder how many of them see me as a friend rather than acquaintance. That's the hard part to judge.

What I do know is that I'm glad to have a wider social circle, thankful for the help my social circle has given me, happy to be gaining contacts and experience with my volunteer work, and thrilled to be helping my community at the same time. Social Capital is pretty cool and there is nothing wrong with recognizing that--and even working to promote it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Meltdowns and Misery

I've always been very prone to crying. Since I was young, you only had to raise your voice to me a little, and the tears would come pouring down. You might say I'm too sensitive and I've tried to get better, but I don't seem to have a lot of control over it.

I'm also not the most patient person in the world. Neither is my husband. He'll do some small thing, and I'll react with what seems like very minor frustration. I wouldn't even remember it a few seconds later but that frustrated reaction from me will spark even bigger frustration from him and he'll raise his voice. Next thing I know I'm defending myself from accusations that I'm flying off the handle at him and I'm crying and he's upset. It's all so silly, really. My comment was thoughtless, literally, just a reaction to a minor annoyance (come and go in an instance without even noticing it). But it sparks a huge reaction on his part and then next thing I know I'm sobbing.

It's a frustrating pattern. I recognize it but I don't seem to be able to fix it. Today, for instance, it took what would have been a very minor amusement and turned it into a fight. I wanted to take a picture. I started to do it when my husband said, "here, let me." He then proceeded to back up to take a different sort of picture than the one I had been setting up when he tried to help. I said, "No! not of all of me, just this!" He then proceeded to take a picture that showed all of me (which is definitely not what I was going for in this case) so I took back the camera and took the picture I had been setting up to begin with. "I just wanted a picture of my hand, like this! Not of me! I'm a mess!" (it was early in the day and I was still in my pjs).

He felt I had dismissed his help unfairly and been rude. I suppose I did dismiss him but I couldn't understand why he'd try to take such a different picture than the one I had been doing when he offered to "help." I was frustrated and I let it show. Then it became an argument which ended with me in tears. Not a good start to the day. All over a lousy photograph that I no longer wanted anyways. After all, it was supposed to be a fun little thing and there was no fun left in it anymore. I can't look at the picture without thinking about the argument.

In my examination of my life this year I am trying to figure out what to do to improve my life. This is one thing I've definitely not figured a solution to but I recognize it is a problem. My feelings get hurt and I get angry and defensive--and the tears start flowing almost immediately. If he is angry, I'm immediately angry and hurt too. It isn't a good reaction but it is an instinctive one with me. Somehow I need to find a way out of this destructive pattern.

Do you have any thoughts on how to break instinctive reactions and destructive patterns in relationships? If so, I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Monday, May 24, 2010

ROI for Setting Goals

Return on Investment (ROI) is a used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment. To calculate ROI, the benefit (return) of an investment is divided by the cost of the investment; the result is expressed as a percentage or a ratio.

What does that have to do with those of us who don't have a lot of money to invest? I think that ROI can be a useful measure for life in general. Does the benefit I get from (whatever) outweigh the cost? For instance, does the benefit of buying that new gadget outweigh the amount of money it would cost me (and the requisite number of hours it took to earn that money/the use that money could otherwise be going to or whether I have that money to begin with or will have to be in debt for it and so have to eventually pay back that money with even more hours of work to make up for the interest on the debt)?

Even for nonfinancial matters the ROI can be useful. In addition to helping me determine whether to buy big-ticket items, I can use it to evaluate different projects. Will the ROI be high enough to make up for the work I will have to put into it? Will volunteering with this group be rewarding and enjoyable? Does the politics of this group make working with them less rewarding and therefore decrease the ROI too much?

The same thing can be said for goals. I am a big believer in goal setting (as you can see from other posts) and I love lists of goals. However, I am beginning to see that the ROI from creating long lists is too low. I don't really get much out of having some of these lists. I spend a bunch of time managing the lists but don't get much else done. However, I do believe that having goals has a ROI that is high enough. I just need to learn not to get too wrapped up in making lists of goals and managing them (which takes away from the time to actually DO those goals).

