Risk management: the effect of uncertainty on objectives (whether positive or negative.)
2010 was supposed to be a year of risk-taking.
Not like risk-taking in the past, which usually involved some sort of ill-conceived plan of mischief or giant leaps into abysses. I don't think there's anything wrong with a giant leap into an abyss every now and then. Good for the soul, especially when you have to climb your way up and out.
But 2010 was supposed to be a year of risk-taking that encompassed discovering new paths, new ways of thinking, and new life experiments. New Orleans will be a part of this; a week with strangers is far outside of my comfort zone, and I am not exactly a master carpenter. But I'll learn.
Stephanie Klein, for whom I still have a serious soft spot and a much greater tendency towards creating personal boundaries thanks to her homegrown and iron-clad brand of stating what you will and will not stand for in your life (you teach others how to treat you), recently wrote a blog post aimed at creating a new career mid-life. Specifically, it was about starting a writing career. I've started so many writing careers I can't keep track.
Her advice? Get the full-time job, and make it work for you. Find out how to get your employer to pay for extracurricular classes, use your vacation time to pursue your life's loves.
It isn't bad advice, certainly, but it sort of sails over my head because I've stalled out on that front: getting the full-time job. Apply, apply, apply, fill out more applications, talk to everyone you know, write your resume ten different ways in ten different fonts and scatter them to the winds. Searching for a job is a full-time job, and you're supposed to treat it as one.
Except it's the most thankless, exhausting, draining full-time job you could ever have.
Still, I read her blog post and realized that the thing that she was saying without really saying it had a whole lot to do with my ideas about risk: do what you gotta do, and find a way to make the doing a part of the greater process. Sometimes it doesn't look traditional, sometimes it's not exactly what you thought it might look like.
But you've gotta be doing something. And that's the risk. Inaction is laziness, it's safe, it's protecting, and it's also a very poisonous and stagnant way of being. Inaction leads to stultifying fear of taking a step in any one direction. I've found, in the last three or four years, that I'll be inactive for a great period of time before I'll finally just say, "Screw it," and jump. And the jumping is always somehow so much easier than I thought it would be. Mid-air, knowing not where I'll land, I somehow always find myself with this thought: "I should have done this a long time ago."
Whether it's a move, a career change, a new way of thinking- 2010 is the year of risk-taking, and it's time for me to get on that. I've been trying too hard for too long to do things the traditional way, and it's not working out. So let's approach it from a different angle. Find an internship. Volunteer. Get yourself in there, learn what you need to learn, and get out of this rut.
But, above all, make it work for you, not against you.
I received a letter from my undergrad. I assumed it was something asking me for money. Why do they keep bothering me? I already donated a sum to the Foreign Language department last year. (Twenty five dollars. Is that tax-deductible?)
It wasn't asking for money. It was a survey to be filled out and returned by February 12. (Oops.)
Greetings, Alumni! Please take a moment to fill us in on your career paths since you've left our institution.
I almost threw up.
List the number of employers you've had since your date of graduation (9), and please include your current position (bartender/server), how long you've been there (...gasp....two years), and any awards/promotions you've received in that time (crowned Lady Trivia.)
Please tell us, in a few words, how your degree has helped you attain this position.
Please note if you would like your contact information to be made available to current students looking for a mentor in your particular field.
Starving artistry? Why sure, sign right up.
I threw the survey away. It was past-due anyway. To calm my nerves, I housed three pieces of chocolate and logged onto Facebook.
DON'T FORGET- AHS 10-YEAR REUNION PLANS HAVE BEGUN!!!!
Oh my God.
What have I done with my life? Besides pour two years into a narcissistic blog and house more vodka than Russia? I looked in the mirror yesterday and distinctly saw that I am getting lines around my eyes, regardless of whatever Whack tells me. I'm going to have to start purchasing creams that cost more than said vodka.
I had better figure some things out soon. I have already exceeded the cat-to-person ratio, already out-stayed my welcome as a starving artist in my mid-twenties, and have begun stressing about lines on my face. If I'm not careful, this quarter-life crisis will soon be a mid-life crisis.
