On the mend, bit by bit

Patching myself up again

Wow, I have been wiped out this past week. For two reasons:

First, I’m completely depleted by the past years of BS that I’ve been wrangling on a daily basis. It’s just insane, thinking back to how relentless that pace was. Sure, it was invigorating at the start, and it really gave me a lot of energy, but geez… it was artificial and completely needless. And it’s going to take me a while to get my balance back and restore my depleted reserves.

Second, I’m learning a new job, new people, new place, new routine, and that’s taking a lot of energy, too. I’ve been wiped OUT at the end of each day, even though I really do enjoy my new gig, and it’s vastly better than what I’ve known in recent memory.

But I’m getting better. I’m on the mend.

I’m making sure to get plenty of rest – going to bed at a decent hour (9:30 last night, on a Friday night, of all times), and being able to “sleep in” till 7:30, without the whole world falling apart around me. I’m still able to make it to work on time. And I’m looking forward to getting to a point where I am rested enough to be able to wake up at 5:30 or 6, get an hour or two of reading and thinking and writing in, before I head off to work.

That’s the thing that really excites me about this job — not only the fact that it’s a great company and has wonderful opportunities for me, but also that it’s not running my life.

The thing is, no matter how wonderful the opportunity is, it’s still a desk job… indoors… working for someone else on their own time. So, there’s only so much unbridled enthusiasm I can muster. Maybe I’m just getting older and more mellow, realizing that it’s not worth getting all woo-hoo about these things, because they change, they morph, they shift and alter, and not always in ways we like.

Also, the days of me putting any stock in a “good job” providing me with the personal fulfillment I need, are pretty much behind me. This is a job — it’s a means to an end. And its main purpose is to provide me with a decent living, while not interfering too terribly with the things that matter the most to me.

It’s a job. It’s a good job with a good company. But it’s not the only thing I do with my life, and in fact, one of the biggest draws to it, is the fact that I’m NOT deeply invested in it, thinking that this is the be-all to end-all that’s going to make my life complete.

The last job I had, provided a sort of “emotional paycheck” at first. Of course, after we got relocated in 2011, that all changed, and that part went away. Overall, though, there was some sense of investment in the experience, in the role, in the team, that kept me there for nearly four years.

Now, I’m in a much better position, but I don’t feel that deep connection to the role itself. I feel a deep connection to my overall life, and the ways that I can use that role to express parts of me in a meaningful way. But it’s not about the role. The role is a means to an end, not an end in itself, as it used to be.

So, while I am so very grateful to have this fantastic opportunity, I’m feeling neutral about the work and the position. Which is good. When I feel passionate about the work and get invested in outcomes, that’s when I get on a roller-coaster that takes me in directions I don’t want to go. Being neutral frees me up — it doesn’t get me all fired up, but that’s a good thing. Being fired up is accompanied with getting burned… both from within and without… and I’m pretty much done with that.

What I’m really focusing on now, is my whole life. Reading. Writing. Public speaking. Research. Developing new ways of relating to the world around me that add meaning and value to my overall experience. I’ve got a birthday coming up in a couple of weeks, and it feels strange. I don’t really have a sense of being a certain age… just a sense of everything I have been through — which is far more than lots of people my own age, and far less than lots of people of many different ages.

This shift away from getting caught up in my job has been possible because I am not wasting a lot of time traveling to and from. It’s also possible because I’m on a contract, I’m not an invested employee whose fate is determined by corporate overlords. I can come and go as I please, and not have to sweat the changes. I’ve got plenty of opportunities around me, and now that I’m back in the flow of contracting, my world has just opened up again.

Also, I’m not permitted to pursue my own personal activities without repercussion from my employer. I gave my new agency a list of all the things I’m currently involved in, and they didn’t have a problem with it. No more of that you-work-for-us-so-we-own-your-ass intellectual property protectiveness. The things I’m involved in, personally, have nothing at all to do with the company where I work now, so there’s no conflict of interest. At all.

Which is nice.

I’m free.

It’s going to take some time for me to re-acclimate to having my life be my own, but I’ll adjust.

No worries.


Spring is sprung, and it’s time to clean house

I’m not THIS bad off, but I could do better

That pretty much says it all. Spring is up on us, and with it comes a certain urgency with me to clean house — to clear out all the leftovers from the past year that have nothing to do with me, any more, and really put my current interests and affairs in order.

I am making the somewhat radical decision today, to not file additional federal paperwork on a project I started up last year. The paperwork would be all about registering the intellectual property of my project, and it would ensure that I have the right to sue other people for stealing my ideas.

In theory, that sounds like a good plan. It protects my rights and makes it possible for me to profit from my inventiveness and creativity.

However, in practice, it’s not very workable. Say a big company comes along and likes my idea and decides to steal it. I would need to launch a big-ass legal action on them and be willing to go through all the drama around lawyers and court appearances and filings and whatnot. I’ve had enough of courts in my past several years, and the last thing I want — even if it’s to protect my intellectual territory — is to spend any more time in court or around lawyers.

Not only would I need the right legal help, but I’d also need the time and energy to pursue all recourses, and God only knows how long that would take, and how much energy it would demand. I just don’t have that kind of bandwidth available, and the stress of it… well, that’s just not worth it to me.

I’d much rather have a good and settled life that has a good balance between challenging work and having enough time to blog on the side. That’s what I really want — to refocus my energy and attention on TBI recovery solutions, and make a positive difference in people’s lives.

