Basically Perfect.

New city, new house, new job – who dis?

This is not where I’m settling down. I feel obligated to say that at the outset because I’ve come to recognize the importance of identifying way-stations in life. Permanence is an illusion. The lifestyle I have now is not the one I want forever, and the home I have now will not suit me in the future.

That being said, it’s a pretty sweet pad.

Disclaimer: not my house or neighborhood. I’m not showing the entire internet where I *actually* live, duh.

As it turns out, I’m most comfortable in the middle class, suburban environments in which I was raised. An 80’s latchkey kid, I find a great deal of contentment in uniform streets of cookie-cutter houses, with fenced yards and kids running around after school. I greatly appreciate living 2 miles from the fancy grocery store with the olive bar, and the fact that there are a Lowe’s and Home Depot within five minutes of my house bothers me not at all.

Basic af, I know. Not sorry about it even a little bit.

My life has veered from shit storm to stress ball without relief since 2015. So as I sit here in my central air-conditioned, split-level, 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath suburban cookie-cutter house, laundry running downstairs in the entire room dedicated to laundry and the dishwasher happily chugging away in the kitchen, my full time with benefits and bonuses job waiting for me on Monday morning, I don’t give a single solitary fuck how “basic” my life seems. Comparatively speaking, “basic” feels real damn good right now.

I find it difficult to explain what accomplishing your goals feels like. Each line item on my list, confidently struck through by my persistence, represented its own manuscript of stress and worry and depression and fear. I’d get through one and feel giddy like Christmas morning, then freak out wondering what ill wind was going to blow another shit storm into my life. Finding a house and getting moved was the last thing on my list and after accomplishing that a week ago, I started compulsively looking over my shoulder for that feeling of impending doom that’s been my constant companion for the last 4 years and my intermittent companion for most of my life. Wondering what I was forgetting or failing to do that was going to knock me down a peg. And then I remembered – no, this feeling of accomplishment and peace is what I earned for having survived and improved over the last 4 years. Doom can fuck right off for the time being, thankyouverymuch.

My dogs are living their best life after running and playing in our spacious, flat, fenced yard. My roommate is my favorite person on the planet. My job is 4 minutes from my house. Is it exactly where I want to be? Not really, and even that is kind of perfect in its own way because it gives me something else to strive for and look forward to. But this feeling of looking back and seeing only my past, instead of a grasping disaster ready to wreck my life? Yeah, that’s pretty spectacular and I’m just going to sit here and stew in it for a while, let my fingers get all pruney. I’m confident that when I’m ready to pull the plug and move on to the next thing, it’ll be on my own terms.

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Class of 2019

As of today, I am a graduate with an Associates of Applied Science degree. I won’t tell you what field because it’s small enough to be identifying and I don’t know you that well. Unless I do, in which case you already know! I have some disjointed thoughts I need to get down. Strap in.

A two year degree doesn’t sound very impressive when compared with graduate degrees and before I entered this program I, too, held the opinion that it wasn’t really worth celebrating. That’s because I didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about. I pushed through five straight semesters while also holding down a thankless retail job, paying all my bills on time, walking all my dogs regularly, devoting a not-small portion of my time to volunteer activities, AND I made the Dean’s list. Twice. The particular program I was in incorporates doctorate-level studies (not a lot, but I can talk about some nit-picky science shit, lemme tell ya), and required regular clinical rotations. I worked very hard over the last two years, with no time off, and I earned the respect of both my instructors and my peers. My two year degree is impressive as fuck.

Speaking of peers – I didn’t really make any life-long friends. It’s not that kind of program. Most of us were middle-aged and seeking a career change, with built-in families, friends, and support structures. We weren’t necessarily looking to create a new family. But it’s true that cohorts share a camaraderie that you can’t appreciate unless you’ve been through something challenging and emotional with another group of people. Different groups call it different things (such as “unit cohesion” in the military), but the sense of shared accomplishment and the unspoken understanding that comes from fellowship is real. Whether you want it to be or not. My classmates measure success in their own ways, but we all understand what it took to stand here at graduation and say, “We earned this.” It’s not a small thing.