Addendum: Should have checked my horoscope for the day first. "Even if you feel as though you've temporarily hit a brick wall, you must remember that nature often has bigger and better plans for us when we ourselves perceive failure. Nothing is a lost opportunity and your eventual success depends on you maintaining a positive attitude. Try not to be negative if things appear to go against you today. Keep your mind focused on the bigger picture."
I'm not content to believe that this is all there is.
I'm not comfortable in the reality that my brain has stretched as far as it can go, that I have discovered all of the things I need to discover, or that the perspective of the world I currently hold is one I could sit peacefully with for a lifetime.
I'm not copacetic enough to believe that I've found anything even remotely like faith, except to say I have faith that someday I will have faith, in something. An idea, maybe, or a way of living. Most likely not a doctrine or any antiquated idea. But then, who knows?
I don't believe that I have yet found my calling, or my place in this world. I also don't believe that it will fit neatly into any predetermined square. I believe I will have to carve out a life for myself amongst the far stretches of what other people deem to be "normal" or "anticipated," and that I'll carry pieces of this life from far corners of reality to assemble my own reality.
I don't believe I have made peace with any of these things, so anxious am I to have all of the answers right now.
I don't believe that the best of me has yet surfaced. I don't know if it's hidden somewhere within, waiting to bubble up sometime around my thirty first birthday to surprise me just when I'd come to grips with the idea that all hope was lost. Or maybe it's out there, somewhere, and it will become my mission to find it, to coax it inside.
"What if all of our dreams had come true by 28? What, then, would we do to fill the next fifty years?"
I'm not content to believe this is all there is, but I am content to believe it isn't.
I imagine that, someday, I'll look back on all of this as some intense, accelerated crash course on life. That the answers will come and I will finally find a way to be at peace with myself. But, for now, I struggle through blindly, ignoring intuition and hoping for miracles the way I'm sure everyone does at one point or another.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the Blizzard of 2010 was, quite possibly, one of the best things to happen to the North East.
I realize I am setting myself up for harsh skewering here.
Say what you will about the inconvenience, the dangers, the sheer exhaustion of having to re-arrange and re-plan everyday activities around a physical heft of snow the likes of which, according to my always-optimistic father, we most likely won't see again in our lifetimes. Say it and I'll agree with you. I am one of the most fortunate people in the world these days because I don't HAVE to dig my car out of the snowbank under which it's currently snuggled. I can walk places. And I have friends with 4-wheel drive. I recognize that I am biased in my bold statement.
But here's the thing- in the past week, we have focused on nothing but the weather. Our worlds have shrunk, circumscribing us to our towns and cities. Destinations once a mere ten minutes away now might as well be unreachable. We are thankful for things like electric power, a well-stocked refrigerator, and a few hours of sunshine to start the massive melt-down. For a few moments, we're not fixated on the state of the world. On the economy. On the constant bitter and draining battles between Republicans and Democrats and Independents and health are. On tragic occurrences worldwide.
This is not to say that they're off of our radars. And it's certainly not to say that these things aren't important, and it's also not to brush under the carpet the issue that, for many Americans, these things are consistently less on the forefront then they should be. But, for once, they're not being eschewed because a Kardashian got knocked up. It's because the global weather patterns have wholluped us, and we're suddenly reverting back a hundred years to a time when we have to be thankful for things like dry socks and a neighbor who will lend us a cup of flour for cookie-making.
And the local economy is thriving. Small, independently-owned stores stayed open, for the most part, especially in citified areas where foot traffic kept a steady flow of business. Anywhere that sold food, liquor, or snow shovels probably did pretty damn well in the past week. When house-bound, people want those things, in that order.
(Well, most people I know would eschew the first in favor of the second in a pinch, but I'm well aware that my cirque does not so much represent the general populace.)
