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Monday, March 6, 2023

Running out of Time

I've had this feeling lately, not based on anything, in particular,*  that I am running out of time.  

Time for what?

That's the real question, I suppose.  And I don't have a good answer.  Maybe this is what people think about as they can see age 60 on the horizon.  Mind you, that's a year plus away for me, but still, like clouds on the horizon, it seems like something is coming.

Now right off the bat, I'm going to note that I'm not bemoaning all of the things I should have done by now.  On the contrary, I think that I've done alright for a kid from a housing project.  I never wanted, for example, to be the CEO of anything other than myself.  And I am very proud of parts of my life, including 3 daughters and 2 stepsons, which ultimately is one of the better measures any of us can have as we take stock of uncertain things.

No, it just feels like there are things I still need to do, but while in the past the future seemed so very open-ended, well, now it seems more closed-ended.  I sometimes wonder just how many other "big things" there are left in me.  

"Big things" has been something of a theme in my later adult life.  I've even had, for a few years in my mid-late 40s and early 50s a goal of "to do big things".  I did some big things by the way, including literally turning one aspect of my life completely around and earning a Master's degree.  None of these big things were easy, but I think most folks acknowledge that, at some level, the most important things in life are seldom accomplished without time and effort.  Part of this whole mental ball-o-string may very well be the fact that I can't put my arms around the next "big thing".

The low-hanging fruit here is the fact that I'll probably retire (for real this time) in about 5 years.  Oddly enough though, that doesn't seem like a "big thing" in the context of the other things I have done.  This is probably because, unlike earning an advanced degree from Villanova University, the retirement thing (for real this time) is going to happen no matter what...I just show up for the event.

That last paragraph isn't without some decision-making and actions on my part.  Some of those actions have been in the works for a while now.  Others are far more recent, including my taking stock of what I am doing professionally and making some adjustments.  There is an element of trust in this whole career thing for me:  Speaking of decision-making, I am making the decision to trust that I am in a relatively safe place career-wise.  Now, this could be an enormous mistake, but sometimes life calls for an act of faith.  For me, well, this is one of those times, and I am prepared to just work hard and spend less time making contingency plans.  I need the bandwidth to (hopefully) do other (big) things.  

I just don't know what those other things are, big or otherwise.  This might be why I feel like I am running out of time, as we humans have a tendency to view time in the context of events and things.  I just need to find the next (big) thing.

(*) For the record, I am not facing some kind of health crisis, although I would trade a kidney to rid myself of a chronically itchy back.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Artifacts and Safety Blankets

Flashback to December 2016, and I was just starting to recover from what was, up to that point, one of the greatest losses of my life.  I know that sounds so very dramatic, but in my mind what I had with a former employer was more than a was a kind of relationship that I expected to last until retirement, based on an unspoken promise of "if you work hard, everything will be okay".  In hindsight, that was a big issue:  What I thought of as a kind of relationship was, in fact, just a job.  Those last three words, "just a job", are easier to type than to actually admit.  In fact, I'll still call it something of a work in progress.  More on that in a moment.  

The above comes from a fairly deep place.  Having grown up on the downside of the socioeconomic spectrum, I wanted nothing more than to have some measure of success, even if I couldn't actually define what success was, well outside of not being poor.  What I could define though was the idea that success came from hard work.  I got that much from my mother.  And I did work hard, at pretty much everything I did.   I earned some of the things that came with my naive vision of success, including more money, leadership responsibility, and decent professional titles.  What I didn't understand though was that along with that version of success came a dependency...a risk if you will...that ultimately and actually had very little to do with hard work. 

Fast forward to the working world of 2023, and any collective sense of employment being an actual relationship is continuously, truly, and utterly false.  A fiction of the most poorly written sort.  This isn't just me being overly dramatic for blog hits; you just need to pay attention to the news.  See HERE for just one of the hundreds of similar articles.  I feel for these folks.  Been there.  Done that.

Part of my clarity has been an ongoing effort to understand that I am valuable over and above what I do to earn a living.  I'll readily confess that this is an extremely difficult thing for me, and I can't declare any kind of victory; at best I can say that I've moved in the right direction.  Heck, by the time I actually do retire, I may almost get it.  The "it" is that "it's just a job".  

By the way, my goal (if you want to call it that) of understanding that "it's just a job" isn't a reflection of my failure to care about what I do.  If anything, I think I am doing better work now than I ever have in the past.  It just means that I try to care about the right things, like the people I work with, and not some amorphous, amoral entity (and to hell with what the U.S. Supreme Court has decided).    Anyway, at almost 59 years old, it's good to know that I can still be learning.

Driving all of this?  The fact that I actually took a big step recently:  I disposed of a ton of old work stuff.  These were like artifacts that I kept of a former life.  I wasn't using them, and they took up a lot of space, but for years I clung to them as if they were a kind of medal for winning a battle.  Or more like a large participation trophy.  They were a kind of proof that "I was someone" once.  Lo and behold, I've always been someone; it's just taken a while to grasp that point.

I probably still have too many things I am hanging on to, too many things that are more of a safety blanket than anything else.  As the song goes, "life is a series of hellos and goodbyes", and it's time to say goodbye to some things.  

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Loss is Not Logical

It's probably some inherent facet of human design that we search for meaning in times of personal loss.  That loss could be the death of a family member, a beloved pet, some remembrance of our childhood, or even the end of a long friendship.  At least for me, there has been this desire to somehow, at least initially, try to make some larger sense out of the losses I have experienced.  I write that last sentence full of the knowledge that what I have experienced in the way of loss likely pales in comparison to that of many others.  This noted, I have been an abject failure in my trying to understand loss.

