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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What Ifs and Standing Still

I woke up at 10:30 today. I had a minor procedure done last week so I'm letting my body rest and recover and apparently that requires 10 hours of sleep (I wish I was kidding, but I'm not. My body is requiring around 10 hours of sleep right now and who am I to tell it no?). I was up late last night job searching/applying to fill the weekly requirements to receive my unemployment check. In the last year I have applied to at least one (usually more) jobs a week and not received any word back. Now, it could be the bad economy. It could also be that a majority of the jobs are hourly-wage jobs that don't require a degree or experience and I'm sure the managers look at my resume and assume I'm looking for work until something better comes along. I can't say that I blame for not wanting to hire me. I also apply for jobs within education which I have experience in, prior to the MC, but no college credits towards and who would want to hire a bad-ass, haji*-killing, Marine who would probably bring big guns to show and tell and gory war stories? I have recently given up on the idea of not going back into what I used to do because I hated my actual job in the Marines. Times are hard and my experience in the last four years is in supply and logistics so the last few months I have applied to supply/logistics management positions. I digress, this is not about my excuses for still being unemployed, but there are plenty of people who will read this and argue there are plenty of jobs out there if I just try harder. This intro is my way of saying there really aren’t and it is as much the struggle to find a job as it is the struggle to figure out what I want to do.

So, I look for jobs with no luck and a crappy attitude. I do my schoolwork, but not diligently and usually at last minute (I find my creativity fairy only visits the week before a project is due). I talk to my sister and my friend Deb, who might as well be my sister, daily. I fart around until something is due or a wave of creativity overwhelms me and I can't escape it. Like most of my life I get by on bare minimum. Recently, I recalled a conversation with my friend Bruce, who also manages to skate by doing bare minimum (or at least he did in high school and college, I can't speak for him now). He once asked me (forgive me Bruce if you read this I’m just paraphrasing), "Do you ever wonder what would happen if you actually tried? We go to a high ranked, private school and put minimal effort into our studies and still get good grades. Do you ever wonder what you could do if you actually tried? What could you achieve then?" Now, Bruce wasn't trying to spark inspiration in me, or at least I don't think he was. He was simply stating a rhetorical question for the both of us. I did wonder from time to time and I did try my best in the classes I cared about - mostly writing. Funny, how someone can make a comment or statement not trying to change your life, inspire or judge you and yet some years later you still ask yourself the in efforts to both inspire and judge yourself. Bruce was right, what would happen if I tried harder? What would be the cost? What would be the reward? The reason I went to a small, private school was as much the social life as the lectures. I was not in a sorority, nor did I party much. On the Friday or Saturday nights that my friends and I weren't studying we were at plays, museums, swing dances or sitting around having conversations about music, trips to Africa, semesters in New York, what great things we were going to do for the world when we finally graduated, etc. I cherish those nights and to this day I think I grew as much as a person as I did intellectually over those four years because of those late night conversations and friendships. So, would I do it differently if I went back now? Probably not. Do I wish I had put more effort into my master's program? Only the night before a project is due and I have more work than I have time. But, I always manage to get things done on time and I find when I spread the work out over time I’m working last minute trying to perfect it anyways. Would it be better if I had spent less time thinking about it and more time doing it? Doubtful.

I've been unemployed for a while. I don't really wish I had tried harder to get a high paying job right after getting off of active duty or networking or staying in the reserves. Like the late night conversations with my friends in college, I cherish my experiences in Peru, Panama and other adventures this time has afforded me. American's are workaholics who dream of one day retiring. I'd rather spread out the adventures and traveling throughout my youth so I can enjoy it rather than wait until my retirement investments give me a nice cushion to lay my head while I do the things I always wanted to do. I back this statement up with a conversation overheard at a wine bar on Sunday. A man was talking about how he used to live and travel through Europe and how he wanted to take his wife someday. All I could think was what if that someday never comes? What if you die of a heart attack tomorrow? What if this, that and the other? But I did not feel it was my place to tell this stranger, "You have to make that someday today, otherwise it will never happen." The more of the conversation I heard, the more I realized they were very well off as a byproduct of being successful workaholics. If work is what makes you tick, then I won't judge, but I will ask, do you ever wonder what would happen if you took more vacations? Took time to enjoy the sunset and smell of rain? If someone was to tell you the exact date you were going to die would you look at things differently? After all, Americans also think we are going to live forever, we are invincible to heart disease, cancer, car accidents, natural disasters. These things won’t happen to us so we can plan for elaborate retirements.

For the record I was not at the wine bar alone, I had met a friend there. Later another friend joined us after getting off work at her second job. She told us about the trip to Disney Land with kids from either the hospital she works at or the non-profit her mom runs for kids with cancer (I can't recall who sponsored the trip). She smiled as she told us about hitting every major ride and how exhausted she was from pushing a wheelchair around. This friend is a wonderful person with lots of energy and a very positive attitude, but listening to her talk about all the things she had crammed in her weekend and how she had to work in the morning I realized something else about Americans. We aren't only workaholics, we're stillaphobics. We live in a society where we can't stand to be still. Funny, we medicate our children for something that Darwin would probably see as natural evolution from this lifestyle. We can't sit down to talk to our loved ones on the phone - we have to call them while we are at the grocery store or driving home from work. When was the last time you had coffee with a friend where you actually sat down – not grabbed it on the go saying, “Here I’ll walk a couple blocks with you then I have to go.”? We can't stand waiting in lines or having dinner without the nightly news on, multitask, multitask, multitask. Honestly, when was the last time you had an entire afternoon off to do nothing, alone? When was the last time you sat down on a rainy afternoon and read a book? I have had an entire year of this, more or less. There have been plenty of days when I wished I had a job and thought another minute of quiet time might drive me off the edge, but again I cherish this time with myself. People, including my roommate, have told me, "I'd go crazy without a job." And yes, sometimes I felt like I was going crazy. Like a child in time-out or an inmate in solitary confinement, there’s a chance you might go crazy. However, you might discover something about yourself or at the least learn to appreciate the stillness, which is not really still at all. When my friend was talking about how much she had to do this week, which was like every week, I realized she couldn't sit still if she wanted to. Between her fulltime job and her second job, diner parties, volunteer work, and everything else, there simply was not room for standing still.