And, yes, it's true, neighbors turn on one another. I read some bullshit story about a guy in Baltimore who posted a list of houses in his neighborhood who "shamefully" had yet to participate in any snow-removal in front of their houses. Yes, it's a pain in the ass to be walking down the sidewalk and suddenly chance upon a glacier in front of someone's house that hasn't seen the slightest chip of a shovel.
(To be fair- I damn near killed myself multiple times in front of the houses that were shoveled because of the sheer amount of black ice. At least when walking on tramped-down snow, I know what I'm in for, and what I'm in for is a good deal more traction then a bare sidewalk littered with seemingly-innocuous puddles.)
But, still. How is posting a public Wall of Shame in any way contributing to any greater good? Instead it encourages, as one person pointed out, a sort of "fascist" remembrance. And take into account the abilities of people to actually shovel their walk.
One of the local cops told me about the sometimes-violent turns parking spot disputes have taken. There is simply no easy answer for that. You spend hours digging out your car, run to the store for ten minutes, and return to find someone else nestled in your ONE SPOT in the giant tundra of snow. I get the frustration. But what is there to do? City officials have turned every available paved area into free parking, and that's pretty much the best anyone can make of the situation. It sucks.
All of that aside.
Dealing with these problems requires a new focus, a new outlook. Thinking of someone other than yourself is suddenly evident when you're forced into these situations. Some kind soul shoveled the walk in front of our house and laid down salt. It never even crossed my mind to buy Snow Melt, it's simply not on my radar as a twentysomething female more concerned with stocking up on diet tonic water and Lean Cuisines. But someone saw my failing and helped me out. And as soon as I figure out which kind neighbor did so, I'll thank them. Possibly with cookies.
We have choices in how we view situations such as these and, at the end of the day, you can view the Blizzard of 2010 as the Greatest Week of Suckage Ever, or you can make yourself a hot toddy and go sledding with friends. You can out your neighbor for not shoveling his/her walk, or you can conjecture that there might be extenuating circumstances and try to problem-solve from there. It's all in how you choose to view it, how you choose to enact grace, and how you decide you want this, ultimately, to go down in your own personal history book.
Things That Are Good About The Snow: 1. Weird sense of vacation that allows for copious daytime drinking, socializing, and a sort of free-for-all feeling that releases most people from the rat race/drudgery/constant list of obligations. Priorities are narrowed to: food, drinks, warmth, entertainment. Nothing else seems all that important. 2. It's incredible how different everything looks, how alien. Lumps of white transform familiar streets and backyards to lunar landscapes. The familiar becomes subverted, twisted, and cause for inspection. 3. The "village" aspect. Yesterday I traded a cup of milk for some flour with a neighbor. Someone shoveled our walk for us and salted it as well. I get texts from friends who have to venture across town and ask if anyone needs a ride anywhere. We are suddenly a community in a way we never have been, having to rely on one another. 4. Time with friends. We've had houseguests/refugees since Thursday last. Food, drinks, DVDs, books are shared. Laundry is done in communal loads. Movies watched, inside jokes formed, and our living room has been transformed into one giant bedroom. 5. An opportunity to do things differently. To break up the normal routine, to find ways to entertain ourselves and each other. Even going outside requires equipment, protection. There's an element of fun, of adventure.
Things That Are Bad About The Snow: 1. Can't put the trash out. 2. Can't go anywhere outside of a six block radius. 3. CABIN FEVER. 4. Haven't had a day off since........................................ 5. Cold. Wet. Cold. Wet. 6. Junk food. 7. Constant worry that we'll lose power. 8. Is it spring yet?
It's amazing how everything becomes so still. Trees topple under the weight of the snow, blocking streets. Cars are useless. Plows have nowhere to put the mounds of snow, and so they sit until nature takes its course. Everyone is kept circumscribed to their neighborhoods, and I'm not convinced this is a bad thing. Neighbors wave to one another, they pet each others' dogs and ask if anyone needs anything. Stores that can be open stay open late to accommodate people who tramp snow in the front door, shaking it off of their boots and out of their faces, coming in to pick up something for dinner. People come out with their cameras and sketch pads. The streets are crowded with bodies as opposed to cars. It's what the city would be like if no one commuted, if we were truly a village. These pictures are labeled Part I because, apparently, there is more snow on the way. I have been fortunate to be snowed in with kind friends and neighbors, and the luxury of being able to walk everywhere I need to go. My car is buried under a snowdrift somewhere on a side street and I'm pretty sure I won't see it again until sometime next week.
