A few minutes ago, a friend of mine posted about the passing of one of my old bosses. I worked for him in the admissions department of his passion project university during what I call my lost year. It was the year I gave up on teaching–the year a major relationship fell apart–the year I found this path that I’m on. A crazy, frustrating year. I actually worked for him twice. I quit a few months after I first started only to return the following spring.
I remember going to the interview a few days after I quit my teaching program, after coming home from Houston–not expecting very much. It was a job through an agency, and the recruiter told me I would probably hate it–but some people loved it–and there was really high turnover. Most people didn’t do well or just left because it was a difficult job. I really didn’t care. I was heartbroken–didn’t want to go back to recruiting–and needed a job. Yes–I needed money–but I needed a place to go every day–something to distract me from the fact that I had no idea what the Hell I was doing anymore.
It was a group interview. We all sat, waiting, in this big atrium filled with palm trees and a waterfall. We were all high energy go-getters. I somehow nailed the interview and started training soon after. I’ll spare you the details of it, but–suffice it to say–I learned a lot about our founder and his mission. He was kind of this mythical man to us–this guy who’d done kinda insane things and had big dreams. I grew to admire his vision, and I believed enough in it that I enrolled–on their dime (while I worked for them). Eventually, I came to know Glenn from running into him every so often. He was always the first there and the last to leave. He came in when I worked–on weekends–and we had a few conversations about school in the break room and the elevators. He had so much passion for this work and sharing education with everyone that it was hard not to want to help him.
Being an admissions counselor at this school was hard. I was in a real place of transition in my life, so counseling others on their lives–hearing about their passions and tragedies–was personally affecting. I learned so much about myself, and I learned I had a real talent for getting to the heart of things with people. People opened up to me and I remember feeling like I was doing more than just education sales. I was actually changing lives. And unlike many other for-profit schools, this one was solid. My MEd degree was difficult to obtain. I learned a lot–even though I didn’t ever end up using it. But, as a for-profit school, there was a huge emphasis on sales and numbers. It rubbed me the wrong way. It seemed to contradict what I was trained to do and what Glenn wanted to do. But I understood why they had that mindset. If people didn’t enroll, there wouldn’t be a school.
We eventually parted ways. I ended up back in my original career–but more on my terms–and on a path to becoming a counselor. Glenn never knew my working there inspired this path, but I have a feeling he’d be proud. It’s pretty much the only job where I’m still friends with everyone I worked with and talk to them fairly regularly–even if it’s just on Facebook.
When I heard the news today, I genuinely felt sad–and was shocked he was 85. He didn’t look it and had more energy than most people I know. I’d heard earlier this year that the school was shutting down and wondered why. It was odd to think that our mythical man was no longer here doing something to help people live better lives. I’ll always have the utmost respect for him and will be grateful for the experience I had there during that sad, crazy time in my life.
Rest in peace, sir.
My mother used to tell me I was full of piss and vinegar. I never quite knew what she meant by that. It was one of those things your parents tell you that pique your curiosity, but never quite go anywhere. It usually was something she’d say when I was making lots of plans–which I did quite often. In fact, that may have been my primary hobby when I wasn’t doing something I had to do!
I thought of that this afternoon. A friend of mine had laughed at a text I sent him about how I now have my entire life planned out. Except if I get married in the next five years. That could be a problem. Ha.
He told me I seemed to be in mastermind mode lately. Like I’m creating something out of nothing or something.
I sort of am. It feels very familiar to me, actually. It’s exciting. I love researching cool things and planning out how I will do them. I love knowing all the details and figuring out the steps I’ll need to take to get there.
But it’s also a bit overwhelming. This morning, before that text, I called my roommate to get his opinion about when I should do what and if he knew about this or that. And of course, he didn’t. Because why would he? He said it sounded like I didn’t need to decide right now, since it was MONTHS away, and maybe I should just look at my options. I agreed–acknowledged my feelings of OH_MY_GOD–and just did research.
The thing is–I can’t just research things and not get gut feelings or form opinions. While I recognize gray areas and embrace them, often, I can also be very black and white. I have strong reactions to things. I have a strong intuition, too. And part of me–that scared part of me–wants a plan there–wants to know everything.