So, that’s what I’m going to do. My study is chock-full of all kinds of materials — some of it junk, some of it gold. I have a ton of old bills lying around in stacks on my two desks, and I have a bunch of unopened junk mail that I thought might be interesting… but hasn’t appealed to me enough to want to open it. I’m feeling a bit blocked in, to tell the truth, and I need to free up some space for the things that matter most to me:

  • Sitting/breathing meditations
  • Stress inoculation / hardiness development (strength and endurance training in all aspects of my life)
  • Learning new things and relearning old things I lost
  • Sharing what I’ve learned so that others can benefit as well

I have been thinking long and hard about what I want to do with myself and my life, lately. I have really thought hard about my Big Project from last year, and whether I need to continue it. As much as I want to follow through as planned, upon closer examination, I now realize how much time and energy it has consumed from me, and what a source of anxiety and worry and stress it has been for me. I really learned a lot from it, but in the end, it’s really not what I want to be doing with my life, so I’m letting it go.

And when I consciously let it go in my mind, I feel this enormous rush of relief that opens up all sorts of other possibilities for me.

Like another more technical project I had started about 5 years ago, which I let go because I was having so much trouble with the work involved in making it happen. It was a good project, and I hated having to let it go, but my brain just wasn’t up to it.

My brain was too scattered, to easily distracted by all sorts of peripheral details that had nothing to do with what was actually going on. I had trouble interacting with other people, because my moods were so crazy, I would get pretty aggressive with folks, and my anxiety was out of control. It’s kind of tough to lead a project and present yourself well, when you’re a heap of frazzled nerves and you’ve got hair-trigger reactiveness. Plus, the technology I needed just wasn’t there, yet, and because of that, there were a ton of legal and federal regulation issues that were insurmountable hurdles for me, at that place and time in my life.

Now, though, the technology has matured, and I want to re-start that project. It was a good one, and the initial version of the program I wrote actually helped me with my recovery a great deal. So, I want to re-start that and take it to the next level. I have had many good ideas for how to simplify it, over the past years, and I’m ready to start again.

Which is good.

And which is why I need to clean my study. All these books and papers and bills and leftovers… There’s just so much … stuff … that I haven’t used in years, and I’m probably not going to use again. At the same time, buried under that stuff is a lot of material that I need to excavate and restart, because that is what matters most to me, and that’s where my passion lies.

Moving forward is really as much about figuring out what you don’t want to do, as it is about figuring out what you do want to do. And making the choices to NOT move forward with certain things, and to clear the decks of all those things, is a major step towards making some real progress.

Spring is in the air. And it’s time to make a new start. The winter has been long and grueling, and I’ve learned a lot of good lessons.

Now it’s time to put those lessons into action… and move forward with the best of what I have.



Clearing the decks

All set and ready to sail

So, yesterday I got thrown a curve ball. Apparently some low-level managers (including my own) are having some conflict issues, and they’re “jumping on it” to “escalate” the situation and address this awful situation.

Basically, the underlying problem is that the people involved (including me) are intensely overworked, with limited resources, and a lot of folks are wearing thin. The overworked people in the other group love to vent, and one of the many things they were venting about was me.

But rather than stopping and asking what the real cause of all of this is, and addressing things at their root level, our managers have decided to “raise the issue” amongst themselves and kick up even more dust.

Stupid. And incredibly distracting. And all this is happening yesterday, while I’m working non-stop trying to get critical things done. I swear, I do NOT have time to hold someone’s hand while they learn the ropes. My temporary direct manager, who is frankly young enough to be my child, considers me to be a friend, but they’ve become increasingly problematic and high-maintenance. And frankly, the newfound power they have inherited because they are friends with the new uber-boss is seriously going to their head.

Sad. I think it’s time I unfriended them on Facebook. I just don’t trust them anymore. And I need to focus on the most critical aspects of my day, rather than populating my experience with distractions and empty entertainment.

To that end — clearing away all the distractions from my life in an extended spring cleaning, I have cleared off the majority of crap from my desk, including a big-ass plant that’s been growing like crazy for the past two years. I cleared a huge space yesterday, and it actually felt really good to do it. Today I will clear the other half of it, and only have the things in my workspace that actually have anything to do with work. That means taking away the art, taking away the pictures, the toys, everything that might distract me from what I am doing. I know people thought I was quitting yesterday, when I removed most things that had any sign of individuality, and it made people nervous. But I have so much to do, and I have so little time to do it in, I just have to make room for that, buckle down, and git ‘er done.

So, I shall.

The thing that burns me about my situation at work is that I can do better than I am. I know I can, and getting reprimanded by amateurs just infuriates me. It’s just too much. I am capable of so doing much better, and I’m surrounded by people far junior to myself, who have more power and influence than I — because the people running the show have less experience than I, as well, so they relate to the newbies… and they don’t know any better — so my whole experience is one of dealing with the incredibly poor decisions of others. And it’s a massive time and energy sink.

So, I’m clearing the decks of everything that is pointless and stupid and inferior to what I want in my life, and I’m focusing on bringing my own experience and activities into line with what I’m truly capable of. Moving things out of the way so people can sit down and work with me…. Removing objects that just take my attention away from my work…. Dispensing with the illusion that there is anything humanizing about my work environment, and stopping trying to improve the circumstances with little band-aids over a gaping wound of stupidity and ignorance….

I’m just tired of pretending that the emperor has any clothes on, and I just want to kick it and do some serious work, already.

Enough frittering. Enough dilly-dallying. Enough lollygagging around, dawdling, and mooning over this and that and whatever. It’s time to shift into all-wheel-drive and cover some terrain. Have laser focus on what I want and what I need to do, and screen out everything else that stands in the way.

That being said, gotta run and get ready for work.