Some of my goals are also rather minor and probably don't have much benefit to go against the work. Sometimes good enough may be enough. Sometimes the return on that extra bit of work one could put in the project is not enough to warrant the extra time and effort. It's probably part of that 80/20 rule I hear about so often. 80% of the result comes from 20% of the effort. That scrapbook I've been putting together as a gift? I could finish it in one day, if I wasn't so hung up on what else I could do to make it "perfect." But really the ROI on that extra effort would be almost nothing. It's close enough to perfect to make the person getting it happy. And she will be even happier just to have it done (since it is a bit later than I meant it to be).

I think we need to evaluate more things in our lives with this ROI calculation. Will the benefit of this purchase be big enough to warrant that amount of money? Is the time I will have to spend on this project (which will take me away from other projects and opportunities) worth the feeling of accomplishment I might get from doing it? Will this project have any benefit to me or am I doing it simply out of a feeling of obligation? Does this group's behavior make them less enjoyable to volunteer with and therefore reduce the benefit I receive from working there? Hard questions sometimes, but worth answering.

What sort of ROI question would help you decide whether or not to do something in your life?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Inspiration: Getting It and Keeping It

It can be hard to find inspiration, whether you are doing some writing (I'm working on my first novel) or some other project (from house organizing to graphic design work--both of which I've been doing a lot lately).

I even had a hard time getting inspiration to write this post. I started it on Wed and am very late posting it on Fri because I could not figure out all that I wanted to say. I was having inspiration problems on a post about inspiration. Irony!

To get inspiration, here are some techniques I use:

1. Read. I find that if I browse my favorite blogs or sites, I will often find things which excite me or make me think about what I am working on in a new way.

Some of my favorite blogs:
Happiness Project
1000 Awesome Things
Cake Wrecks

For comics, I like:
2d Goggles (adventures of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace)
Digger (if you haven't seen it, start from the beginning and be enthralled)
Girl Genius (long, long comic but great from the start, especially if you enjoy steampunk)
Basic Instructions
The Meek (although I'm not sure where it is going, I like it so far)

Glance through Cafe Press designs (here are two good examples from today's browsing:
Plays with Robots

2. Enjoy the natural world:
Go outside for a walk. Look out your window. Go to the park. Do something to get you out of your normal indoor surroundings.

3. Daydream:
It may seem counter intuitive but it can be a productive thing--as long as I set a limit to it and get to work afterwards. :)

4. Brainstorm:
That's right. If I am having difficult writing, I just write a whole bunch.

5. Play the right music:
If I am doing something active, like organizing, then my favorite 80s rock songs. If it is a mental exercise, then classical music or my section of the ipod labelled Favorite Instrumental (movie themes and other cool stuff).

Keeping inspiration can be a bit harder. Too often it is hard to stick with a project, especially a big one.

I try to do the following to stick with things:

1. Stop for a break only when I have something exciting to finish (be in the middle of a good part--not a tough part).

2. When writing, finish mid sentence or paragraph, not at the end of a chapter.

3. When organizing, set the work on the bed when it is in mid-progress so that I have to return to it before I go to sleep or be forced to move it when it is half done.

4. Promise myself a reward for getting more done.

5. Set a timer and just promise myself another 15 minutes or half hour on the project. This works if I am struggling because by 15 minutes, I may be so involved again, I decide to continue. I would have quit 15 minutes ago, but I pushed through and now I don't want to stop!

Do you have any tips for getting and keeping inspiration?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wake Up Call: Another Reason to be Grateful

Yesterday afternoon I had a rather big scare. While it ended up resolved with no harm done, the terror of that moment and how I feel now are still with me.

My husband left for a job interview that morning. I kissed him goodbye and watched him leave, nicely dressed in a suit and tie.

I went about my business around the house, doing work on the computer, doing a little straightening of the dining room etc. About ten minutes after his interview was supposed to start, the phone rang. When I answered it, the recruiter on the other end of the line asked for my husband. When I said he wasn't available and asked to take a message, she told me that he had not shown up for his interview and she was looking for him.

This mildly concerned me since I knew he left early enough to get there about 15 minutes early, just in case traffic delayed him (the interview was about a half hour away). I explained that he had left with lots of extra time and gave her his cell phone number.