So, I’m really, really good at making plans. But I’m also super good at changing my mind. Those gut reactions–those feelings–weigh so heavily on how I live my life. Something could look perfect on paper–could be perfectly fine–but I might not grab it like I feel I should. And that sends waves of doubt and that causes a whole host of rapid fire decisions to be made. It’s kind of what happened when I started that teaching program. Up until doing it, I had nothing but confidence in it. All my interviews and conversations had felt spot-on. But I didn’t end up with the people I met initially. I ended up in a different city with people who felt very different from me. And what I expected wasn’t really what they delivered. Had things gone different ways, I might have very different opinions. But who I was then–and who they were then–did not mesh. And what was expected of me was not something I could deliver wholeheartedly.
It’s that whole best laid plans thing. I never went into it lightly. I did all kinds of research. I was sure. But it’s sort of like online dating. You can talk every day on the phone and just know that guy is yours. But, sometimes, you kiss the guy and all you know is “not it.”
Part of that is just the nature of living. We all have blindspots. We change over time. And there’s an undeniable alchemy that happens when people come together. You never know how it will feel. Feeling, for me, has always been a challenge. But–in recent years–how I feel determines my commitment. It never used to. I used to be able to power through anything. Now–though–it’s pretty much everything. I know suffering is part of life. As a Buddhist (baby), I’ve come to that lens of understanding the world. I know this. I will bump into immense pain, sometimes. Most of these times, the pain is of my own making. Events happen that suck. But I choose my reactions. I choose to hold on tight to the pain. I make myself suffer. I choose the wrong thing–often unknowingly. No matter how much I plan and get attached to these plans, I can’t spare myself this.
But sometimes, you can just see the freight train coming. Sorta like I know staying in Denver will leave me flat like a pancake. I could stay and, in many ways, it’s less painful. It’s less expensive. It’s comfortable. It doesn’t involve an insane road trip with my three hellions. But it’s also safe and uninteresting and painful in ways that aren’t obvious. Sometimes, you choose more pain because you know it’ll make you stronger. Sort of like exercise. No one really loves the journey, but few of us fail to appreciate the outcomes.
I used to be much more attached to my plans. Rigid, probably. I knew that was changing when my ex and I planned vacations. I was so annoyed with his planning of every detail. I realized how much I appreciated spontaneity–paying attention to how I felt instead of what was on paper.
So, I’m trying to stay fluid–giving myself options. All of this means rolling with the punches and adapting to what is. A strength of mine, but sometimes a weakness.
I’ve decided to just full-on go for it. Since deciding I wanted to be an art therapist, I’ve adjusted a few millions times. Usually after seeing admission requirements. Mountains of volunteer work, several course requirements, and other ridiculousness that I’m sure is quite worthwhile–but equally unrealistic. I took my art courses as pass/fail in undergrad, so I doubt they’d count. I never took psych in undergrad. I work full-time. Life is not full of free time, ever. So, finding time to volunteer in ways I’d like and finding time and money to take classes before I can even apply to something that isn’t guaranteed is not a good thing. I have MAT and GRE scores, so that’s fine. But I get easily frustrated by such things.
Despite that, this time, I just decided that the right program would somehow just find me. But I wasn’t going to compromise. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to go for everything. I’m not going to get a traditional degree and then take some workshops. Nope.
I found three decent options in the Bay Area. One looked great, but had sucky reviews. One my roommate’s ex went to, in San Francisco proper. And one was very Catholic and small…like my alma mater. It was also in the Peninsula where we likely will be. Both of these programs didn’t require tests or stupid psych courses. (“Recommended, not required” is a beautiful phrase). The Catholic school did require studio art classes–which would mean me taking some courses over the next year, but I love that and need that anyway. Not ideal, but doable. It also had a teaching credential program I can complete in a year. The school feels familiar. Traditional and respected, but solid and focused on learning. The other school is a bit woo-woo. But it offers all the things I’ve been looking for and feels very vibrant. And it would get me into the city often, which would be amazing.
My plan is to finish my stupid MNM degree, which has now been pushed to Spring since they canceled the fall course. That works out and means I’ll be in Navajo country this Spring sometime. I’m going to continue to work on the UX/UI career transition, but hope to make that move in the next 1-2 years. I’m going to tackle my art therapy degree first. I think I’ll apply to the woo-woo school. It’s a three year program, so it’ll give me time to be completely out of my current industry and into more working on my terms. Internships are 3rd year stuff, so that means I’ll have more time for me. Which means I’m going to travel like the vagaband I am before internships start. Once I’m done with that, I’ll get my teaching credential at the Catholic school. And then decide if the PhD is what I really want to do. (I think it is). I’ll either teach or counsel people for a little while. Then from there, I’ll either go to Boston or New Orleans for that PhD (should the path continue on).