I won’t be walking with my class. It’s a long, boring, stifling, unwieldy ceremony that doesn’t represent accomplishment to me. But I will be joining my class for a meal, sharing that sense of camaraderie one last time before I move on. I was good at school. A linear path with clearly set goals and expectations is a challenge that appeals to me. My instructors had glowing feedback and recognition for me at the end of my courses. The program director said that not only did I raise the bar, but I brought all of my classmates up as a result. They gave me the department award. And they’re proud of me. That feels really nice.

I have a strange sense of dazed aimlessness this morning. No school deadlines to fret over, no continuing project or assignment to dwell on, no particular schedule to slave to. I have other things going on. There is right now an offer letter in my inbox from an employer wanting to give me a full time salaried position. It’s not my dream job, but it is a real job and I desperately need one of those right now. I’ve been three years without a real income or insurance or security and the weight of that stress has become increasingly unbearable. So I’ll take the job, which is a two-year commitment, and I’ll work just as hard there as I did in school and hopefully in yet another two years I’ll be able to move a little closer to the life I envision.

None of this, not one single bit, would have been possible without the unflagging support of my daughter who fulfilled every support role imaginable and some unimaginable. She helped me with my math homework when it literally made me cry. She walked my dogs when I put in 13 hour days. She listened to me rant, rave, and crow. She single-handedly kept us from being buried under an avalanche of dirty dishes. And she’s proud of me, too. That feels amazing. I absolutely could not have done this without her.

Three years ago, I thought I might die from grief, abandonment, rage and insecurity. Today, I’m about dig into a new career, city and future. I’ve rediscovered myself in the most challenging ways, but I’m not ashamed of how I got here. I’m proud of myself, and that’s everything.

The Sound of Silence

With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel for appropriating their song title, I thought I’d show up here with a brief blurb on why I don’t show up here more often.

As many of you already know, I’m a full time student retraining for a mid-life career change. I’m in my last semester, which is awesome (literally I’m full of awe that I got here without any stops at the loony bin), but also tremendously busy. There are finals, plus professional licensing procedures, plus networking, plus job searching, plus certification… Plus, I still have a part time job and three dogs. Soon there will be moving, too. Yes. So.

There is also depression, which has decided to set up camp this month. As practiced as I am at recognizing and intellectualizing its presence and effects, I’m still struggling with apathy and pessimism. That struggle alone often consumes more of my energy than I can rightfully spare.

Financially, I’m not sure how I’m going to accomplish everything. Physically and mentally, I’m tired and worn out all the time (but still – knock on wood – in great health). And emotionally, I’m typically in a constant state of panicked anxiety – except for depression which is a nice, apathetic relief from the constant anxiety. Always nice when the rain cloud has a radioactive lining.

I’m sure I’ll come out the other side victorious, I’m jsut not sure what that will look like. I have a good support system, but most everything is going to fall on my solitary shoulders as all my burdens converge and that’s just the way it is. Basically, life is beating me up, rifling through my pockets, and giving me a really spectacular wedgie at the moment. I’ll survive, but I’ll probably end up walking funny for a little while.

I have so many things I want to discuss here. Sometimes my life feels so surreal, and I wish I could parse it out with more patience and care than I have right now. Politics, relationships, the absolute weirdness that is being a single woman in my 40s – all stuff that takes up brain space but to which I can’t really devote any thinking time. So frustrating. Anyway.

My paypal is aealex75@gmail.com if you’re looking to be supportive. Proceeds will go to my move, probably. There’s a possibility it will be spent on emergency wine, however, so keep that in mind.

Thank you for your readership, your comments, your shares. I’m sorry I’m not here more often, however I’ve kept to a standard of honesty and authenticity that I’m proud of, and I won’t sacrifice that for content. I renewed my domain, though, so you know I’m not disappearing. See you sometime.

