PSA

Traffic circles (or “roundabout” for you blowhards out there) are a 1-way road that you enter by yielding. Everybody coming up from slightly behind your left shoulder has the right of way, you may enter when it’s clear. It’s not necessary to signal upon entry, since the road is ONE WAY, nobody thinks you’re going any other direction. When you approach your exit, go ahead and signal that you’re leaving so the people trying to enter at that spot stand a better chance. You don’t stop in the middle of the traffic circle, that’s dangerous. You don’t expect others to stop in the traffic circle, that’s dangerous. If you city has installed a mini traffic circle at what should be a 4-way stop, then yield to the person on your left and elect new city officials because those guys suck. 

When your lane on a multi-lane road ends, travel to the END OF THE LAND, then zipper into the other lane in an orderly fashion. Don’t panic and stop in the middle of your lane with 100 feet ahead of you, frantically blinkering and trying to nose into traffic, thereby creating a long line of pissed off people both in your own lane and the next. Just go all the way to the end and watch  the car ahead of you proceed to safely change lanes, then wait for one car in the oncoming lane to go, then the next one waits for you. They won’t always, but don’t presume dickishness. Don’t be a dick either, by forcing your way into a spot that wasn’t meant for you. When it’s your turn to let someone else in, go ahead and DO THAT so as not to encourage people to muscle in when it’s not their turn. It’s much like kindergarten, in that respect. 

Contrary to traffic circles and merging traffic, four-way stops progress in a right hand direction. When any number of people greater than one approach an intersection at the same time, look to your right. Nobody there? Congratulations! You get to go first, next, etc. Failing to stop gets you de facto right of way status, and also the title of Grand Dickhead, or “Asshole” for short. 

Inclement weather creates hazardous road conditions. There is no immunity to these conditions based on the price of your car. An $80k vehicle slides on the ice in the same manner as a $10k vehicle, and crunches just as dreadfully. It does, however, provide a very satisfying spectacle to everyone who doesn’t drive an $80k vehicle to see it crunched on the side of the road, so if that’s a public entertainment you want to provide, then by all means, don’t slow down on wet or frozen roads. 

I Stand With Planned Parenthood

It’s a beautiful fall day. Crisp, clear, bright – I’m wearing my favorite comfy sweater. It’s the kind of day I wait all year for. I breathe the deep, sun-warmed air in my car as traffic slows during the commute. No worries, I left myself plenty of time. 

The building is on a beautiful, tree-lined street filled with medical offices. It’s early, there are few cars in the parking lot. I decide to wait a few minutes before going in, but I see an armed security guard enter the building. Even understanding why he’s there, it unnerves me. 

The last time I visited a Planned Parenthood was in the liberal enclave of Northern California. I’m far from there now. 

The guard holds the door for me when I enter and I try to advance through the metal detector. It buzzes and I step back. He wants my I.D. and appointment time, both of which he checks against a sheet in his hand. He also wants to search my purse. “Is that a knife?” he asks. I hold up the miniature Swiss Army attached to my keychain. “Sort… of?” I reply. He grimaces and lets it slide. 

I step through again. The portal buzzes again. We can’t figure out what’s setting it off. “Maybe my nose ring?” I offer, half joking. “Maybe,” he says, not joking at all. 

He hands me my purse and tells me to sign in at the counter. 

After, I sit in the clean, bright waiting area and watch the front office staff go about their business. They’re training someone new. She listens and watches earnestly. Medical staff come in. They greet the guard by name and don’t pass through metal detector. 

There are young women in the waiting area. One looks younger than my daughter and is there with her mother. There are two young men. More back office staff move through. 

I wonder, as I listen to local news talk about robberies and car accidents, what it’s like to come to work everyday and stare at a uniformed, armed man standing between you and the constant threat of irrational violence. How it must be to dedicate your career to healing people and show up to work every day wondering when when your building will be blown up. 

I’ve received services from 5 different Planned Parenthoods in 4 different states. I’ve always been treated with respect and given exceptional care. I stand with Planned Parenthood.