Of course, plans change, but that’s my rough outline. That’s where I’m aiming my darts.
I like this plan, but it’s fun to think about the idea that I have no idea what I’ll bump into on this journey.
I just woke up an hour ago. Yet, as of right now, I’ve fed the cats their morning meal, given Fogg her medications, and cleaned two litterboxes. I also vacuumed and rearranged the fridge.
I’m a veritable domestic goddess these days.
I was contemplating making myself some lunch, or cleaning the bathroom, when a thought came into my head. These thoughts have been coming to me more, lately–to my delight.
The thought was that this period in my life feels very much like my mother. This year does. It’s been an odd year full of scary things; lots of instability and passion; heaps of hard work and sacrifice. And a lot of waiting.
My mother, if you knew her, was a workhorse. That woman never ever stopped moving. She was always cleaning. She even did things while she watched television. Perhaps, it was because she was born right in the middle of the Great Depression and had a father who made her pay rent when she got pregnant and got kicked out of school at 13. The baby died, but her fate was sealed. I suspect, from that moment on, she raced against her own fear. That was my mother. Perpetually afraid, but nonstop.
When you’re a girl, at some point in your life, the World will teach you some things. One of the biggest things I remember was self-defense class. If someone is chasing you, you’re supposed to zig zag–do unpredictable things–and never be taken to a second location. For some reason, this reminds me of my mother. Always dodging bullets, but running like her life depended on it.
I’ve done this myself. I got it from her. But never have I expressed it so much than this year. I’ve seemed to have considered every option, and most days, I feel like I never get to just be lazy. The months of recovery and transition have given way to, “How do I make time for the *mountain* in front of me?” Too many goals. Too many dreams. Too much change. A pile of to-dos that will only keep mounting.
But I’m not my mother. Not remotely. That space of hyperventilation freaks me out–even though it’s so satisfying. I have to pause to think about why. I take shortcuts because I’m just too lazy, sometimes. It’s important to me to laugh and have a good time while I work. So, there’s music and phone calls as I cross things off my list. And I let go of my fear as quickly as I catch the balls it throws at me. Like so many hot potatoes. And I’m not just running in place.
I suspect the next year will feel more like my father. And I’m looking forward to it. A little too much. I have to remember to anchor myself to now and enjoy what’s in front of me. Surprisingly, I enjoy cleaning and packing away this life, preparing for that one. The act of nurturing little beings that I adore has made me want to hole away and nest up. I want to create a beautiful life here and there. I want to make my home mine again. I want all the good things she wanted for me. And I’m slowly creeping toward them. I can’t look them in the eye yet, but I know they’re out there.
I suspect I will spend hours doing foolish things in California. I will watch many sunsets and explore. It’s going to be odd to explore places my father knew in his life before me. I’m looking forward to all the learning I’ll do there too. To painting and photography and sculpture and learning how to be in the world. And learning things my parents never knew. And helping people dig tunnels through their darkness. And finding everything that’s holy in this beautiful land of contradictions.
Freedom, I suppose.
Because my father, no matter how troubled he was, was nothing if not a lesson in that. A lesson in wandering and being imprisoned by your own mind. I’ve learned these lessons myself, mostly from him. And I’ve soaked up everything he was and wasn’t. And it won’t go wasted.
Nothing ever is.
We’ll start the final leg of this journey soon. I’m both terrified and excited to finally say goodbye to my gray queens. I’ll be visiting the important places soon, and just for kicks, I’ve decided to make a mini-movie (maybe an actual movie) about leaving home. About leaving my parents’ bodies and the places that have made me “me.” I’m dropping all the things from my past and embracing this new life, with all the parts of my family that are worth carrying. This project feels important, and I’m sure it’ll have a kickass soundtrack.
It’s taken me a long time to leave this place–actual years. I kept getting sucked back in–to my utter disappointment. But it seems like it’s really going to happen this time. Along with a whole lot of other things. Namely: the life I’ve always wanted–not the one I inherited.