The day is waiting. Onward…

Finding full range of motion

This week has been crazy. I’m six weeks away from leaving this wretched job, and I’m full-speed-ahead on finishing everything that I need to finish, so I can go in good conscience. I friggin’ hate the company and its hare-brained policies. Not the people.

Well, most of the people I work directly with. The folks at HQ elevate being an a$$hole to an art form. They really seem to delight in it and take pride in it, which is not very smart on their part. I guess they didn’t get the memo that you can’t treat other people with disdain and disregard, and still be productive and get things done.


Anyway, enough about them. I’m done with them in seven weeks — less than two months. Ha. No longer will I need to be hindered by their lack of vision and foresight. No longer will I be held back by their delusions and autocracy. No longer will I be subject to their silly little games and jockeying for position in a domain that is nothing to get excited over.

Seven weeks, and that’s it. I’m done. Finis.

I’m back into doing my daily exercises, with a somewhat different approach than before, when I was really focused on cardio and strength training and specific exercises to strengthen specific parts of my muscular structure. As it turns out, even though I am stronger than the average desk jockey, my range of motion sucks. I’ve got a lot of pain that I need to get rid of, so I’m taking time in my mornings and evenings (when I get home from work), to stretch and do some light yoga and body-weight-bearing exercises. I’m making it a priority to MOVE first thing in the morning, no matter how creaky and painful I feel. Just moving, getting the blood going, getting the muscles moving over bone, and getting all the tendons and ligaments engaged… it’s made a big difference in how I start my mornings.

Back a few years ago, when I was working out every morning, it really gave me a boost. Then I hit a plateau and I didn’t want to shake things up. I was comfortable and familiar with the routine I had in place. It helped me get going, and it was a valuable jump start. But after a while I got locked into that routine, and it actually started working against me, limiting what I was willing to do, physically, first thing in the morning.

Now I’ve got this focus on movement. On seeing how my body feels, first thing in the morning, and doing something about it, if I’m not liking how I’m feeling.

The first step is being able to tell how things are going with me, physically. In the past, I have had a hell of a time actually feeling what was going on in my body. I tend to be so “up in my head” that I don’t pay any attention to how I’m feeling physically. This is also the case because I have been in pain for so long, and I haven’t been able to do anything about it, so I just ignore it and move on. Seriously, what’s the point in “getting in touch with my pain,” as so many have encouraged me to do, when there’s not a damn’ thing anyone — including doctors and chirpractors and all sorts of experts — can do about it?

Trust me, I’ve checked. They either don’t believe how much pain I am in each day and tell me I’m exaggerating, or they launch an all-out pharmaceutical offensive on the offending experience, doping me out of my mind in the process — and accomplishing nothing, other than destroying what quality of life I have left.

It’s infuriating — not least of all, because they have a mixture of hubris and cluelessness about how the body actually works, that makes them uniquely qualified to completely f*ck up my life, along with the lives of countless others who have the great misfortune to cross their path. And magically, it doesn’t seem to bother them that they’ve done far more harm than good. Hey, at least they tried, right?

Idiots. The scary thing is, I have relatives who are freshly minted doctors, and you can see the “Stepford” progression with them — they just become so taken with themselves and so enamored of medicines and chemicals and what-not, that it totally blinds them to any real ways they could help.

But enough of my ranting and venting. That’s just how things are, and the one thing I can do about it, is remove myself from the presence of any offending individuals. I’m actually in a good space today, and I’ve got a ton of energy (hence the energetic ranting).  I have a full list of activities planned for this weekend, that are all interesting and engaging and will take me down a path to something better than where I’m at today.

Now, plenty of people will pooh-pooh me and say, “Be careful what you ask for… things don’t get better, they just get different” but they can go pound sand.  My life is getting better. My memory is for shit, I’m completely wiped out half the time, and I’m having a hell of a time following conversations, but that’s largely a function of me putting a whole lot of my energy in specific areas and not really making the effort to pay attention to the same-old-same-old that I’m getting away from. I’m nominally functional in tons of ways each day — but that’s for a very good reason: because I’m hyper-functional in a few select ways, and I need to save my energy.

Save my energy and build it up, too. With my morning (and evening) exercises. I also nap regularly — not for long periods — maybe 40-60 minutes at a stretch, tops. I just step away, lie down and crash into darkness, then get up and get back into everything. It makes a huge difference, and when I come back from my naps, I feel like a whole new person, ready to do what needs to be done.

You know, it’s funny. It’s nearly 10 years after my last TBI — the one that nearly did me in. I still don’t really “feel like myself” and half the time I feel like I’m walking around in a daze, trying to figure sh*t out on the fly. Nothing I plan actually seems to turn out the way I plan and expect it, but I am adapting much better and much more quickly than ever. And in a way, I feel like I’m adjusting to that state of being. It’s not throwing me for a loop anymore. I’m learning to expect it. I can’t say that I’m all that happy about it, and I can’t say that anyone is actually helping me deal with this loss of my old self and the experience of walking around in a life that feels so foreign to me, nearly every waking moment. But it’s not taking me by surprise anymore. And I’m finding moments where I can have some actual peace in the midst of it all.

What’s more, I’m finding ways to get where I want to go… I’m discovering new ways to identify and pursue my dreams, and deal with the surprises that crop up, every single day — sometimes by the hour. And despite not feeling like “myself” anymore, and not recognizing the person I have become, I am a whole lot more functional than I was 15 years ago, when I was struggling on a daily basis with the long-term after-effects of multiple mild traumatic brain injuries. I was really, really struggling. Even though I was making good money at a good job, and I had all these “secure” situations around me, my head was a mess, my relationships were superficial and extremely rocky, I got roped into doing a heck of a lot of crap I had no interest in doing, and I struggled on a regular basis with debilitating panic/anxiety, violent mood swings, crippling depression, and suicidal thoughts.