I tried not to worry but I admit that I was a little concerned. Still, I went about my morning the best I could. Imagine my horror when almost 30 minutes later she called and said that he still hadn't appeared at the interview and that she had not been able to reach him at his cell phone. She said they were rescheduling the interview and were disappointed. I assured her that this wasn't like him and that I was very worried.

After she hung up, I began to panic. I called his phone but got no answer. I left a message and began thinking of what might have happened. I checked the traffic reports and saw that a blue car had overturned on a nearby highway and was on fire with the driver ejected. Since my husband's car is blue, this was very worrying. The time of the accident seemed a bit late and the location was not a likely one based on the quickest route to the interview, but it was enough to make me more panicked.

I called his cell phone several times but got no response. I began thinking of calling hospitals or the police to see what I should do to find him.

Almost 1 hour and 20 minutes after he was scheduled to arrive at his interview, he called me. He had been in the interview the whole time.

Apparently the company's secretary didn't log him in and the hiring manager didn't see him arrive. He was ushered back to talk with the Vice President of the company and he felt the phone vibrate a bunch of times during the interview but couldn't answer it, of course.

Meanwhile, the hiring manager was calling the recruiter to complain about him not arriving while he was being interviewed just down the hall.

I was worried for nothing. Those visions of him being injured or even dying, lying by the side of the road with a burning car, were all--thankfully--false.

You can imagine my relief. I started shaking and crying when I heard his voice. I had been really, really worried about him.

We've been married almost fifteen years and I love him very much. I can't imagine my life without him. He has been my best friend for over half of my life.

Sometimes it is easy to take for granted the people we care about in our lives. We get busy doing projects, working, taking care of the day to day annoyances that make up our world.

Yesterday I was reminded about my love for my husband--and how precious he is to me.

Think about the people in your life who make a difference and arrange to spend more time with them very soon. Tell them you love them. Don't wait. Don't let things get in the way.

I hugged my husband for a long time when he finally got home and made sure he knew how much I loved him. Yesterday was a great day--just because he is in my life.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gray Days and Mondays

Today it is overcast. In our area this is fairly normal for this time of year. We have names like "May Gray" and "June Gloom" for the typical weather pattern for SoCal. We like to joke that if you can say "night and morning low clouds" you too can be a weatherman for the area.

Today it is probably going to stick around since they say it might have a light rain tomorrow.

I don't mind. I like rain (especially when I don't have to drive in it) and don't mind overcast days as a rule (I dislike hot weather so SoCal's July-Oct weather can be a bit much for me). Besides, this area needs the water so I say, rain away!

I know that many people find their moods affected by weather patterns. There are even names for it, like Seasonal Affective Disorder, to describe the feelings some people get when living in an area with little sunshine in the winter. This is more common in areas like Seattle but not common in Southern California because, honestly, we have good weather and sunshine most of the year.

In the same way, many people find Mondays hard to bear, much like Garfield. This is mostly true for people because they don't like their work. It wasn't that long ago when I wasn't too thrilled with Mondays myself. My work was pretty awful--tedious, not fulfilling, unrelated to my interests and strengths, and filled with people who went out of their way to be mean and rude. Worse, I found myself finding the cubicle atmosphere almost claustrophobic. My little cubicle was in an office with no windows.

I was locked away from sunlight or any view that wasn't light tan cubicle material for 8 hours a day. Meanwhile there was a beautiful park and bay within view of the front door of the building and I couldn't even go out for lunch because if I didn't eat lunch at my desk when working, I had to go home even later, making it hard to beat the commute and cook dinner.

Now I am unemployed, thanks to a layoff, and I work on my couch next to a giant window overlooking my front yard. My laptop allows me to work with a great view.

I'm grateful that on this Monday I woke up and didn't dread going anywhere. I do find the overcast skies a little gloomy, after the beauty of the outdoors this weekend, but I'm grateful for the coolness it provides and I'm grateful because I get to see it from my window.

I hope that my next job will be something I can look forward to doing each Monday. If I am very lucky it also won't involve a cubicle prison where I felt like I was being buried alive in padded tan walls. A window might be nice or the chance to see the outdoors occasionally.

