Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Calculating the Half-Life

Decades ago. Decades. I was 20, almost 21. My first husband left and I became a feminist. I had married so early, months after turning 18. It's what our parents had done. It was part of our religion, no sex until marriage, and 18 was as long as I could wait. Plus I needed to know, have it in writing, who was going to love me forever. And after a shocking and deep heartbreak, the answer became, hopefully: me. As part of my re-education, I'd read Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings, and was moving on to some essential second wave feminist novel that I understood was required reading for the newly converted. I wish I could remember the title. Maybe some reader will recognize it and I'll be roundly chastised for never having gotten past the 20th page. This is because at 20 pages in we were still on the opening scene: a woman, (a homemaker, I think), gazing at herself in a mirror, analyzing her wrinkles and gray hair, wondering how the hell she got where she was. "Holy Fuck!" 20-year-old Sarajoy exclaimed, "Who gives a shit!? That is waaay more self-pity and navel gazing than anyone should ever have time for!"

This is to say: Sorry about this post!

Middle aged Zinnia
If you don't want to read about a disabled homemaker turning 40, not even this one, then I highly suggest you stop reading two paragraphs ago. But for me, today, I occupy that space, I take that baton for my lap in this relay. I am that 40 yo SAHM with no career prospects, a life I never intended, a life paused and the remote's batteries are missing. We are unsure how to un-pause from here.

I myself am as horrified as anyone that this birthday is affecting me so horribly. It's cliche. It's boring. It's pathetic. But it's real. Huck's trying to get me to birthday party, but I can't. Although I am eating cake for every meal this week.

Someone recently summarized the state of affairs in my life right now by surmising, "that time in your life." That cliche 40 time. That time where the practicing ends and the business begins. It's that point in Yahtzee where you stop "going for" your four of a kind and your sixes and start accepting your bullshit rolls, you take a 12 for your sixes and just forget about the 35 point bonus. You plop a goose egg on the large straight. You laugh at yourself, did you ever really believe you'd roll a large straight! HAHA!

But I don't want to feel like a statistic, that my feelings are all just part of the ride, a predetermined nadir on the roller coaster. But it's true. Forty IS statistically the trough of happiness in the average life and average life span. And as every second wave feminist novel will tell you, it's part of the patriarchal ride. Plus, I've gotten really in to Joni Mitchell lately and that's puts me solidly, undeniably, in to the 40 year old box.

Don't worry, I won't be cataloging wrinkles and bulges. I take pride in my grey streaked hair. I have long since made peace with the probability that, if I am very lucky, I will be an adorable, wrinkled, weathered and stooped old lady. I will have a belt buckle burrowed deep between a round belly and saggy boobs. And this will not happen over night (at least I hope not). Best case scenario is that I get there bit by bit, day by day, mile by mile. I have a regal and distinguished destination. As I traverse from sea to shining sea, I will transform from the pert Rocky mountains to the old, slumped Appalachians. And I accept the necessity of every mile carved onto my corporeal being. Would it be too much to reference South Dakota's Mt. Rushmore here? too Woody Guthrie? But I am in the South Dakota of life, and even here, there are wonderful natural formations: The Bad Lands. No, I am not miffed by the years seeping in to my face. Nope, I've got a handful of face-cream helpers to smooth that transition.

I tried squirming away from these uncomfortable feelings using logic and anthropology. The only reason 40 is a big deal is because we live in a culture that 1) celebrates birthdays. We don't just say, "Yeah, I've been around for 39 winters." We have a date, a point in time that comes with cake and pointy hats and annoying expectations. 2) We live long enough to celebrate 40th birthdays, and long enough to celebrate them as a half way point. 3) We have a base ten number system. 40 would be nothing to a Mayan. The Mayans had a base 16 system where the numbers go up to 16 before there's anything in the "tens" column. So if I were Mayan (and what with my Mayan tattoos given to me by Mayans, I'm practically 100% Mayan already), my big birthdays (I'm unsure if ancient Mayans kept track of that stuff) would've been 16 and 32. And that means that it's no biggy until I'm 48. The problems isn't 40, it's the base ten number system of modern times. But the unavoidable truth is that these are the times I live in, with the numbers I have.  Fourty is a mile marker here, now, and I am not ancient Mayan, not even a little bit. And modern Mayans use the same number system I do.
The problem is where I AM at my supposed midpoint. It's the view, or rather lack thereof, that bothers me. It's that things still aren't going my way at this check point. It's the terrifying and yet reassuring understanding that life and I have come to at this point: I'm not very much in control of any of it.