Dating in your 30s is weird.
I recently decided I’m going to date people after our move to the Bay Area. (The timing here is not so clear since we have yet to locate long-term housing).
This is big, people. I’m not sure what even motivated it, exactly, but something clicked over a few days ago.
I have this theory about love. Love doesn’t go where it’s not wanted. It can blindside you, sure, but your heart has to be open. You have to be able to receive it. If you’re not, opportunities will pass you by. Perfectly good things will not happen–no matter how much chemistry and genuine affection. I speak from experience.
For me, the minute I decide to do something, the Universe starts slinging things at me like a short-order line cook at Pete’s. Usually, big somethings that always end up turning my life upside down.
I’ve never really dated. I know–that’s a crazy statement. I’m 36. Insanity.
I usually end up in relationships with friends who I’ve always liked that way, on some level–conscious or not. Or weird people I meet randomly. I’m lucky in that I love very easily. But this love thing hasn’t been easy for me. Like everyone else, I’ve had a lot of downs in that rollercoaster ride of thump-thump.
With my last relationship, I just sort of decided mid-way that it wasn’t working. But I was too whatever to actually talk to him about it, so I agonized and overthought and generally acted awful until it finally blew up. I can’t even remember how long ago it was, honestly, but it was a while ago. And since then, I’ve had that shit on lockdown. I would attempt to date here and there out of sheer boredom or some feeling of “I should.” Mostly motivated by aging and whatnot. But, every time, I’d find myself in this sea of just not it–not right–or flat out horrifying.
It wasn’t clicking. So, I took the hint and put it on the backburner. In retrospect, it was like I was wearing a set of deflectors like Wonder Woman. I was just not open to love. And I was not happy in this city. And I felt protective of myself and disconnected from almost everything.
The last few years were necessary, but pretty damn rough. I had a major illness, lots of health scares, a cat die, major insecurities that led me to give up finishing a degree, some money problems, increasing unhappiness, less drive for creativity, and feelings of being stuck. I worked so hard to feel better and be better. But I felt like I kept stumbling. And I was some shade of depressed without even knowing it.
I think it was like a healing crisis. I’d gone through some major wake-up calls. Namely–I felt like crap physically. I felt disconnected emotionally. All I did was work and not even for the right things. That isn’t to say I haven’t made a lot of progress. I got into therapy–which sent me tailspinning–often–as I found my way through it. I found good people to take care of my health. I committed to things I never would have committed to before. I did really well professionally and made a career change that really did suit my needs. It’s a challenge I didn’t anticipate–but a good one. I recognized my limits–and am now returning to finish that damn last class and my degree. I got some good direction for the future and decided to relocate to a place that will hopefully support me in all the good things. And slowly, my heart and mind and body are aligning. I really know this deep in my heart–that this time of healing and transitioning is opening up to a big new adventure. And I’m genuinely excited.
But until very recently, my heart was closed to visitors. I didn’t let new people in. I let old people fade away–sometimes for very good reason. I isolated myself–like some wounded animal. Because that’s what I was.
It’s an odd thing to not even know you’re depressed. I knew I was unhappy, but until the fog started lifting, I had no idea. There was just that growing realization that–“Oh, that’s what that is.” I’ve been here before, and really, it seems silly to even call it depression because it feels so minor compared to what others go through. My forte is disassociating, so depression isn’t this painful thing for me. It’s a numbness to everything–which is painful, I guess, but in a different way. It’s soldiering on and getting through. I do this better than anyone I know–which is an odd source of pride…but also shame.
I haven’t even been able to write about it. And I guess that’s another indication of the depression that set in.
Part of what changed recently was that a friend of mine died. Too young–too soon. She still was fighting to that last day. And it sucked. But it also sort of uplifted me. Reminded me of things and made me feel silly. And then other people I love got diagnoses, and I found myself staring down mortality.
It’s a familiar place for me. One that’s usually prompted major change. You think you know death. You get comfortable with it. It becomes a part of you. You think–because you’ve lost so many–that it can’t hurt you anymore. That you–of all people–would remember to live…to not take anything for granted. But–I’m sort of convinced–this is kind of a human thing. We get used to things. And we start getting too comfortable. And it goes to a backburner only to resurface when things burn up.
