How quickly things can change

July is nearly over. August is soon upon us. Back-to-school ads are starting to play on television and radio, which always makes me nostalgic as well as a little melancholy. Back-to-school time was always hard for me. I loved the summers, being free to come and go as I pleased, being able to stay in the woods at the end of our street, or playing sports with the rec league, having the freedom to do as I wished, as well as balance out my summer jobs with other things I wanted to do.

School was so contrived, so challenging, so threatening for me. I was bullied intensely in school – during my 5th and 7th grade school years, at two different schools – and I anticipated the start of the academic year with a mix of excitement and dread. I never knew how things were going to turn out, but I soldiered on and tried not to make things too difficult for my parents.

Looking back, I realize now just how much everything got to me. I tried not to let on that I was having a hard time with things. I’m not even sure if I fully realized how hard things were for me — it was all I knew, so I just kept going, tried to keep interested and engaged in life around me, and did my best under the circumstances. But it was so hard. I’m sure it is for everyone — I just didn’t know how to handle it well on the inside. I was so confused and so frustrated, so much of the time, but I just kept going

I just kept going.

One of the things that makes my memories of back-to-school so poignant, is how hard-up my family was, just trying to make ends meet. I hear all these stories, these days, about how hard things are for people, and I have a mix of feelings about that. On the one hand, I understand how difficult it is to not have the means to provide for yourself. On the other hand, I don’t understand how people can treat smart phones and expensive clothing and shoes and eating out like they are “staples”. When I was growing up, my parents had very little money, and we supplemented by growing our own food and making our own clothing and cutting corners wherever we could. Back-to-school was not about fashion and school accessories. It was about getting one pair of jeans, two new shirts, two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, and every few years a new belt if it was needed. My mother sewed a lot of our clothing, and we inherited a lot of hand-me-downs from cousins who had more money than we did. Brand new clothes were a luxury we did not take for granted, and we mostly bought them from a catalog, which sent the shirts and pants individually wrapped in clear plastic and packed into a cardboard box.

Looking around at the world today, I’m astounded at the glut of consumer items that are on the market today. It’s as mind-boggling as it seems pointless to me. So much that we have is little more than an expensive distraction from what we really need to deal with, and we can actually get by on very little, if we pick and choose carefully.

I grew up with a lot of scarcity – we had a big family, and my parents both worked jobs with small salaries. We made ends meet, and we didn’t starve. We had plenty of things to occupy our attention and keep us busy, and even though growing up was very hard at times, I still made it. And I learned a ton of valuable lessons in the process.

Probably the biggest lesson I learned, was how to seem rich even when I was poor. I came from a very poor part of town, but because I knew how to learn and I stood out as a smart kid in school who was also good at sports, I ended up hanging out with the rich kids a lot. For some reason, I’ve always ended up hanging out with rich people, even though a lot of days I don’t have two quarters to rub together, and I’m in constant danger of getting something turned off. There have been lots of times when I had almost nothing, I was dealing with debt collectors and lawyers, I was getting nasty-grams from the mortgage company, and utilities collections people knew me on a first-name basis… and I had to come up with hundreds of dollars to pay for car repairs or somesuch. But I always ended up hanging out with people who were doing really well.

And things always turned around. It’s weird, because when I think, “Things are going to turn around soon,” I often get this image of a down-and-out “loser” or gambler or some other sort of con artist who’s ignoring all the obvious signs that their life is shit and is going nowhere, thanks to their piss-poor decisions. That’s a classic line from someone who banks on a big score, rather than a lot of hard work over the long run, to get them where they’re going. But in my case, it actually seems to happen for me. Things do turn around. They look up. I perk up. And I get out of my poor-me funk and can get on with my life.

Things change. They really do. That’s something I need to really concentrate on and keep focused on. Because right now, things are looking pretty dismal. I need to do some house repairs, and the bids I’m getting are pretty far over what I can comfortably afford to pay – and that’s not even considering the structural issues the contractors may uncover in the course of the job.

It’s pretty friggin’ depressing, all around. I know it’s a process, and I know that there’s going to be some negotiation that takes place, but the whole situation just dogs me. I wish I just had the money and could move forward with it. But that’s not the reality. And I’m not going to have the money until I can change jobs and get a decent contract that pays me what I’m worth on the market, instead of this pathetic situation I’m in at work. Yeah, it’s a process. A pain in the ass process.

But that can change. Of course it can. I’m being silly if I think it’s going to stay this way forever. Life – by its very nature – is about change, so whatever situation I’m chafing about now, will by definition not exist in another six months. In some ways it will be better. In other ways it will be worse. Whatever. It will be.

So, life goes on. I signed up for Angie’s List today and found several more contractors who can come and bid on this home renovation project I have to do. If they can come on Friday, that would be ideal, because my spouse is going out of town for three days — and I’ll have that time to myself, to sort things out and put a number of things in order. My spouse has been having a lot of health troubles, and that’s been a huge demand on my time and energy. They don’t take care of themself — or chores around the house or the bills — adequately, so I end up picking up the slack and doing damage control. They’re also having a ton of problems with anxiety and depression, so that’s another significant demand on my energy — just keeping them out of the pit of despair…

It’s been working, but it’s been a ton of work. Oh hell, I should do this kind of thing for a living – I’d probably make a mint. If I can keep my profoundly depressed and anxious spouse at least somewhat functional — and active enough to go on business trips — I must have some mental health mojo going on.

Then again, it’s challenging enough doing this at home during almost every waking hour. Doing it for a living would probably put me over the edge.

… and it occurs to me that perhaps this is why I have chosen to work with computers for the past 20+ years — they never get depressed, they don’t overeat and neglect their physical health, they don’t constantly nag and harass me over every little thing, and I don’t have to be constantly careful about what I say and do because of a wild-ass irrational over-reaction based on some fantasy about what might be happening and what that might mean.

Yeah – no – going down a mental health career path doesn’t interest me. I take it back.

Plus, the pay really sucks, from what I hear.

Anyway, life goes on. I am doing pretty well, under the circumstances, and even though I’m not getting everything done that I have been hoping to, I’m still making progress. I’m learning as I go, and I’m adjusting my approach as needed. I get to decide how I feel about things, and what I do with the information I get. My life isn’t perfect, but my experience of it can change in an instant, so that’s what I’m focusing on — the experience.

Very few other things are under my control. But what I choose to make of everything that crosses my path, most certainly is.

So… onward.


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