I was no friggin’ fun to live with, at times, I can tell you that.

Now my situation is completely different. Learning about TBI and how it affects me, has literally turned my life around.  It gives me information I can use to manage my situation, know what to look out for, and continually improve. It’s not just learning about TBI and all it brings with it — it’s also learning how I individually experience and react to my TBI symptoms, and learning how I can do something about it. There’s a ton of room for creative problem-solving in this new world, and the results I see are often instantaneous. It’s really gratifying — like mowing my lawn and seeing how much better everything looks after the fact. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of effort to make a big difference.

That being said, this morning moving exercise routine of mine is really working out well. I do something different each morning and evening. I have a few core exercises I do, and then I improvise around the others. It gets me out of my head and gets me “in touch” with my physical sensations — which in turn helps me for the rest of the day, because the clues that I am becoming tense or stressed or frustrated, are physical clues — before anything else.

So, knowing how my body feels and being able to “check in” to see how I’m doing, helps my mental health and my interactions with other people. Each and every day. So that my range of motion improves — not only physically but also socially as well.

Speaking of motion, it’s time to get going. The day is waiting.


Always Plan B

Sometimes the original plan just doesn’t work out – but it’s not the end of the story

Even the best-laid plans can go awry, as happened with me yesterday. I had my day pretty well mapped out to get a lot of things done, then I ended up hijacked by someone’s 4-hour negativity “bender”, followed by a meltdown over getting dragged down into all sorts of dynamics that I cannot control and can’t seem to change.

I’ll spare you the details – in retrospect, it’s embarrassing that I lost it, and it’s embarrassing that I let that person get to me as much as they did. It was also a mistake to think that I could get anything done yesterday when they were around – they’re like a black hole that sucks in all the good energy around them, and it depresses the sh*t out of me.

Now I’m paying for it, because I’m still a bit “hung over” from the whole experience, and there is a chance that my whole weekend will be screwed if I don’t pull it together. I have some projects I need to make good progress on over the coming week, and it’s crunch-time. So, I have to stay clear and cool and plan wisely — and follow through well. I’m working on it. I’m really working on it.

I think I’m rebounding fairly well — I managed to end last night on a positive note, doing my 90-second clearing to deal with the biochemical sludge from the meltdown. It worked pretty well, too. When I become absolutely silent and quiet inside, and I let all the upheaval just settle like mud sinking to the bottom of the emotional “puddle”, I can actually get myself out of that meltdown head-space and everything chills and calms down. And I feel like myself again — because I am myself again, not just a bunch of biochemical reactions to the situation. I get myself back, when I settle — and that’s an important skill for me to practice and strengthen. Because these situations can come up at any time, and if I’m going to keep my head about me, and be myself instead of a reaction to someone or something outside of me.

So, yesterday didn’t go as planned — in just about any way that I had envisioned. The first part of the day went okay, but the second half was a wash. I was tired from working and also put-upon by this individual who felt the need to dump all their crap on me, and I let it get to me. Big-time. But then after I calmed down and just settled myself, the evening was okay. Except that then I ended up staying up till midnight and I got maybe six hours of sleep last night. That’s better than four or five, but it’s still not the seven or eight I was hoping and planning to get.

Oh, well. Time for Plan B. Do what I can while I can, and then take a nap later today. I have some work I need to do, this afternoon and evening, which is going to be pretty strenuous, and I need to keep an even keel. This is tough, because the thing is, I really don’t want to do this work. It’s eating into the limited time I have for myself, and it’s happening at the exact wrong time of the day for me — just at the time when I am at my most creative and productive. I need those four hours today to do my own thing, to work on my own project, but I’m stuck helping a friend with some event. And I’m getting pissed about it.

But as I was telling myself yesterday, getting pissed at someone else over what they are doing, is like drinking poison — and expecting someone else to die. Getting pissed is not going to make things better, and it’s not going to get me off the hook. It’s not going to relieve the pressure I’m feeling, and it’s not going to make the job any easier or make me any easier to live with, later today.

So, I have to have another way of looking at this – perhaps I can see it as an opportunity to get out of the house and get some exercise… I’ve been very sedentary lately, and I could use the exercise. So that’s one way to look at it.  It’s better than treating it like instance where this individual is — yet again — living beyond their means and coming up with ways to take advantage of me to live the dream. I have to find the parts of this that work in my favor, that benefit me, not just them. I need to do that for my own peace of mind. Because I can’t keep drinking that poison, expecting someone else to feel the burn.

So, Plan B — do what I can today, while I can, and then see what can be done later to make the most of the evening. I might just be looking for a change, ’round about 3 p.m. today — and frankly it won’t take more than a few hours, to get my part of the job done. Of course, I may be asked to help out later tonight, around 11 p.m. or so (I’m sort of expecting it), but if I can find a way to make the most of my time, this could work. I’ll figure out a way to make it work.

Sheesh — I’m feeling quite a bit of pressure. I’ve got a big deadline looming in less than two weeks, and I’m feeling quite on edge about it. I am also working like crazy, trying to wrap up a bunch of work items, so that I can leave in a few months with a clean plate and a clean slate. I have 11 weeks to go before I’m out of that place, and it’s feeling pretty good. I have about four weeks to go before I start sending out my resume to recruiters, looking for a contract to take me through the end of the year. And it’s all weighing on me a bit.