I have another friend who is still an active duty Marine. She is also a great person filled with lots of energy. When she moved to her latest duty station she started a Masters program, kung fu classes, continued refereeing softball leagues on top of all the extracurricular activities the Marine Corps requires (like duty). Both of these women are single and childless, which is how they have so much time and energy**. They are both happy and do great at whatever they try, not because they are naturals at it, but because they put so much energy into it. I love them and their friendship, but as I listen to their active lives I realize I used to fill my time with a million and one things to do. I used to think of sleep as a chore, not a necessity. I used to be a quietaphobic, a caffeine addict, an ADHD adult who fed off of filling my days with things to keep me busy, busy, busy. I don’t know why. Nothing was missing in my life. I do not want children and I was happy with that lifestyle. I grew up in a family where it was expected that you take dance classes, play volleyball, march in the band, piano lessons, travel to Powwows, hold a part time job, and more and more and more. I loved it and I think I’m a better person for it, but things are different now. I have finally learned to enjoy my quiet time rather than try to fill it with learning something new or perfecting something old. I don’t dread Sunday evenings because there is nothing to do. I can do nothing (although I am still very ADHD so this is a challenge in itself). I can meditate without thinking of all the things I could be doing or rather should be doing, as I used to think. This year has been hard economically, but to try to take something positive out of those struggles I have learned how to be still.

All this being said, I enjoy learning something new. I love to run 6, 7, 8 miles a day. I like my active lifestyle. All I’m saying is now I enjoy taking my time, standing still while the world turns, journaling about the sound of thunderstorms and pitter-patter of rain. I have learned that taking time for myself is as necessary as filling my calendar with things to distract myself from myself. So, Bruce, what would have happened if I had tried harder? Maybe I could have saved the world. All I know is right now, as I write this, I’m happy standing still.

*1. Yes I did just footnote my blog and 2. I do not use the term "haji" unless mocking those who do. It is a derogatory term some American Servicemembers call Iraqi's in order to dehumanize the men and women we have been trained to see as our enemy.

** This is not passing judgment on single, childless women or saying that they fill their time with extracurricular activities to fill their lives because they are single and childless. There are plenty of women in this world of childbearing age who are happy being single with no desire to have children.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Facebook Facade

I'm working away at my last semester of school. I seriously doubt it will be my last semester ever, but for my MFA this is it. By working away I really mean procrastinating and farting around when I should be diligently working. The problem is I don't know if I even want to finish anymore.

During some of this 'farting around' time I find myself Facebook stalking friends and more often acquaintances. People I met at work or a bar once upon a time. The young woman who took over my job when I left the Marine Corps. A woman I met during my travels. Midshipmen who I trained at Quantico who are now officers in the fleet. The funny thing about Facebook pictures is nobody posts pictures of themselves on a bad day or mundane day. It's more like a place to brag about what you are doing or where you were. It's a memorial of how fun your life was at some point and how you have it all put together. Naturally, I get jealous when I see people who have traveled more than I have (which is most people). I am conceited when I see that someone from high school has gained weight. I feel free when I look at old classmates families. More often than any of that I look through the pictures of people laughing, smiling, traveling, at job promotions, family pics, kissing couples, babies crying and I ask myself is this what I am supposed to want? What is wrong with me that I don't want to get married to a nice man with a good career, work on my own career, have children, move into a bigger house, take vacations to fancy resorts, blah blah blah. It sounds nice. It really does and part of me is incredibly jealous of the people who live this happy dream because it is what they want. I click through more pictures wondering if they are really happy or live the life that was expected of them and are therefore happy because they fulfilled their end of the contract.

I look through pictures of Marines and Sailors in Iraq and Afghanistan and ask myself should I still be there? Did I quit? Is this what I was meant to do? Like most things in my life I got bored, now I wonder if I gave up to easily? Did I quit before the big pay off? Why couldn't I adjust to the military lifestyle? Why couldn't I just give up some of my innate stubbornness and force myself to conform for 8 hours a day?

I skip to the page of another "Friend" and another and another. I look at their happy profiles and ask myself what do you want, Libby? What do you want to do with your life now? I don't know. I simply do not know. Is it really as simple as people seem to make it on their profiles. Is my world full of random Facebook acquaintances who are really happy with their life? Am I just the odd man out who can't differentiate between what I want, what I'm supposed to want, what I'm expected to do, what I'm meant to do and what I'm doing. Shouldn't these things all line up?

I haven't had a job for a year now. Unemployment isn't going to last forever and the job search has been fruitless. What happens when the stimulus extensions run out? What happens in June when I won't be able to use school as an excuse for my immature aspirations. I emailed some people about going to Afghanistan. If I follow through with that it will postpone figuring things out for at least another 8 months plus post-deployment vacation time. Then what?

And in the meantime I post pictures from birthday parties, road trips, sunsets, finishing lines, dinner parties, etc. I wonder if someone I met once at some point in time is looking through my photos with the absurd belief that I have it all figured out and they're wrong. Is this what Facebook has done to our culture - created an emotional masquerade hiding our insecurities and failures as well as our greatest ambitions and hopes? Is it uniting us or creating acyberworld for us to hide?