Middle-aged Zinnia: beautiful as it dies
Poor me. I'm half way done, or so the narrative goes. It's all downhill from here. Honestly, I could use a little down hill coasting at this point. But is it really half way? If genetics gets a say, I'm either 2/3 done or half way will actually be at age 46. Of course there's always the random meteorite, e. coli and car accident. I could be 99% done and we won't know until the close of business tomorrow.

Not only am I a homemaker turning 40, I'm also still unable to work thanks to my TBI. I screw shit up all the time. I lose important papers. I forget to return phone calls. I lose time. I lose conversation threads. People start talking to me like we're best friends and I can't even place where I've seen them before. I'm constantly reminding the world that I don't function "normally" (and I'm not sure I ever did) so please stop expecting me to. I'd hate to screw up someone's business, or be constantly worried that I would. So, not only am I unemployed, I'm unemployable. I would not hire me, as is.

I could maybe work part time right now, but I'd have 0 energy for my kids at the end of a short day. Plus, I'm unsure what part time work I'd be suited to. It would need to be work that if I screwed it up, it wouldn't be a big deal. I'm not sure that I could psychologically handle any work simple enough for me to mentally handle. I do not think that would be any solution to my existential crisis. I don't think a bullshit job would add meaning to, or a sense of control over, my life.

Someone recently used the '80's term "Displaced Homemaker," to describe me and I almost threw up. Someone suggested I go back to community college and I've been having community college nightmares ever since. I actually loved my community college experience, but I don't want to go back. In my nightmares I'm stuck in community college, and I know I don't belong there anymore. I run around trying to tell people that I don't belong there, to let me out, that I've already done all of this; I've done my time, dammit! My locker won't open, I can't remember the combination and I yell that community college doesn't have lockers and dammit this IS NOT even going to be high school in this dream. I graduated from a University, top of my class. Please, please let me out. Eventually I realize that it's college, not prison, and I run, run, run away, eating handfuls of hallucinogenic Oregon grapes and salal as I go. I will not go back! I will not enroll in displaced homemaker kindergarten, not unless there are naps!

Maybe there is some career or work for me. Maybe. I'm trying to keep an open mind. So I took some personality and career tests. The career tests showed that I have absolutely no overlap with known gainful employment. It literally said, "Nothing."

At Level 3 training, it said "Stone Carver." I can't imagine anyone wants me using power tools or carving things in to stone. I would be comfortable with the concept of headstones, but I doubt anyone else would be comfortable with my execution, with the typos on their loved one's graves.

At Level 4 training, I got "Writer," and "Poet." I'm not understanding why these were included in a test for gainful employment.

At the level of jobs requiring a PhD (Level 5), I was directed to become a therapist, art therapist, or neuropsychologist. After nearly three years of hard work, including a year of speech therapy, I've maxed out the amount of time I can read and comprehend at 45 minutes on a good day. One wonders what would become of me while taking the graduated school entrance exams, much less doing actual graduate work.

I then discovered that my Meyers-Briggs personality has changed, several letters are different; I think there used to be a J and a T in there. According to this revered yet "cocktail-party trick" of a personality test, I am now: Introvert, Intuitive, Feeling, and Perceptive. A veritable Deanna Troi, with a smaller rack. And just as employable outside of the Enterprise. I have the least employment prone personality set. According to the assessment, it wouldn't even occur to INFP's to succeed in business, or try. It's not that we're lazy. We're just fundamentally impractical and we can't see our way to being practical. When a percentage of us do find our way to careers, we are typically miserable in them. We are interesting. We are creative. We are sensitive. We are hard workers. We long to be practical, useful. But alas, we are not built for today's world. We are doomed to live out our accomplishment-free lives gazing forlornly across the fence to the literally greener grasses (because they can afford lawn care) of others. It was kinda relieving to know that it's not that I should just try harder. I'm already consistently working at the outer edges of my abilities, pushing, always, on the boundaries what I can do now and the idea that I should try harder seems rude and ridiculous. It's that I'm a square peg, by nature. It's not a moral failing, it's a structural one. I'm just not built to career. And careers are not built for me.

Echinacea: Age on the edges
I sometimes masochistically read articles like "7 Things Successful People Do", "Ten reasons you're not successful", et al. The first thing I'd like to note is that none of the things Successful People do is read or write such internet filler. I would be "Exhibit A" in that department. The second thing is that I've learned to rephrase these statements: "7 Traits that are currently being financially rewarded," and "Ten things you could be if you had a personality transplant" If one personality-set were successful in every day and every age of humanity, that would be very stupid. We all have different sets of skills and methods and each set is suited to thrive in some situation humans might find themselves in. My set does not appear to be a necessary part of modern day workings right now. I am the "This Page Intentionally Left Blank" of humanity during this era. We can admit that this is not the environment my personality niche is suited to. I am the humming bird who's flower I co-evolved with no longer exists.

