Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Un-Secretary


Monday it will be a year since my smashing little head incident and the anniversary presents a great opportunity to assess this crap. I also freshly bonked my noggin on Tuesday and have been enveloped in a less severe but still annoying cloud of dizziness and nausea once more, although I'm trying to pretend it isn't so.

Old Lemon Cucumber in the November Garden
A few weeks ago, my vestibular therapist and I looked in to her professional crystal ball and sussed out what my future won't look like.  Part time work: maybe in six months.  Full time work? Possibly never... but maybe something quiet and solitary and with a singular focus, like say, assembling parts at home. She didn't say that exactly, but I'm familiar with the practice.  And since it's on my mind I might as well tell you that when I was 13, just after eighth grade graduation, my classmate's father hired me to work at his warehouse, "under the table".  Here I spent all day assembling products at "home."  It was all the rage in the 80's. But I think the image was more of a home-maker-maker sitting on her stained white carpet, in front of the tv, ignoring her screaming toddler on the pastel-splashed couch behind her, as she peacefully assembled photo frames.  But instead it was me, all 13 years of me, alone, in a very dark corner of a large warehouse using exposed wires to melt plexiglass into frames and then glue a magnet on the back.  I also assembled hangers. I ate my lunch alone.  I burnt myself a lot. Until my dad dropped in to check out the working conditions and saved me.  I was somewhat disappointed because that meant I had to take a nanny job for school clothes money, and I think I would have rather been locked in the corner of a warehouse assembling garage sale fodder. And to think, that might still be an option for me.
Lemon cucumber corpse
The best thing my vestibular therapist said was when we were standing at the secretarial desk and we had to interrupt one of the four secretaries to make my very last appointment with her.  And my therapist looked at me and said, "This job? You can't ever do this job.  Too much multi-tasking.  Too much noise.  Too many interruptions."  Really?!  Really!! Oh god yes.  Oh yes. Yes please. Oh please oh please ohplease. Never? Promise? I've been stuck in those jobs for so very very long.  If you wonder why I chose to be a haus frau for a few years, that's one of the reasons, abject fear of secretarial jobs.  I was so freaky good at them.  My unnatural ability to predict my boss's needs and wants combined with my now-vanishing co-dependance that made me need to meet those needs and wants with glee, like a slave who's only dream has been to be a slave, who's fantasy of a life well lived is to take a message for someone important.  Layer that over mad organizational skills and you have a woman who would never get promoted out of a job she does WAY too well.  It's an important job, to be sure, not that anyone but a secretary knows that.  We make our bosses sound like they didn't sleep through English, we dust the dandruff off their coats before they head off to court to argue a case we did all the work on. (I was a paralegal for five years, which in pay and prestige is just a slightly-glorified secretary.) But I'm not sure what I will do for money.

"When things haven't gone well for you
call in a secretary or staff man
and chew him out.
You will sleep better and they will appreciate the attention."
-Lyndon B. Johnson


Old Cucumber: luminous in its afterlife
For a long time, I told people I planned to go to law school, what when all this moving and kid-having mayhem died down a bit.  But once we settled in here, any desire I was pretending to have, vanished.  Plus the law school here is one of the most expensive and the town in lousy with it's graduates.  But the law school dream was a nice thing to tell people to get them off my back, especially the Boomer home-makers who wanted to live vicariously through me and were disgusted that I'd throw my college education away on not-working, even for a while.  And just saying I was studying for the LSAT let the world know I wasn't just another failed launch. People would immediately assume I was intelligent and respectable (!?!).  It made a great cover story, and I came to believe it too.  But I don't think it's going to happen at all.  I don't think I can even keep lying about it, to myself or anyone.  For one, I've realized that if you can't respect me now, with the decisions I've made to date, I don't want your respect, because it's all tied in with bullshit.

And yet... I too believe our culture's bullshit on what is respect and value and worth, though I fight it. It's only human.  We're cultural creatures and we long to be valued by our social group and it's incredibly hard to ignore the screwy values we've cultivated into ours.

Lemon Cucumber, post frost
I always dreamed I had a jet-setter buried deep inside.  Given the right circumstances and opportunities, I'd have secretaries of my own, multiple phones and I'd run through airports in expensive pin-striped pantsuits with shoulder pads, a man/power haircut, high heels, with a 360 degree spinning carry-on hardback suitcase. I had this vision that I'd be someone in our crazy society, someone Important.  I know now that I'm important in the universal sense of the word, that's from the head injury, not a degree or paycheck or job or pantsuit.  But since I live in this back-ass culture, I'm sure I'm not alone in dreaming occasionally, in the furthest darkest corner of my warehouse-mind, that I'd someday be American-Important.

Halloween!
It's kind of relief to know that I CAN'T be American-Important anymore.  It's not that I could be but never will thanks to some moral failing or laziness, lack of focus, homeschooling, or simply by being distract by something less than world domination.  It's that I can't.  My brain won't let me.  Sometimes "can't" can feel okay.

Back when I was telling people I would be a lawyer, I remember confessing to a friend as we whispered in, again, the darkest corner, of an intimate restaurant.  I leaned in and dished my deepest fear about my faux-career path.  I said, "...but sometimes, I think that if I even had to spend one sunny spring day in pantyhose and a cublicle I would slit my wrists in the bathtub."  Shocked, she ordered me to never say that again, which I felt was kind of controlling and willfully blind: think it, just don't speak about it?  But  I don't think I meant I'd actually kill myself.  I think I meant that I'd have to drastically change my life.  So I'm not sure I really wanted the jet set life anyway.  I just wanted to be American-Important.  Can I settle for universal important?  Do I have a choice?

People tell me: "Oh, you know doctors and their predictions... the cancer patient given weeks but takes years."  Hell, after Huck's knee was shattered, lo these nearly 20 years ago, he was told he'd never walk again.  But a bunch of titatnium and hard work later, and he's a runner.  Or rather, was one until a month ago; now he's not even a walker, more of a swinging person on crutches with an appointment to see a surgeon. (Yes, life likes to pile the shit on.)  I know these "don't take everything a doctor says seriously" folks are just trying to make me feel better, but they aren't.  I'm enjoying the possibility that there's nothing I can do to make me American-Important, which means there's nothing I should be doing and that means there's nothing I'm failing at.  Sounds kinda relaxing, doesn't it?  Except for the financial part.

The two moose who traversed our field
But my vestibular therapist did give me some hope.  She said the career she could really see me doing was writing.  A deadline here, a deadline there, a quiet room and nothing to do but string the lovely words together.  I asked her if she knew how to pull that off.  She didn't, but she was sure I'd figure it out. Gosh, I'm gonna miss that lady.

Secretary and American-Important are off the table.  My future self is at the spa... that it can't afford and doesn't deserve now that it's not American-Important, but she doesn't care.  She's just splashing in the hot herbal sauna and ordering another glass of cool water with a lemon slice.

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