Today I am celebrating the beauty of Mondays, overcast or not. The world really is a beautiful place to be. If you are not stuck inside in a cubicle, take a moment to enjoy the fresh air. If you are cubicle-bound, like I was, try to find someway to escape even for a few minutes today to someplace beautiful, whether it is your own backyard or some other location. If the weather is awful where you are and not just overcast, maybe try visualizing the natural beauty of our world.

Really, how can we have bad Mondays in such an amazing world?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Productive Days Feel Good: A Success Story

Some days are better than others. Yesterday was a good one for me. I spent the entire day, from when I woke up at 6am till I went to bed at 10pm, on the computer. I got up to fix meals and do normal stuff like that, but I spent the majority of my time on my laptop.

This might not sound like a good day to everyone, and on many days I might agree, but what felt good about this day was that I got a lot done. I have a number of projects I've been working on for some groups I volunteer with, and I was falling behind on some tasks. Yesterday I got drafts done on four major assignments. Now I just await feedback from the group before finalizing these projects.

True, I wouldn't want to spend every day like that, for that many hours, at least, but what really feels good is accomplishing a goal. I wanted to make serious progress on this group's work and I did!

As I wrote in my last post, there is almost always some pain (physical, emotional, or whatever) in accomplishing our goals. I had to work really hard to put together these promotional materials for the group. Designing brochures and postcards can mean a lot of detailed work. I spent a lot of time in Photoshop and InDesign getting everything just right. I went through numerous drafts before I want ready to send versions out to the appropriate people for comment. That is what it takes to do good work.

Perhaps they won't like it. I've run into this before where my vision of how something should look is different than the people who actually get to make the decisions. I know that the person I sent these drafts to often has very specific ideas of what she wants, something I usually only find out after I have worked on something for awhile. I know that is part of the process and that's okay too. Some of this work won't be fun. It will be tedious and annoying. It will take many hours. It may cause my hands to hurt and give me a headache. I accept this.

Why do I keep doing it? Because I really believe in what I am doing for this group. I want to do it. My work matters to me. I may not get paid, but I still care.

So yesterday was a good day because I persevered. I hope today will be a good day too. I have a video to edit for another group and some press releases to write. I think I am busier in my unemployment than I was when I had a paying job. I will probably look back on this time as great fun when I finally get hired by someone.

I've noticed that our minds can play that trick on us. Times which seemed difficult, stressful, tedious, etc. can become some of the best times of my life. When I was in another state studying for two years, I was lonely, homesick, and miserable a great deal of the time. My schooling was also a lot of hard work. However, when I look back on those two years, I remember them with great fondness. Because I was living away from home, I was able to throw myself into the college life completely; in retrospect, I had a great time. I just didn't realize it at the time it was happening.

This is something I try to remember in the present. Sometimes our "best times" only feel like it in hindsight. It all depends on what you accomplish and whether that has meaning to you later. If so, even the tedious and difficult stuff will become fond memories.

I wish all who read this a very good and productive day. May this day become part of a fond memory for you in the future.

Photo from rAmmonRRison's Flickrstream

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hard Work Pays Off, Or So They Say: Why the Journey Is So Painful

The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting, in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain." -G'Kar, Babylon 5

I am fighting against chaos and despair in my own life in the attempt to make my dreams a reality. So are you, probably. It is part of life, if we are striving for goals or seeking to be a better person. I suppose there are people who are just going through life without trying to reach a goal, but I am not one of them.

The thing about reaching for goals is that it is painful. We seldom just get things handed to us in this world. Instead we have to work hard, lose sleep, agonize over decisions, and sometimes suffer physical pain.

I've lately been thinking a lot about how to reach goals and the journeys one takes in life. If, as Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," I guess my life is worth living; it is definitely being examined.

I was wondering why it is always so hard to change habits, make progress on new projects, or keep progressing towards goals. I thought about the old axioms about hard work paying off and "nothing worth doing is ever easy" and wondered--why? Why is the future "born in pain"?