Walking the walk

Two years ago, I thought I’d be on a very different track than the one I ended up on. I wanted very much to get into the Physical Therapy Assistant program at my local college, and I wanted some help paying for it. I got neither of those things. Interestingly, though, the essay I wrote for the scholarship committee ended up being more true than I meant it at the time. Sometimes the truth is buried – even inside yourself. I wrote this in the spring of 2017.

Entering a college classroom at 41 years of age is an act of courage. Can I keep up with these young, fresh minds? Are my study habits hopelessly out of date? Will I get lost in the technology? Can my sciatica withstand small plastic seats? How many times will I have to go to the bathroom in 75 minutes? Will my kid help me with math? So many questions. The advantage, however, is that my survival rate for scary situations is currently 41 years out of 41 years. My kid tells me that’s 100%. Pretty good average, I’d say. And squaring my courage to enter a classroom is less stressful than facing divorce, moving, and getting my daughter graduated from college. All of which are happening right now and all of which I am also 100% surviving. Sciatica be damned – bring it, college!

I’ve noticed that one of the main differences between an 18 year old student and a 41 year old student are their perceptions of time. The former doesn’t have it, while the latter can think of nothing but. I’ve spent a lot of time raising my child, supporting my military former-husband’s career, and working to fill the gaps in our income. Twenty years is a long time to think about everyone’s needs but your own. But it turns out that the question “What do you want?” has a surprisingly ready answer – I want to help people help themselves. I want to be part of their journey of self-discovery and I want to do it in concrete ways that have nothing to do with platitudes and everything to do with measurable results. I want to do all of this right now – without spending another second wondering if I’m cut out for a career of my own or if this is the right move for my family. It’s true that I “ain’t getting’ any younger” but it’s more true that I’m excited and motivated to finally be making decisions for myself. That’s why physical therapy assistant is the perfect career for me. The program timeline is short enough that I can devote myself to it full time, and the outcome is that I get to spend every day helping people accomplish their recovery goals. 

I’m a goal-oriented person. Need to organize a potluck for 100 soldiers and their families? I’m your gal. Wrangling a busload of 5th graders on a field trip to Washington D.C.? I got this. Write a personal essay asking for money? Boom – outline done! I’m good at getting through the process, whatever the process might be. Sometimes the process requires stillness and compassion and experience taught me I can do that, too. Sit with the young mother whose husband is having shrapnel removed 3,000 miles away? That’s me.  New employee overwhelmed by training and nerves? Take a break and lend a sympathetic ear. Kid overwhelmed by finals, life decisions and the end of their childhood as they know it? Cry with them and get ice cream. At least, that’s what I do when it’s my own kid. (Seems to work, though.) The point is if there’s a finish line, I’m going to get there, no matter what. Whether that finish line is getting through the day my husband left, or graduating a college program for the first time – I know I’m capable of doing whatever it takes to make it there. Winston Churchill said something about it being “the courage to continue that counts” and at this point in my life I have to agree. I have enough successes and failures behind me to truly understand that persistence is the hallmark of character.

A large part of my experience crossing those finish lines is that I didn’t do it alone. Many people find asking for help difficult, but I can tell you from experience that it gets easier the more you do it. Learning how to tailor requests to the source is something I’ve learned through trial and error, and I think I have a pretty good handle on it now. Which is why I asked my friends to help me move, and I’m asking this committee for college money instead of the other way around. Also, I have half the time of the traditional, 18 year old student to pay off loans – did I mention the “not getting any younger” bit? I spent the last 20 years taking care of other people, and I’m proud of that accomplishment. Now I’m asking for help while I take care of me.

Having just completed my first semester of traditional college, I can say that the number of times I have to get up to use the restroom in one class period is (usually) zero. The technology is confusing, but not impossible. I still have pretty good study habits and yes, my kid helps me out. I’d rather not talk about my sciatica, but I admit to hobbling out of the classroom behind my more limber, flexible classmates on occasion. It’s worth it. It will continue to be worth it until I cross the finish line, with courage.

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.

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.