I seem to go through these cycles: horrible thing happens; I reel and overthink; I make sweeping changes that terrify me; I grieve; and then I adjust. And then I forget. And maybe take a few steps back.
In any case, that death thing kicked me hard. I almost immediately started reaching out to the people I cared about–apologizing in my weird way. And it reminded me–“Oh, I am connected to these people.” It was really good. And I’ve felt a lot better. And I’ve started to be brave again–with everything. I started remembering who I am and all the things I put on that damn backburner. Including dating.
I started being open to all possibilities–even stupid ones I have told myself are super bad ideas. Roads I’ve taken before. Roads I took halfway. Brand new things. Even things that make me want to stab myself. And I’ve bumped into the absurdity of life and discovered something interesting: What I thought I knew about myself, in this world, is utter BS. And it sucks because I totally didn’t see what was right in front of me. My worth had nothing to do it. It was not about me.
I was not inherently unlovable. I made choices that made me incompatible with some other people’s choices. That’s all.
That’s not to say it wasn’t frustrating. I’ve never dated, but I’ve done the whole trying to date thing–a lot. Dating is hard. It’s disheartening and soul-crushing at times. In my 20s, it was easier–mostly because people in their 20s haven’t really lived enough to be stuck on any one path. At least, it seems that way. I was always too serious (hence why I never dated!)–always laser focused on what I thought was the one. And when I focus on things, I normally am able to make things happen.
Dating in your 30s is like this crash course in humanity. Denver seems to be worse than other places for this. But I’m acutely aware of how old I am and the fact that I’m a woman when I try to see what’s out there. But it’s odd in that there is so much interest now–as long as I’m not clear about what I want.
The guys–the relationships–I want don’t seem to be here. I’ve known this for a long time, of course, but lately it’s been smacking me in the face.
Guys in their 30s are often divorced–which isn’t a problem for me–but it colors everything about them. They look like dads. I don’t mean that they are dads; they just look like them. I don’t know there’s this dad quality of not really taking care of themselves. There’s this role they seem to play of being the elder advisor. They’re bitter and too serious. Marriage is a crapshoot for them. Some want it because they’re sort of codependent. Most don’t because they’re terrified of being hurt. None of them want kids. They either have them already or see them as a nuisance to the lifestyle they want to achieve. They’re either established or they’re Peter Pan. The older ones now seem to think I’m fair game because I’m over 30 and have no options. They want to buy me a steak and discuss business partnerships. (No, I don’t want to see your clothing line). Younger ones want to tap into my wise, hot woman ways. And the more serious ones want to know my intentions–so they can decide if I’m worthy of them. With all, I’ve been sized up before I’ve even spoken. And I’m an option–not a person. I think I preferred being the whole 20s thing of just being a sex object. Of course, those still exist too. No–I do not want to trade pics on whatever gross site you’ve invited me to.
I know what I want. And it’s not any of the above.
I don’t want forever because it’s not mine to promise. I want now. Beautiful now. I want someone who cares about himself, but also gets that I’m a human being–and I need things–too. I want someone who treats me like a person that actually deserves to be heard and seen. I want to laugh. I want to think. I want to feel. And damnit, one day–I want to marry someone and have a kid. I want that. I deserve that. I may not get it.
Life happens. Shit happens. We adjust.
I was talking last night to someone I used to love. That I love still, probably, but not in the same way. I broke his heart, years ago, and it broke my heart to do that. And I did it in a crappy way because I felt like a cornered animal. Because I never learned to love in a way that’s good and healthy. I never learned to fill my own needs.
We’ve always had this relationship of dancing around things. Of skirting the real issues. I broke up with him partially because of that. He was too afraid to get dirty with me. Too polite. Too superficial. And when I finally let go, he didn’t fight. And most of our fights happened because he wouldn’t fight with me–but oh, how I pushed.
I had to make him the bad guy to finally stop that train. I’m not proud of it. I was mean and awful for a while. I didn’t speak to him. But he never gave up on me. He kept trying to be my friend. And I kept ignoring him and pushing him away. I guess it was my way of protecting him from me. Because I knew I’d hurt him and would continue to do it. Because I didn’t know how not to.