Then someone smart told me something in four words that brought me some sense of understanding:

Loss is not logical

Loss doesn't follow a neat, predictable set of rules that can be analyzed, re-engineered, and re-assembled then placed into a nice little and understandable box that we can put on a shelf when we should be done with it.

Loss is messy.  It lingers.  It has a terrible habit of being open-ended, sometimes seeming as if it will never end.  It overstays its welcome and lives rent-free in our heads.  There are examples of it in my own head where in spite of my best efforts at understanding, it can become, at times, pervasive.

Loss for me sometimes "leaks out" in the form of very vivid dreams.  These aren't what I'd call nightmares.  There is no violence.  There isn't even mourning.  In fact, oddly enough, these kinds of dreams for me almost always involve doing the most mundane of things.  Think traveling with someone long gone.  Visiting with a long-ago friend.  This is, I suspect, the heavy reality of loss that (what I believe to be) my logical mind is utterly incapable of discerning, no matter how much analysis I put forth.  What's left?  That would be what dreams are, namely a kind of biological cleaning of our mental cache.  

John Steinbeck once sort of described this very same idea...much better than I ever could...when he wrote:

"It is so much darker when a light goes out than it would have ever been if it had never shone."*

That light could be a brother, a pet, a friend, or even a place.  The specifics matter far less than just the sense of void that is created.  

So what's the answer?  Where's the solution?  In short order, that would be "nothing" and "nowhere".  I think we just learn to live with the loss, and it becomes a part of us.  Some of us may even view this through a lens of faith, that kind of abstract thing where, in the absence of any real proof, we still believe in something.  I admire faith, by the way.  Well, make that what I consider to be genuine faith:  That which is not driven by or about obedience or fear of punishment.  If faith were only about obeying a higher power, then dogs would be our role models.  Fortunately, that's not the case.

So in the end, what have I accomplished in this posting?  I'd say a solid "not much", other than to maybe nudge myself away from a lifetime of viewing the world through a lens of logic and instead giving myself permission to just experience.  This all sounds so very simple...when typed...but yet still so very difficult.

(*) From The Winter of Our Discontent

Sunday, January 15, 2023

I Found A Picture of You...

"I found a picture of you, oh-oh
Well, it hijacked my world at night"
(The Pretenders, Back on the Chain Gang)

If you are a consumer of The Facebooks, you no doubt see these challenge postings, whereby someone posts something and then asks others to do the same.  I really enjoy these kinds of things, by the way.  Well, more precisely, I really enjoy seeing pictures, and it's neat to learn about others I've met or interacted with over the years.  In a world that seems ever so large, complex, and harried, these small acts of connection can, I think, help re-ground us.  At least for me.

The above noted I don't do these kinds of things very often.  That's less about a refusal on my part and more about the fact that, well, I don't get asked to participate.  Trust me, that's not a cry for attention on my part.  I don't have a thousand Facebook connections, so the odds just don't align to make these kinds of things happen.  That makes the times when they do kind of neat.  As such, I was invited to participate in a photo-sharing challenge.  I make it a policy to not reference other (private, as opposed to public) people in these postings, well outside of special occasions, so I'm not going to mention names.  What I will say this:  The person who nominated me is someone I have an incredible amount of respect for, and I am honored that she thought of me.   

This particular challenge involves posting photos that "bring me joy", without any explanations.  This really is a challenge for me (pun intended) for two reasons:

  1. I struggle with a concept like "joy".  Struggle as in "what does joy really mean"?  How would I know if something "brings me joy" in the first place?  Now reading this you may think "what the heck is he even talking about?", but it's a genuine thing for me.  In a way, I don't process very strong emotions well.  I know where this comes from...a childhood where a premium was placed on not expressing myself very often.  
  2. I also struggle with not being able to describe things.  It almost goes against my nature to not write about things like important pictures.  In a way, I'm using this blog posting to kind of circumvent the rules of the challenge itself.  Yes, guilty as charged.
So, how do I find pictures that bring me joy if I'm not sure what joy means?  Well, I ended up not dwelling on the word "joy" and instead thought to myself "okay, what pictures can I find that have some deeper meaning to me?".  That was easy.  The next step is going through the 10,000+ digital photos I have on file.  

I actually came up with a strategy of sorts:  This is a 10-day challenge, so I decided to pick an underlying theme for each day.  For example, the second day was about my daughters when they were younger.  Day 3 was about some of the vehicles I owned.  Day 4 was about JeanLuc the cat, who meant the world to me and helped me, in a very real sense, get through one of the most difficult times in my life.  Finding JeanLuc pictures to share was a mixture of fond memories and sadness that he's not here with me now.  To the extent that anyone can actually love something other than another person, I loved JeanLuc.  

Today is Day 4, and I'm still thinking about the theme.  Rest assured though, there will be a theme.  I literally can't do the whole random thing.  It's as if my mind is always trying to create some sense of order in everything I do and around me, so the idea of just randomly posting photos seems nearly impossible.  Emphasis on "my mind", as I think an ongoing theme of my life has always been the idea of my trying to make some sense of the constant, bordering on chaotic, noise of thoughts in my head.  As a side note, that's also a damn fine explanation as to why I've never had a really good relationship with sleep...getting that constant noise in my head to quiet down takes some work.

Finally, these postings are shared publicly on Facebook, so if you want to see them, just view my profile.