But when I think about why it’s weighing on me, I realize that a lot of the pressure is about my ego and my idea of what the ideal situation would be. There’s this “perfect condition” that’s taken up residence in my head that I think HAS to be. And if it isn’t, then everything will be “wrong”. I’ll be humiliated. I’ll be cut down. I’ll never have the bright, shining future that I long to have. Everything will be ruined.

At least, that’s the thing that is rattling ’round in my head. It’s all about Plan A, and only Plan A. Nothing else. Nothing more. It’s all-or-nothing, and it’s doing a number on me.

But that’s not true. Nothing is all-or-nothing. There are always gray areas that offer advantages and disadvantages, and my life consists of making choices for or against these different gray areas. When I am backed into a corner by circumstances beyond my control, I can usually figure a way out of the situation — and in fact, I have figured out some viable alternatives for some of my projects that give me some leeway and wiggle room.

For example, I have to prepare an online presentation that I need to upload for some folks. I was making myself sick with worry about not getting the presentation 100% ideally correct by the due-date, because there’s a lot riding on this, and the team I’m working with is depending on this presentation to be top-notch. The thing is, the project we’re working on has a lot of dependencies and variables and factors that are about as gray as gray can be. So, coming up with a presentation that’s 100% ideal may or may not be possible.  And depending on the audience’s reaction, some of the points we’re making may or may not get through to people.

I’ve been sweating this like crazy, thinking I had to get everything nailed down by the end of the day tomorrow (which is where this “helping” stuff throws a real wrench in my works). But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the presentation doesn’t have to be 100% by end of day tomorrow. It needs to be in great shape, around the middle/end of next week. And even after I finalize it by end of next week, I can always update it over the coming weeks,  and that will be fine. In fact, others who have done similar presentations for this audience have made frequent and major changes to their presentations, so when I update mine, it won’t be a surprise – not by a long shot.

In fact, it will be normal and expected.

So, in that respect, the pressure is very much off — sweet relief. The burden of this task is distributed across the next six weeks, not the next six hours — and that makes all the difference in the world. On top of that, if the next six weeks don’t get us the same feedback we’re looking for, there are other ways we can reach out to people and make things happen. This Big Plan A is only one part of the whole realm of possibilities. And in fact, Plan B (or C or D or whatever) might actually turn out to be a better approach, over the long term. Further, this project in particular is probably going to involve elements of all the different Plans, in different combinations, and that takes the pressure off as well.

So, it’s time to get out of my literal, rigid head… give myself a break… and allow for Plan B. Most of all, I need to remember that there are different viable scenarios that will be perfectly fine as alternatives, and I always have them to fall back on. If Plan A doesn’t work out, it really isn’t a big deal (other than for my ego). I do hope it does work, but there are plenty of other alternative paths to choose from. In fact, I could take the approach that there is no one single ideal plan — they all have their advantages and disadvantages — so whatever happens will be fine and good and will work out.

I just can’t get myself so tweaked over all of it and make myself nuts as a result. Just gotta go with it, and see where that all takes me — hang loose, and let things develop as they will. This is incredibly difficult for me, but it’s a skill I need to practice and acquire.

Anyway, speaking of plans for the day, I’ve got to get going and start making all this happen. Get organized, get all the pieces together that I need to move forward, pace myself, and do regular check-ins to make sure that I’m on track. I’ve been looking forward to and planning for this weekend for a long time — and next weekend, too. It’s all good, and it’s pretty exciting.


Jealous with my time

So, I had planned to spend this evening with some friends, but I really have a lot I want to get done today. And on top of that, I need to get a good nap this afternoon. So, I am opting out of the social activity tonight, and I’m focusing on just getting things done that I want to get done — that will serve some larger purpose for my life.

As much as I want to be able to do all those things, the fact is I need to keep rested and relaxed and also not over-extend myself. It is so hard saying “No” to people, especially when I want to do those things. But half the battle of getting to an enjoyable “yes” is working with responsible “no’s”. And in the end, having more energy and time for a few things, sure beats spreading myself too thin on many things – no matter how much I enjoy them.

This is a sign of huge progress for me. In the past, I would just push and push and push and wear myself out, make myself so very tired — because it infused me with all sorts of stress biochemicals that provided relief for the pain of my daily struggles. Now I am making choices that reduce the stress, not add to it. Now I am taking action that, while not popular, serves me so much better in the long run.

The fact of the matter is, I live and work with people who do not “get” my need for sleep and rest, and who don’t understand what it’s like to have to function while you’re bone-tired, day in and day out. They don’t know what it’s like to be constantly stressed over stupid crap, and not be able to filter out too much light, too much noise, too much activity. They thrive on it. They love it. They absolutely soak it up, while it just ruins me. It. Just. Ruins. Me.

And I can’t have that. Everybody else can go do their thing. I need to pace myself and not let the dizzying frantic-ness of all my friends and family get to me. I need to protect myself. Yes, even from the people I care about the most.

So, today it’s going to be taking care of chores around the house, running some errands, getting a good long nap in, and checking some items off my list. I may work on my taxes a bit, too. I got my federal taxes filed yesterday, so now I need to do the state ones… and for some reason they always seem more complicated, even though they’re based on the federal numbers. I’m looking forward to my nap, this afternoon.

And tonight it’s going to be a bit of studying, a bit of practice, and relaxing on my own time with a movie I’ve been wanting to see. And getting to bed at a decent hour, so I am fresh and rested for tomorrow… and my new life.