Perhaps it is that we will only appreciate things when we can say we overcame obstacles. Just like we can really only know happiness if we also know its opposite (otherwise we'd only have the middle ground of nothing--it takes the highs and the lows to help us define our experiences), perhaps we can only truly appreciate the journey if there were difficulties along the way.

Or perhaps it is because there must be obstacles in order for us to grow. It might be that we only learn and grow through the failures, difficulties and struggles. If life and what we wanted from life came easily (like with "The Secret" where you apparently just visualize what you want and -magically- it is yours), then we would neither learn anything nor appreciate what we have. I suppose it would be like we were spoiled children handed anything we asked for without having to do chores or learn to wait our turn. That is not a world I would want, where everyone was like a spoiled child.

The obstacles and hard work also means that not everyone will continue on in the face of adversity. The sad fact is that we will fail, at least some of the time. We will either fail in execution or fail to even follow through and try (I'm just as likely to have difficulty starting something as have difficulty finishing something successfully--there are two types of failing involved there). This means that there are real consequences to our actions.

I can hear some people objecting. Of course, some people do have life handed to them, it seems, and other people work hard and struggle and still don't succeed for reasons that have nothing to do with their effort or worthiness. These are both very true. Life is not fair, despite what we might wish. If you can stand another Babylon 5 quote (it is one of my favorite shows of all time), "You know, I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe" (Marcus Cole, B5). I think this sums it up pretty well. Life may be unfair and we may not like that fact, but we can't fight it. The best we can do is work hard and hope that we will succeed despite this unfairness. If life were fair, it might not look nearly as nice as we'd like to think, anyways.

What does all of these theoretical musings mean to my life, right now? First, I'm trying to turn my life around and find a way to decide what goals I really want in life and how to reach them. This will almost certainly result in some discomfort, emotionally and physically. Whether this is my difficulties in getting my writing done to dragging my heels about how much I hate to organize my office, the journey will almost certainly involve tedium, hard work, and discomfort. What I need to remember is that the pain is a necessary component, not a sign to give up. In fact, the pain can be a sign that I need to continue. I will only grow as a person if I push myself out of my comfort zone a bit and stretch myself mentally and physically.

I could continue to live a perfectly calm existence of watching TV and continuing down the path I've always known. I might have a very normal life, much like others around me. I'd drift through various jobs, wake up each day and do my work, goof off a bit, and then go to bed. It sounds rather peaceful. If I didn't have so many things I want to do with my life, it might be enough. For some people it probably is enough, but it isn't enough for me.

Is it enough for you? If not, there might be some pain ahead of you, but don't let it stop you from continuing to push forward. It is just part of the process and a sign that you are learning and growing. It might even lead to success.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up: An Adult Still Looking for the Perfect Career

As far as I can remember, the careers I have wanted (in the general order I thought of them through my life) goes something like this:

Ballerina (I was 6, okay?)
Paleontologist (I loved dinosaurs, still do!)
Egyptologist (can you tell the King Tut exhibit was a big deal when I was a kid?)
Marine Biologist (studying whales/dolphins, of course)
unspecified scientist of some sort (I was confused about it but I was going to be a big deal in whatever field it was and discover something exciting)
Publicist/Event Coordinator

The last three are the fields I am still pursuing although lately the acting bug has caught me a little again (as a hobby, not a profession, at least).

It is interesting to note that until early high school, I was obsessed with science as a field (except for that unfortunate interest in ballet). In high school (10th grade), I took a drama class and caught the acting bug (which is when I switched to the humanities as an interest).

I think this was partly due to my love of reading and a really good experience with my drama class and partly due to my problems with Marine Biology. You see, when I was in 8th grade, I wanted to be a Marine Biologist. I was very dedicated to the study of Whales and Dolphins. I read a lot about it. I had grown up fascinated with Cousteau (he was my hero!) and had many books on sea life. I visited Sea World often. I did reports on fish. My parents, for an 8th grade graduation present, arranged for me to go for a two week camp on Catalina Island. There I would learn Scuba diving and Marine Biology.