Reading List

Most of my reading these days is required and so dry it could make the Sahara weep. Unless, that is, you’re really revved up by “Infection Control in the Hearing Aid Clinic” or “Compression for Clinicians”, and if you are, you have my sympathies. But infrequently over the last 18 months I’ve had occasion to read something interesting, and I thought I’d share those gems here.

Tuesdays With Morrie, Mitch Albom
This is one of those bandwagons I never hopped on the first time around, and probably wouldn’t have now either except that it was required for my Psychology of Aging class. It’s just exactly the sort of sentimental, pseudo-spiritual clap-trap that I steer clear of on pain of death (by eye-rolling, probably). But it’s surprisingly well written – concise, unflinching, and yes sentimental but not in a manipulative way. It was sweet, and though I understand that Morrie himself garnered quite a following shortly before his death thanks to Ted Koppel’s Nightline interviews, I think ultimately the book is about the practical application of his lessons about life through dying on the author, his former student and longtime friend.

Uprooted, Naomi Novik
This is a fantasy novel, written in an old school style that McCaffrey, Bradley, Salvatore and Paxton would appreciate. Something that felt like I could have picked it off the shelf at Walden Books in the mall back in 1987 and devoured in a night. Really rich in world building, with main characters that feel as real as your best friend. Some of the action sequences are intense and gory, but that only lends to the excitement for me. If it bothers you, be forewarned. A very fun read.

The Adventures of Joy Sun Bear: The Blue Amber of Sumatra, Blanca Carranza, John Lee
This is a shameless plug because I personally know one of the co-authors. But here’s my Amazon review, which I stand by: The Blue Amber of Sumatra begins on a desperately sad – and horrifyingly relevant – scene. Then it drops you into a lush world that captures both the exoticism of far off lands and the familiarity of cherished friendships and bonds. This is what the best stories always do – make you care, and make you excited to learn more. Joy’s adventure begins as running away, but turns into a discovery of innovation, bravery, anger and friendship. He wants to learn, and the reader can’t help but be drawn into those discoveries with him.
Little Joy Sun Bear is impish and recognizable to anyone who’s ever experienced childhood, but he’s also an empathetic proxy to the trauma that some children are forced to undergo in an adult world that cares little for their homes. It’s a warning for our environment and for the humanity that will be required to help others through the destruction of it. Its messages of loyalty, justice, friendship and courage are deeply important in today’s world, but told with the hopefulness and safety of small furry creatures and a happily ever after. The Blue Amber of Sumatra is a wonderful introduction to the characters that will open up the world to anyone lucky enough to join this adventure! Recommended for every child’s library of keepsake stories.

Surviving a Borderline Parent, Kimberlee Roth
This is a difficult book (and subject) and I’ll be honest in that I haven’t finished it yet. Nor was it my first choice. I wanted to read “Understanding the Borderline Mother” by Christine Ann Lawson, which is widely considered to be the definitive text for the layperson on the subject, but it wasn’t available at a price point I could justify and it’s on a lengthy wait-list at my local library. However, Roth references Lawson heavily, and I feel like it’s a valuable tool for my situation. Most of this opinion comes from the fact that I can’t read sections for very long without having strong emotional reactions and if you think I mean something dignified by this, then it’s clear we’ve never met. It’s incredibly startling to pick up a book and have it read like your autobiography. But the text has been a comforting and valuable continuation of my therapy, and I’m happy to recommend it. If you think it might apply to you, there are several online resources that give a broad overview that are still scarily accurate. If you survived it, you’ll recognize it right away, it’s that eerie.

As usual, my to-be-read stack is toppling over, but in it are a steampunk Jim Butcher novel, a Star Trek philosophy book, Dr. Parker’s treatise on the moral argument for choice, and the collected works of George Sand. I foresee completion sometime around the back end of never.