A great Christmas morning

May you have peace… or whatever else you need today

… to you and yours. I’m off to a good start, all things considered. The turkey is in the oven baking, and I’m listening to my cassette tapes of Handel’s “Messiah”. I woke up feeling really sick and not feeling up to doing the turkey, but my spouse is sick and I’ve done this before, so I hauled the turkey out of the refrigerator, to find that it was not in fact thawed — probably due to my having bought it only yesterday and not having soaked it very long in that sink full of cold water as my mother used to do. The neck and the giblets were still firmly frozen inside the cavity, so I ran hot water through the works, trying to loosen it up.

No such luck. And me feeling not very well at all… Ah well, soldier on… I finally just put the bird in the oven and set the timer, resolving to check it in an hour when the whole business had time to warm up. I made myself some hot lemon-honey “tea”, had my coffee and cereal, and did the math in my head for when I should start doing other things like start prepping the stuffing and vegetables I was going to roast.

I also did some of my leg exercises, since my knees have been giving me trouble, lately. Even though I have been going for long walks and have been pretty active over the past few days, my knees have been hurting — which happens if I haven’t done my morning leg lifts, which I haven’t been doing regularly for some time. Amazingly, when I do my leg lifts — straight-out front and back and to each side, and then front kicks and back-lifts — my knees get what they need and they quit complaining.

So, I did that, and my knees immediately stopped hurting. Nice when that happens. And important to remember, so I don’t let myself just go to seed for no good reason.

By the time I was done with my morning prep, about 45 minutes had passed, so I hauled out the bird, worked at the neck and bag of organ meats, and eventually got it all out. Salted the inside of the cavity and flipped it over and put it back in the oven, breast-down, because I did that by accident a number of years ago, and the breast meat was by far the most moist and tasty that I’ve ever tasted. I’ve heard people recommending that, also, no matter what the wrapper on the turkey says. The meat felt a bit more thawed, having been in the heat for a while. I may have to roast it a bit longer to make up for that… we’ll see. Anyway, I’m hoping I didn’t screw everything up — at least I’m not deep-frying it. When you deep-fry a frozen turkey, it has a nasty habit of exploding and catching the roof of your garage on fire. I’ve talked to folks at work about deep-frying turkeys, and they’re practically rabid about it. But it seems to me they’re more excited about the gear and the inherent danger, than cooking technique. For me, I’m old-school. It’s less dramatic, sure, but I’m not going to have to call the fire department on Christmas Day, this way.

And the breast meat will be just as tasty as tasty can be.

So, once I got the bird squared away, I felt a lot better about things. I’m still feeling sick and “off”, and I’m not sure I 100% trust my judgement (which has been a bit off, with regard to time and things I need to do in a certain order), but I’m rolling with it, and I’m just going to enjoy myself this morning.

One of the things I had been meaning to do, but kept forgetting, is pull out my old cassette tapes of Handel’s Messiah that I got for Christmas while I was in college. My parents used to celebrate the Christmas season by playing their Mormon Tabernacle Choir “Messiah” record, and it was one of my favorite parts of the season. The “Little Drummer Boy” upset me intensely, for some reason, but Handel’s “Messiah” really put me in the Christmas spirit. Each and every time.

When I got the cassettes for Christmas, it was like — well, Christmas. I had my own copy that I could listen to! Amazing. Joy unbounded. It wasn’t a big thing, and thinking back now — when we are all swimming in so much plenty and bounty and easy access to each and every thing we could ever want or ask for — it seems so small-time, so modest. But it was seriously one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received. I used to listen to those cassettes repeatedly during Christmastime while I was in school. It drove the folks on my hall nuts; they would pretty much vacate and leave me to my music, then reappear when it was safe to just hang out and drink beer again. They didn’t get it, and I didn’t care. The voices of the choir were transcendent, and it reminded me of what was actually right about my childhood — those relatively brief periods of transcendent emotion and beauty… Yes, there was something right in my world, and with those cassettes I could relive that and remember, for as long as I played them.

Well, this morning I’m playing them, and it’s pretty clear to me why the world has moved on to MP3s and digital formats — the cassettes are easily over 30 years old — copyright 1979 — and the tape has stretched and warped with age. The voices are warbling and at times halting. It’s not the smooth and easily transcendent presentation it once was. And there’s the constant worry that the tape will get wrapped around the spools and end up getting “eaten” by the tape player, the way so many cassettes did when I was much younger — and the world still had cassettes… and cassette players in all the stereos and cars coming off the assembly line.

Yeah, I must be getting old, it occurs to me, as I resolve to just not care about the sound quality, and I can appreciate the experience for what it is, rather than how I think it should be. I know what to ask for, for Christmas next year — a CD of Handel’s “Messiah” that I can listen to without the warbling and hesitating and angst over the tape getting eaten.

At the same time, though, there’s something quite poignant about this experience. It has a kind of character to it that places me in time — the natural order of things is to change and alter and become something different. Sometimes the changes mean degradation, dissolution, disintegration. Sometimes they mean entropy. And sometimes it means improvement, growth, evolution. But even the degrading, dissolving, disintegration are all part of a larger cycle, a larger set of movements into the future… nothing stays the same forever, nor should it. It’s just a little creepy, when it does. At least, I think so.

Things change. Cassettes wear out. And each year when my spouse and I put up the Christmas tree and hang the ornaments, we have a little harder time remembering where each one came from. We’ve been together for over 20 years, and each of us brought to the marriage items from our separate pasts. Did that ornament come from Before Us? Or did we buy it together early on? And where the hell are all those lights and ornaments that we both know we had three years before, but haven’t been able to locate for the past couple of Christmases? We’ve started taking turns looking for items in the basement — I go down first and bring back everything I can find, then they go down and find everything I was blind to. Between the two of us, we’ve managed to piece things together — even if we got a late start this year and didn’t even put up and trim the tree till Christmas Eve.