We each had our issues. And we’ve each grown in our ways. But lately–as we’ve reconnected and started talking again–we’ve leaned on each other more. So, that’s what happened last night. I was frustrated with the above dating horror–lamenting to him about it. We started talking really honestly about what happened between us. It was not superficial. It was the deep end. And I knew he had it in him. I always did. And I just thought–“why weren’t you like this before?”
I judged all his shortcomings so much back then. I took them personally and made them about me. He just wasn’t there yet. He tried. He just couldn’t. And me being so impatient and judgmental made him close up more. All I wanted was that easy conversation we used to have. Last night, it was like we both finally threw off our shields. The conversation was open and effortless. And fun. And went for the heart of all of it.
I’m not dating anyone now. I don’t really want to. It makes no sense to start anything with anyone when I’m about to move halfway across the country. But I’m open to it. I don’t have my arms up. I’ve done some really hard work, and the drama of my past love life seems pretty far away. I was scared for a while that I was one of the bitter ones. And I think–maybe–for a while I was all those things I despise in the guys I’ve met recently. Too serious. Too scared. Too defensive. Too stuck on requirements.
I feel like–last night–I just took a deep breath and stuck my toes in the ocean. It didn’t take a lot of effort to be right there–completely. It was easy to play in the waves. It was easy to own my shit. It was easy to say what I needed.
Yesterday was a great, historic day. For everyone who loves. Even me.
I’ve struggled with my purpose for a long time. For most people–this whole thing is expressed as life’s work or a JOB–hopefully, that pays the bills. But, for me, it’s not so much about a job. It’s about why I’m even here. I’ve always been good at most things, but I have rarely felt like what I did every day aligned much with my true talents and passions.
I’ve had many ideas about this part of my life. Some silly (ballerina) to completely cool (National Geographic journalist). I’ve tried a whole lot of everything only to find out that my heart isn’t in a lot of things–though I can do most anything at least competently. And the career (yes, I’ll use that word) I’m in now was never one I planned to be anything more than a temporary detour while I figured it all out.
I guess the one thing that has kind of stuck has been the whole teaching thing. And I really tried to make that work. It was the last thing my mother knew I’d be. The one thing everyone (including me) seemed sure I’d be. And it didn’t work. It almost killed me, honestly. Giving it up felt awful, but also insanely good. Like I was finally free. But it still tugs on me. And it has for a while.
Since I parted with the organization I worked with, I’ve been pursuing other things–sort of aimlessly, in a sort of focused way. Ha. I wish I was someone who was just 100% sure about everything, but I’m just not. Truth is–I love a whole lot of stuff and hate a whole bunch of things too. And I’m a bit like Goldilocks. It has to be right.
But, I guess, now I’m wondering if I had the right thing back then–but just the wrong form of it. Maybe I threw the baby out with the bath water. All I know is that I keep bumping into things, and I keep being reminded of the passion I had for it. And I still believe I was good at it–like almost too good at it.
I made the decision this week to go back to school again. Because it’s not in my DNA to just give up. And maybe this curiosity about teaching comes from that feeling. I know I don’t–maybe can’t–do the teaching thing long-term. I have bigger goals I still want to chase. But what about for a little while? I feel like I need to get it out of my system.
I was randomly thinking about it this morning. I know I’m going to eventually transition out of my current career–hopefully in a year or two–to something more amenable to pursuing my MSW. I’m planning on becoming a UX/UI designer for a while–something I know I’ll enjoy for the creative aspects…something that will be fairly easy to do in the Bay Area. And something I can turn into freelance when I have to do my internships. I was (and am) planning on doing that until I have that MSW and am licensed. From there, my plan was to work and get counseling experience. But what if I became a school counselor? Or what if I taught and did private practice during nights/weekends/summers? It would give me that experience with kids and would help me build my skills. And I could decide exactly where/how I did that. The problem with what I did before was more about the org I worked with. It was more about the bureaucracy and dysfunction I found. But what if I found a great school that aligned with my beliefs? It seems completely doable–especially in the Bay Area.
I’d probably only do it until I started my PhD. After that, I’d focus more on counseling, advocacy, and teaching adults. I’d probably continue doing UX/UI to ensure I’m not a broke lady. :)
I just keep feeling like this thing is tugging on me for a real reason. And I don’t know if I can keep ignoring it. I know I’ll make a difference in the world–no matter where I end up–but I don’t think this whole experience was just a waste of time.