Break

There’s an empty parking lot not far from my house that runs the width of a city block. It’s a common dog-walking route for me because I can let the dogs out on a long leash and just sort of meander without worrying about traffic or distractions. Today, I took Heidi out by herself (that is, without Scout, whom I walked earlier) and gave her the “break” command.

It’s an old school word from our Germany days when off-leash walks were common and she had to know the difference between “heel” and “freedom”. Today, I first held up the leash and said her name to get her attention. Then I dropped the leash and said, “Break!” I swear she grinned from ear to ear before taking off at a run. Well, a trot. Her stiff hips and arthritic knees hobbled her and her body resembled a see-saw as she made the best of what mobility she has.

But her ears and her eyes were joyous. She never gets off leash freedom with me anymore, and while I’ll never know if her mind remembers the vast fallow German fields, with their poppy edges in summer and mounds of sugar beets in the fall and deep snow in winter, I can’t help but feel her muscle memory is sound. Her body remembers, and her exuberance is real.

She had all the happiness this afternoon. That’s the benefit to being a dog, I guess. I was overcome with the grief of knowing how brief her life is, how unfair it is that she’s fettered by both living arrangements and biology. I grieved for the life we both had five years ago, the happiness that I’ll never know again but that her body remembers. There’s a popular sentiment that we should strive to live moment to moment like our dogs do – finding joy in the present and exploiting it fully. I’ve never been able to do that, nor believed that we should. Heidi and I have always shared the full range of emotions – she gets the joy and I take the burden of sadness. It’s just the deal I made with her: I will make you happy, and you will breathe with me when I’m sad. And between the two of us, we live fully.

What sound does a Scarlet Virago make? Snarky ones.

 

My daughter graduated high school in 2015, college earlier this year. Her peers that attend 4 year colleges are entering their junior year and are now, on average, $30,000 in debt. That number will continue to increase at the same rate or faster over the next two years. My daughter has zero debt and supports herself with her first entry level position.
Do I sound a little snarky? Yes, yes I do. I received a LOT of criticism for encouraging her to obtain a professional certificate over a bachelor’s degree. A LOT. And it takes nothing away from those kids getting their bachelor’s to point out that she is already living and working in the adult world, accumulating skills for her next goal and beholden to NO loan holders. She can start building her credit from 0, rather than -30,000.
Are there kids out there trying to accomplish their dreams? Absolutely, and I wish them the best fortune possible. Are they, along with their less ambitious but no less educated peers, going to be in fierce competition for a level of employment that can’t accommodate them all? Also yes. Are a ridiculous number of them going to be working two or three entry-level jobs (that require no degree) at the same time just so they can make payments on their student loans? Also yes.
I am so sick of this pervasive and pernicious idea that dreams are ALL that matter. That one’s personal happiness rests entirely on the idea that they ONLY do what they love. I love to eat, and sleep under a roof. And not spend my days stressing about my credit score and how I’m going to pay for an emergency medical expense. There is more than one way to accomplish one’s dreams, and the idea that mortgaging your soul to a bank, or risking a basic standard of living to achieve them is… well, it’s just foolish and naive and downright harmful in some instances.
Not to mention the fact that my life fell apart in such a way that I would not have been able to help my kid in any way if she’d needed it during or after her last two years at college. And given the number of college graduates living at home, she definitely would have needed it. At this point, she’s the one helping me, who doesn’t have a choice but to incur student debt to achieve the same basic level of education that she was able to get for free, because we utilized the resources available to us at the right time.
So yeah, I’m feeling a bit snarky. And ridiculously proud.

Time Capsules

My 20s were a crash course in adulting. Motherhood, failed relationships, financial bungling – the works. I came out of them with a new sense of humility.

My 30s were all about tough lessons in partnership, individuality, and knowing myself better. I came out of them heartbroken, but stronger than ever.

My 40s appear to be about laying down burdens that I didn’t realize I was carrying, and applying the lessons of my 20s and 30s to a new beginning. I have no idea how I’ll come out of them, but I’m not intimidated by the possibilities.