At least we got it done. And lots of people do it that way, too. My relatives in Europe, for example. The don’t even start thinking about decorating till Christmas Eve. So, I comfort myself with that thought and decide not to get worked up over it. There are other battles to fight, other things to correct — timing of tree trimming isn’t one I want to worry about.

And Handel’s “Messiah” warbles on. I’m almost at the end of Side Two of Cassette One. I’m not sure if I’m going to finish the music before I wake up my spouse and we go downstairs to have our morning coffee and open presents. As long as I get in the Hallelujah Chorus (and stand up while it’s playing), I’m good. My spouse is not a big fan of “Messiah” — too maudlin, they say. Well, it’s not for everyone… especially those who don’t care about hearing how “by His stripes we are healed”, which is what they’re singing right now.

There is something to be said for focusing on life, rather than suffering and death, but it all seems to get mixed together on Christmas morning, which in some parts of the world is really just a prelude to the Passion and Easter and the reminders of suffering and death that precede resurrection.

Not to get off on a theological thread… even though I am listening to “Messiah”… anyway, I’ve been thinking about how we’ve pretty much trashed the whole Christmas experience, over the past 30 years of wild, abandoned consumption… and now that the unbridled buy-buy-buy has been so scaled back for so many of us (at least, it has for me), Christmas just isn’t the same as it used to be. When I was a kid, it was a strictly religious experience, and since my family really didn’t have much to begin with, and the focus was extremely Christian and tradition, the whole gift-giving thing was not that big of a deal. If anything, gift-giving was awkward and sometimes painful, because of all the conflicts between what we kids wanted and what our parents were willing (and able) to give us, and the “outside world” commercialism competing with the “reason for the season”… the whole deal.

It was never easy to begin with. But in the past few years, it’s gotten even more challenging, as money has been such a problem with so many of us in my family… and we’ve had a harder and harder time just getting together, period. Somehow, the season just doesn’t seem the same as it once did. Maybe it’s because of my job, which keeps me out of my present by forcing me to be constantly planning the future and thinking about everything I do in terms of how it affects things 6-12 months down the line… Maybe it’s my conscious choice to refuse to participate in the wild consumption of the season, that’s changed things.

Whatever the reason, Christmas seems totally trashed in mainstream society — I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said by many, many people over the course of many, many years. It’s gone from being a season of giving to being a cornerstone of the American economy, so it’s almost like we’re obligated to spend and spend and spend (I had a good laugh at Best Buy yesterday, as I looked at headphones — headphones!!! – that cost over $200 — oh.my.god — someone must surely be kidding…) And people who build their holiday season around buying and giving those kinds of gifts (many members of my family included), seem, well, kind of sad to me. Like there’s nothing more to it all for them.

But as long as they go to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, their holidays are complete.

Not so much for me. First, I don’t have the money to spend like some of my relatives. Second, going to church on Christmas Eve isn’t something I do anymore. I realized a few years back that it is in fact pretty hazardous, because so many people with colds and flu (and their kids) turn out and occupy the same space for a few hours — just long enough to share their infections with me, which has proven truly terrible in the past. My holidays are different. My Christmas is different. I don’t celebrate the way others do, but I do want to celebrate — I really do.

So, here’s what I did this year: I went about my everyday life with a real sense of gratitude and peace. Not sure where it all came from, but I decided I was going to do that, no matter what. I gave when and where I could — I did my best to be helpful to people around me without over-extending myself. I also bought extra groceries every time I went shopping, and I put them in the food pantry bin at the grocery store. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something. I also paid attention to what people were doing around me, and if someone needed help, I at least offered. They didn’t always take me up on my offer, but at least I offered. I also slowed down. I quit driving like an a**hole on my way to and from work. I took my time. I listened to music. I didn’t focus on the speedometer, and when someone ahead of me was going slower than they should have been, I either passed them when I had dotted lines, or I came up with some story about why they had good reason to go slow — and why it was good for me that they weren’t driving as fast as I wanted to.

I didn’t get into the regular Christmas spirit much at all, I have to admit. It was just pretty much lost on me — just a lot more commercials, a lot of lights, a lot of reasons to go out and spend more money, and events to interrupt the flow of my daily life. But in retrospect, I think the way I lived my life was more meaningful this year, than it has been in prior years, when I was “in the holiday spirit”.

Well, I’d better go check the turkey. And wake up my spouse, so we can open our presents. It’s Christmas morning, and it’s going to be a good one.

Of holidays, distraction, and career choices – a holiday saga

Very cute and cheery, but very distracting

One of the worst things about the holidays for me, is how distracting the whole experience can be. I don’t live close to my family — in more ways than one. I have a very technical career that is nothing like what the teachers and preachers and caregivers in my family pursue. I also live in an area that is more affluent than theirs, and I have very different values and priorities than when I was younger and living at home.

And in the course of my normal everyday life, that’s fine. I am aligned with my own values and I am on my own track and path. I have my plans and my desired direction, and I stick with it. I have my daily routine. I have my priorities clear. And I take definite steps in the direction of my choosing.

But during the holidays, all that changes. It begins with Halloween, when my regular schedule is up-ended by the sudden appearance of “seasonal” distractions — in grocery stores, things get moved around, candy starts to appear, all sorts of new items appear on the shelves, and I have to adjust my usual course through the store to find what I want — as well as block out the distractions of Halloween items which just take more time to think about and parse.