I also take issue with the term "Successful People." What the fuck does that even mean? Gainfully employed? Slave wages employment? Bullshit jobs that ad no value to our collective experience? These articles never include a working definition of "successful."

Charlie Chaplin was one of my favorite "Seems Successful" people. Funny, creative, intelligent, bold. I've been in love with him since middle school. Unfortunately, I just read a more comprehensive biography of him (one 30-45 minute session at a time!) and he was a fucking mess. His mother was a prostitute who went insane. His dad didn't feel like it, so he dropped his two boys off at a workhouse. He finally makes it to America and Hollywood and makes it big BIG. But the funnier and more successful he gets, the crueler he becomes in real life. He was a fucking asshole. He seems to have so much insight, but he was an asshole in all his personal dealings. Acknowledging his Dickensian rough start was likely detrimental, no matter how commercially successful he was, he never became a successfully whole person.

I also read a biography on Lord Byron, writer of the syrupiest love poetry ever known to man. You don't even need to have an object of affection to fall in love by way of his work. You just fall in love with love. But as a person, he was a very cruel douche-sack to every one of his lovers. He fucked everything and everyone. He was vicious and predatory and incapable of any real love.

This is what I think of as a bifurcation process. Perhaps that's not the official word, but it's the one I use. I imagine that the effort that goes in to putting up a front prevents one from actually being the thing one is fronting. Charlie Chaplin had exactly zero "Little Tramp" lightness in his real life. Lord Byron wrote incredible love poems, but he never loved, he never went beyond the tumultuous surface of falling in love, to the quiet depths below, the actual loving. He gave his only child a Chaplin-esc childhood, of which she died.

And I see it everywhere. Now more than ever, with our curated social media personas. The person who talks incessantly about yoga never actually does it. The one who's always posting about compassion, has none, face to face. The person who brags about leaps and bounds of personal growth does so while lying about what's really going on her life. Active wear used for netflix binges. The blogger-personas that we're all told are key to successful blogging (whatever that even is.) Bloggers are told to adopt a sale-able identity, to be the recipe lady, or the canning woman, or the mom. But I just can't. Down that road they tell me lies success, but I only see madness. Maybe it's the success-phobic INFP's need for authenticity talking. But truly, I am not one thing. I am not going to "seem" in order to be "seen". And I'm not going to adopt a simple, marketable identity.  Complexity doesn't sell, they say. Just "being" doesn't sell. I'm supposed to tell you that I'm one thing, I'm a product. I am the person who writes love poems or I am the SAHM "Little Tramp." But I can't do it. Even for mere bloggers there's the danger of bifurcation, of false fronts, of rotten insides. Big Money doesn't have to be at the end of the bifurcation rainbow in order for "presentation" to destroy the interior.

I can't imagine every successful person is thus bifurcated. But presenting a facade to the world must take it's toll. And in this I am lucky. Forty years old, unemployable, disabled, home"making" (haha!) mother that I am, I am free to pursue a complete integration of myself. My ugly shadows and my elegant light are both welcome in this unsuccessful place, or rather, that is what I strive for. And someday, perhaps that could become the prevailing definition of a "Successful Person." It is to me. And it's what I can do. And it's how I can contribute to this world right now, by being as much myself, as fully, as integrated, as I can be, day by day.

Chocolate mint
What exactly have I done for 40 years? What do I have to show for it? No career, but let me tell you: I've grown from scratch. I've learned to read twice! I've learned to walk and talk one-and-a-half times! I've done all my schooling, even college. I got married, twice! I've owned two houses, or perhaps I've owned one and been own by the other, but that's a different blog post. I've traveled all over the world and the memories are Wordsworth's daffodils. I grew humans from scratch, twice! And really what is more trippy and biologically successful than bringing life in to the world. I know it's not for everyone, and not everyone can have that experience, but for me, it's really been a capstone experience. I taught them to walk and read and ride bikes and camp and cook and love, hopefully. I've been fortunate in many ways. I may not have an income or a career, but looking at it this way, I've been very simply a successful biological being, a human, learning and re-learning how to live in this place, in this time. And that's all. Is that enough? It must be. It's all I've got.


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