The camp was a great experience for me in many ways. I generally had fun. Two things, however, are my main memories of it. One, I was terribly homesick. I had never been away from my parents for so long. Two, I got a terrible ear infection from scuba diving. This was a real blow. A Marine Biologist who cannot scuba dive? Worse, the ear infection left me so that even going to the bottom of the pool hurt. I can't get water in my ear to this day without annoyance.

I was an avid swimmer as a child; I was a member of the swim team and used to have imaginary tea parties at the bottom of the pool where I pretended I was a mermaid. As a child I worked to see how far I could swim in the pool without coming up for air. I was a water child. That changed when I got the bad swimmer's ear problem when learning to dive.

Worse, I found that my general nervousness about life translated to absolute terror over scuba diving. I was a nervous wreck while learning and often hyperventilated when in scuba gear. I think I would do better as an adult as I am actually much calmer about most things than I was as a child. However, I don't know that my ears could handle it even today. I don't swim as often as I used to because my ears still hurt. I miss swimming.

You can imagine how worried I was about being a Marine Biologist when I had failed to become a great scuba diver. In ninth grade it became worse. Now I not only had problems with my ears in the water but two more things happened. First, I had the option to take a Marine Biology class in high school and hated it. The teacher was awful and I could not stand dissection. Second, I met two Marine Biologists (a married couple) at an event and talked to them about my desire. They discouraged me. They said I was unlikely to be able to study whales or dolphins (saying everyone wants to study the cool stuff) and I would probably end up being like them, studying either snails or worms on the ocean floor (I can't remember which they did, now). Also, they told me that my field paid horribly and they didn't recommend it.

You can imagine how frustrated I was by this point. I no longer knew what I wanted to do. For years I had dreamed of Marine Biology. I spent a year or so having vague thoughts of science and imagining myself in a lab coat, discovering some wonderful thing (cure for cancer, anyone?). Meanwhile I had a wonderful English teacher who next year was taking on drama classes as well. Within a year, I had the acting bug.

I wonder sometimes how life might have been different for me had the Catalina camp not ended with an ear infection or if I had found more encouragement in 9th and 10th grade for my interest in Marine Biology.

Or if my interest in dinosaurs or hieroglyphics or King Tut had been more encouraged, what would I be doing now?

My love for acting brought me to do even more reading of the classics (I had always been a bookworm) and eventually led to my becoming an English major in college. By my sophomore year in college, I knew I wanted to teach literature. That is a long way from wanting to study undersea creatures.

Of course, today, I am 41 and unemployed. I have a graduate degree in English and years of teaching experience at the college level. Unfortunately, the economy makes it almost impossible to get a teaching job at a college right now (30% layoffs at our local schools!) and I am no longer certain what will make me happy.

When I was 10, it was expected that I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but, at the age of 41, I find that people are a little less tolerant.

It is funny how life turns out. I certainly never would have pictured where I am now in my life when I was a child. The funny thing is, I'm generally pretty happy. I've been very lucky. I was able to pursue education in a field I loved for a long time, with little worry about finances. My husband supported me, financially and emotionally, for years. Even now, when I had thought that I would be gainfully employed in my chosen field and be bringing in the good wages expected of a college professor, I can't say I am sorry that things turned out this way. It's been pretty great.

Sure, I'd like to have a good job now, but I still hope that it will come. It just won't be one in Marine Biology. I've come too far down one road to go back to the one I left all those years ago. When I was younger I could explore ANY option but now I have to stick to the options closer to the path I chose to follow. Anything I do today will be related to the fields I have studied as an adult.

The options narrow as we make choices. That is the way of life. I don't regret it, even as I look back and wonder, what would life have been like had I followed my hero, Cousteau, and had explored the oceans instead of exploring literature.......

Friday, May 7, 2010

Life: What Happens When You Are Not Looking

The irony is that I am writing in a blog about seeking the "real me" when I'm always both "real" and "me" at any moment of my life. We all are. Perhaps I'm not certain that I'm happy with where my life is right now (unemployed with too many goals undone at 41), but I'm still "me."

If you are like me, you plan and dream and make lists--and meanwhile life goes on, sometimes not the way you had hoped.

This year is moving by so fast. Seems like every year speeds up (and I hear that it just gets faster as I get older) so I need to get moving on my goals now or I may never get to them.