Thanksgiving isn’t much better. If anything, it’s worse, because there’s travel to families involved, and usually in the aftermath, I get sick. And I stay sick for the month of December, which frankly really sucks and makes it harder to just live my life. Also dealing with my family, even though I do love them and enjoy being around them, is a huge time and energy sink. Plus, when I am around my family, my focus gets diluted, I start to think about how things were with me when I was younger, and my values and priorities shift a little bit to be more like they used to be — as in, I start to think more about writing that novel, and less about honing my technical skills. I start to think in broader, more abstract ways, rather than in specific, concrete ways. My family is a very heady bunch of people, with very strong beliefs that I used to agree with and relate to. Being away from them and their way of life, it is relatively easy to focus on my own priorities and tend to the things that matter most to me. Being out of my element, in their midst, throws me off – as little else can.

Family is really important… at the same time, it can be a real hindrance. Especially when everyone in your family thinks of you in a certain way — and that way only. They don’t think about me as a person who has to get more sleep than most. They don’t think of me as a person who is easily fatigued and overwhelmed. They don’t think of me as someone who needs a little extra time to cover all my cognitive bases when I am making decisions or doing something new. And they don’t think of me as someone who needs to make adjustments in my work, because the way I think and feel and relate to the world requires that I make those adjustments to take care of myself.

My mother can’t wrap her head around me needing naps in the afternoon while I’m at work. My father doesn’t get why I work such long hours and stay so late, to avoid traffic. My siblings all seem to think that I live this charmed life of affluence and ease, because I have no kids. I haven’t told everyone about my TBIs — just my parents and one sibling. But the ones I’ve told still aren’t getting it. They’ve made it clear that they’re not going to even make the effort, and that’s that.

So, I do the best I can with what I have with these folks. I love my family and I love spending time with them. At the same time, though, their way of life and their philosophies and their orientation to, well, just about everything, is sharply different from my own — and many of the differences have to do with the accommodations I have to make for myself, and the lack of energy I have to go “bounding about” doing mental gymnastics about things that I don’t believe anyone truly understands, anyway. Maybe my life is simpler, because I’ve let go of a lot of devotion to holding specific opinions and wanting to figure everything out. Come to think of it, I’m sure it is.

It’s having to deal with my family’s devotion to being “Right” and figuring things out, that is so exhausting for me. ‘Cause then I have to re-orient myself to myself and my own beliefs and priorities, all over again after the holidays.

I realized, over this past weekend, how much Thanksgiving threw me off, when I went down to visit my family. It’s like getting pulled back in time… and then having to extract myself from the sticky goo of my past. In a way, it was good that I traveled, after I got back from Thanksgiving, because it gave me time to reset my mental compass. But now I’m sick, and I’m looking ahead to another trip down to my family, and it’s starting to get on my nerves.

Ah, well — so go the holidays. And at least I’m aware of how much my family re-calibrates my thinking when I am with them… so when I get back from the Christmas trip, I can dig in again and work on my job skills, rather than thinking about that novel I was going to write, that I was so sure would be a best-seller. Cripes, but there’s a lot swirling in my head that I need to manage.

And it’s pretty much stress-related. I find that when I am really stressed, I turn to writing fiction for relief. I start writing novels. Or short stories. It calms me. It gives me another place to “go”. But it also distracts me from doing what I need to do. The rush I get from starting something new is a powerful opiate for me. It dulls the pain and gets me thinking about all the new possibilities in life. But after the newness wears off, it’s just another thing I have to do — and it just drags me down.

So, enough of the novel-writing. At least for the next six months. If I’m ever in a position to just kick back and spend hours on end doing nothing, and my job situation is secure and stable, and I don’t have pressing financial needs, I’ll turn to writing fiction. But until that time, I need to keep steady in what I have been planning and working on for the past months — beefing up my technical skills, focusing on certain specific areas where I feel I can really contribute and make a positive difference, and worrying about a decent paycheck, not whether to write in first or second or third person.

One thing I know for sure, that is giving me a great deal of comfort — I would much rather be an individual contributor and work with numbers and code, than deal with people each and every day. I don’t want to be a manager. I want to make things, create things, invent things, render things. I want to interact with machines that will just tell me yes/no… instead of the endless dancing around all the issues and the nuances of human interaction. It’s just too stressful for me. It’s just no fun. It might look more impressive to the rest of the world, but it’s not what I want to do with myself.

I DO know what I want to do with myself. And that is a huge comfort. Especially on days like today, when everybody is clamoring for some sort of overdue thing, they’re getting snotty and irate because it’s closing down on year-end and they haven’t met all their goals, and I feel like I’m going to fall over and/or throw up.

I DO know that I’m outa there in the spring. I will have my skills in place adequately to do just that. I DO know where I’m going to focus my attention, and I DO know how important it is to not lose my train of thought again. I’m also aware — more than ever — of how distracting my family is for me, when it comes to living my life. I have to sorta kinda guard myself from their well-intentioned “guidance” and fend off their “caring” interference. They mean well. I know that. But they just don’t help, when it comes to making decisions about where I need to go next in my life.

Maybe it all boils down to possibility and opportunity. I know I live in a much wider world than they do, and I am much more hooked into what else is possible for me. I need to keep that in mind, as I move forward.

And so I shall. The last big trip of the holidays is coming up, and I’ll be seeing a lot of family — both sides, actually — on the road. My spouse’s family is much more supportive of my career than my birth family, so that will be a relief to be with them. I will need to create some sort of reminder for myself about what truly matters, over the coming months, and I will need to be careful to keep on track, so I don’t get pulled off the rails too much — or at the very least, I can get back on track after the trip is over. I’ll have to think about how to do that… it may be a real challenge. But then, real challenges are usually easier for me to handle than the “easy-peasy” ones. So, my task is clear.