Hot chocolate date with Jaunt yesterday, as is our custom whenever the public school system has a snow holiday and she is temporarily freed from the shackles of teaching high school English. We always go to Chocolatea Cafe up by Hopkins. Recommendation: the Banana Split (dark chocolate with banana puree) or the Peanut Butter Cup (dark chocolate, creamy peanut butter, marshmallow.) Amazing. Somehow, the conversation shifted away from choices, relationships, dating, literature, and the demographics of the school system in which Jaunt teaches to the AP English Essay Grading Rubric which looks a little something like this:
Essays to be graded on a 1-9 scale, with 1 and 9 being variants of the determinations below, in two minutes or less. 8- effective 6- adequate 4- inadequate 2- little success
Suddenly, it made perfect sense. The AP English Essay Grading Rubric translated smoothly and aptly to assessing individuals and their direct relationship to either a.) planet earth b.) other human beings c.) planet earth and its population of other human beings.
"I'm being a 2 today," Jaunt said.
"Come on. You've never been anything less than a 5."
"There are a lot of houses in the land of 5," she countered.
"True, but I don't think it's a complete failure to come at life closer to adequate than not," I said. I could hope to be a 5. At the very least, I wanted to be something more than "inadequate."
"Pretty much everyone, to me, comes in at a 5. I don't like to judge too hastily," Jaunt said. Always the optimist.
Think about it. You know someone who's a 3. Hovering through life somewhere between "little success" and "inadequate." You probably even know someone who soars above the crowd at the zenith of 7 (lurking between adequate and effective at all things in life.) A truly effete individual might have sunk to the bottom of things down at a 2 (or a 1 on a truly horrid, inexplicable day.) I don't think I know anyone who is a 9. Beyond effective. I don't think I would want to be friends with a 9 because, in comparison, I would constantly feel like a 4. 4-minus, even.
On a good day, I like to feel I could settle happily in the land of 6. But, because I'm a writer, good days don't ever exist because you're never satisfied and constantly obsessed with the idea of dying inexplicably and becoming famous post-posthumously. So I could probably never even encroach upon the land of 8, though in my head there is some perfect version of me building mansions on the Boardwalk square of that particular game board.
Where do you fall?
That person who cut you off- definitely a 2.
The person who returned your wallet- a 5 operating at a karmic level of 9.
"Unseemly self-exposures, unpalatable betrayals, unavoidable mendacity, a soupcon of meretriciousness; memoir, for much of its modern history, has been the black sheep of the literary family. Like a drunken guest at a wedding, it is constantly mortifying its soberer relatives (philosophy, history, literary fiction)--spilling family secrets, embarrassing old friends--motivated, it would seem, by an overpowering need to be the center of attention. Even when the most distinguished writers and thinkers have turned to autobiography, they have found themselves accused of literary exhibitionism--when they can bring themselves to put on a show at all."
-"But Enough About Me; What Does the Popularity of Memoir Tell Us About Ourselves?" Daniel Mendelsohn, The New Yorker
(photos within photo courtesy Katie Wright.) For some reason, I'm thinking about spring. Maybe it's because my neighbors are inexplicably mowing their lawn. (Yes, they shoveled the snow off first.)
"Snowdrops" -Louise Gluck Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know what despair is: then winter should have meaning for you. I did not expect to survive, earth suppressing me. I didn't expect to waken again, the feel in damp earth my body able to respond again, remembering after so long how to open again in the cold light of earliest spring- afraid, yes, but among you even crying yes risk joy in the raw wind of the new world.