On the other hand, some days I just don't feel up to doing much of anything. Yesterday should have been a great day for accomplishing things. I had been busy the day before. I had a list of things which needed to be accomplished (several are time sensitive) and yet yesterday I got very little done. Meanwhile, life is moving on, whether I am moving with it or not.

I have always been better at the planning than the doing. I am great about dreaming about what I want my future to be like, but not great at the follow through. I have a half dozen unfinished projects laying around the house. I have a long list of things I want to do. When will they get done? I don't know.

Meanwhile, I had a preliminary interview two weeks ago for a job which I really want and which would be a good fit for me--and was told I'd hear back in 1-1.5 weeks and still there is silence. I even emailed her to give her some references, hoping that this might shake lose a reply--nothing. I had a few jobs to apply for but I held off, hoping that this interview was going to lead to an offer right away--and now I have nothing to show for it. I should have followed through on those other applications; I guess I will do so for those which are still available.

So, my life continues and I'm still more in the planning stages than the doing.

This is a reminder to myself, and to those out there reading, we need to do things NOW, right this moment. Who we are right now is important and that person who we are right now needs to be doing things--and if we don't pursue the things we want right now, life will move on and we will still be stuck in the same place.

I'm trying to improve my life--hoping that giving myself a deadline will kick myself out of this "someday" mode of dreaming and will get me moving to actually live my life as I want it to be. For me this means following through on unfinished tasks (including writing my novel), throwing myself into my passions (including my volunteer work), and finding a career to pursue. It doesn't mean letting life go by--like it did yesterday.

When I turn 42, I'll still be "me" but will I be the "real me" (the "me" which I want to be--a fulfilling life of doing rather than just dreaming)?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Teasing: A Victim Speaks (and Does It to Others)

Gretchen Rubin, over at the Happiness Project, has an interesting article about Teasing.

I had two rather contradictory reactions to this piece. She quotes David Dunning's book, Self-Insight: Roadblocks and Detours on the Path to Knowing Thyself.

“People commonly tease each other, but it appears that people who are teased misunderstand the intentions of the person doing the teasing. Often, teasing is done in a spirit of affection and playfulness, and teasers attempt to convey these intentions through subtle nonverbal cues. However those who are being teased tend to miss these benign aims. When they describe a time they teased their roommate, people tend to describe the action as more humorous and lighthearted than does the person being teased, who instead rates such incidents as more malicious and annoying. The good intentions of teasers are just not as obvious as teasers believe.” (Kruger, Gordon, Kuban, in press) (page 129)

Then she goes on to talk about how teasing seems funnier to the person doing the teasing and how her family did not tease each other. In the end she relates hearing a mother say to her daughter, "Hey, Messy Girl, are you planning to drag a brush through that rat's nest on your head?" and thinking that the girl was probably upset with this teasing.

First, I was teased a great deal growing up. It hurt. I've already related how I was teased as a child for being fat (even when I wasn't, really) and grew up feeling ugly and unlovable. I don't like teasing. People say "children can be so cruel" and they are right. The problem is that most people who say that are merely excusing it as a normal part of growing up--a sort of "boys will be boys" (so we don't have to deal with it). Teasing and bullying are frequently not far apart among youngsters. I find my memories of teasing very painful ones.

I've also experienced teasing as an adult. I volunteer for several groups and, in one of the groups, several older men apparently have a "wry" sense of humor (I guess that's how many people would put it) and come across as very grumpy, even mean. They say things which are probably viewed by them as teasing but, until I got used to the way they talked, seemed rather hurtful. I've since discovered that they are actually pretty nice guys and it is part of how they make you feel included in a group. Recently one of the men has stopped teasing me and I've realized that for him this is a bad sign, because he is unhappy with me because of some politics going on in that group. It has been hard for me to deal with these people because I couldn't really see what they were doing (their intent) over their seemingly hurtful words.

On the other hand, I know that I use sarcasm and teasing all of the time. I think it has become a bit of a defense mechanism. I'm not the first person to use self-deprecating humor and teasing (of myself and others) to ease my own sense of myself. I think I'm being funny but seeing this quote made me wonder if I was inflicting the same discomfort on other people when I thought I was doing a harmless teasing.

Perhaps that is why I only had a shrug for the example which Gretchen gives of the mother teasing her daughter about her hair. Depending on the tone of voice, age of daughter, and how public the statement was made, I just didn't see it as being that bad. I suppose if her voice was harsh and loud, her daughter is above the age of 8, and it was done in a room full of people who were looking at the daughter, this would be a very bad thing for the mother to do. Otherwise, I can see a daughter rolling her eyes at this (see my last post about mothers pushing daughters' buttons) but it isn't much in the way of teasing.

This article gave me a lot to think about. I'm going to watch myself a little more closely for awhile and see how often I am tempted to make teasing comments to people. Perhaps being more aware of my own tendencies will help.

What is your take on teasing? When is it allowable? Is it ever an acceptable way to talk to someone?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Moms: Reflections on Mother's Day

I love my mom. She has been a best friend for most of my life. Being an only child who moved frequently, I spent a lot of time with my mom.

One thing we did was we shopped together. When I was a teenager, we even shared clothes. She was fairly young when she had me and she has always looked (and acted) a bit younger than her age so most people presume she is my sister.

We look alike, although she is taller and thinner than I am. She is also more outgoing. I was shy and she never understood that. She also had been very thin and tall growing up and pushed me to be both thinner and more outgoing. She never understood what I was going through.

Some people say that the reason parents push all of your buttons is because they installed them. Perhaps that is true. Certainly, my mother drives me crazy. She can irritate the heck out of me. I find it frustrating that she does not understand or value the things which I value. She thinks my hobbies are weird or boring (or both). I find myself constantly wanting her approval but frustrated by her.

As Mother's Day approaches, I think about three important women in my life:
1. My Mom, a wonderful woman who pushes all of my buttons
2. My Grandmother--every year I fear I will lose her (and every year she gets more cranky and difficult, as her health gets worse) and since she lives out of state, I hardly ever see her (and miss her terribly)
3. My Mother-in-Law--I love her and I am close to her but she is also very difficult sometimes

These three wonderful but difficult women are a major part of my life. It is funny how much someone can get under your skin--both in the sense of closeness and also irritation. Maybe it is impossible to do one with out the other. They drive me crazy but my life would be emptier without them.

I'm sure I drive them crazy too, sometimes. I know with my mom it is true. I cringe to think of it, but I was terrible about saying how old she was all the time I was growing up. When she was in her 20s and 30s I would be going on about "how was it when you came over on the Mayflower?" or "Can you tell me more about the dinosaurs since you were there?" When she turned 40, we threw a huge gag birthday party with "Over the Hill" decorations and we greeted her at the door with a wheelchair and gave her a cane. Once I got to 30 and realized how young she had been (thinking about what age I had been when teasing her and therefore what age she would have been then), I'm embarrassed. When my Mom was my age (41), I was 19. I could easily have a 19 year old daughter.....yikes!

I am not a mother and may never be one, at this rate. However, I do have three women who are important to me. I am sure that you have some women in your life who have made a difference. Like me, you may find that they are also sometimes difficult women who have done things to annoy you. However, as Mother's Day approaches, I think it is a good time to stop and think about these women and how we can show them that they make a difference in our lives.

I'm doing a breakfast for my Mom and MIL to celebrate their role in my life. I'm going to send a card to Grandma and also give her a call. It's a good time to reach out and make sure that these connections stay strong because despite any irritations, they are connections worth having.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

41 Things: Update

I had recently written that I had 41 Things I wanted to do before my 42nd birthday. I wanted to update how I am doing on this list.

So far I have:

Made Eggrolls (pretty good but need to work on rolling and maybe try a different type of wrapping)

Tried a new recipe (last night made Tempura: yams, potato, shrimp -- it was good!)

Tried a new hairstyle (will do again, probably)

Dressed in a costume in public (plan to do more of this, with better costumes)

Gotten some readers to this blog and some comments (100 views of this blog, 2 different people have commented--thank you guys!)

I'm making progress!