Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Write Your Own Ending

So many things have changed since that last post, notably losing Milo, and then 13 months to the day later, losing Xena. I always knew that I would have to say goodbye to them both, but it hurt more than I was prepared for. Re-reading it, that feeling of profound sadness washes over me again. But the pain does subside, and years and years of happy memories filter into the void that their daily presence left - I miss them terribly, but it's a tribute to how wonderful they both were that K and I are now ready to adopt a couple more four-legged members of the family.

K lost his job, and we're once again dealing with the stress and pressure of unemployment. It's very difficult for both of us, but in very different ways. My job has been more stressful and difficult than I can ever remember, and I don't know when it's going to let up. All I know is that, with a family to support and a lot of debt to pay off (still - we're not accumulating new debt, but this is just taking for-fucking-ever and it's exhausting), I can't quit - I don't have the luxury of deciding to follow a dream I can't see anyway. I can't tell if work is really that bad (although most people I know seem to think it is), or if the feeling of being trapped makes it seem much worse than it actually is. The notorious instability of my field makes it that much more anxiety-inducing, because if I can't stay busy, I can lose my job. That thought makes it hard for me to turn down assignments (that, and my need to "help" people), and keeps me up at night. I make so many decisions based on fear these days. Or maybe I always did and just didn't recognize it.

K and I have, with great trepidation, started trying to have a family. When he was still gainfully employed, this was a much easier decision. I've gone back-and-forth since then, but since it's been a year and nothing is happening, and I'm surrounded everywhere I go by pregnant women or new moms, I'm starting to get a little sensitive about the topic, and I really, really hate that. I don't want to be the person that my friends tip-toe around when it comes to this subject. I don't want to be happy for someone and have that nagging twinge of sadness for myself. I just want to be happy for them. But I also want to be happy for me. My ambivalence on the subject only makes me feel worse, and my empty uterus makes the years and years of Nuvaring seem like a total waste of money (much as I know that's not a rational thought).

Some of our best friends have left the area, one couple temporarily and the other permanently. K's involvement in the music ministry at church was cut out from under him. My car is in need of repairs we can't afford and will have to be donated because we may really need that tax deduction when the time comes (we got screwed last year by unemployment). I just feel like a lot of things, big and small, are changing or ending. I feel very off-balance.

Someone asked me once what I thought the purpose was of this difficult time that we're going through. I thought about it for about half a second before I said that I thought it was about re-imagining our life. Mourning the loss of the life we're not going to have, if that's what needs to happen, and creating the life we want from our current circumstances. I think we both, either consciously or unconsciously, had a white picket fence-ish vision of our future. Modest house, two kids, two cats and a dog, vacations once a year (or twice if we were really lucky), him playing in a band for fun, me taking yoga classes a few days a week. Clearly that's not going to be it for us, and that's okay - that may not be right for us, we just need to release ourselves from that (at least some of that) and figure out who we are. What we really want. It's just hard some days, because I know I'm not always swimming in shit, but it feels like that a lot. So I try to drag my focus back to the things I have to be grateful for, and they're not inconsiderable.

At work, I have a fantastic boss who is really invested in my career growth. They pay me a good salary (and thank God for that), and I have good benefits (thank God for that as well). I have some wonderful co-workers that I really enjoy working with.

At home, I have a kind, loving, understanding, and supportive husband who would really do anything for me. I love him and I have more fun with him than anyone. We have a roof over our heads that we're still able to pay for, and we have good friends around us, even if a few very important faces are now missing from the crowd.

K is in a new band that just put out their fourth album, and it's been an amazing creative outlet for him. He's building and embracing his identity as an artist, and I couldn't be prouder of him.

There's a sweet calico cat in Virginia who will be coming home with us as soon as we can go get her, and there's a yet-to-be-identified kitty out there who will be joining her in bringing that kind of warmth and life back to our home. It's wonderful to be able to provide a good and loving home for an animal, but if my past experience has taught me anything, it's that they'll give us at least as much as we give them, if not more.

The Muppets is coming out tomorrow (or "later today" as I like to call it), and one of my nearest and dearest posted a line from The Muppet Movie on Facebook: Life's like a movie, write your own ending, keep believing, keep pretending. It may seem trite, but it's not. It's what I'm in the middle of right now, I just don't know what to write. We're trying to form a picture, trying to write our own ending. I have a vague idea now, but I don't know how to get there from here. I feel stuck, but I know that's also an illusion. I feel so burned out, I don't even know what I'm good at anymore - and I really don't feel like I'm doing anything up to my own standards. Unsurprisingly, this is adding to my stress at work. I don't know what will get me unstuck, but I have to believe that I can do it. I have to believe that there is more for us than this period of feeling like open doors are slammed shut and closed doors aren't opening. There's a window somewhere, dammit.

Keep believing, keep pretending...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Slipping Away

It's been on my mind so much lately that I can't stop thinking about it - so I'm hoping that writing about it will help clear my head a little bit so that I can concentrate on some immediate things I have to concentrate on.

Milo is dying. And it's breaking my heart to watch him. I always knew this would hurt, and you know when you add a four-legged member to your family that you'll have to go through this one day, but the magnitude of my grief and the way it's affecting me is surprising, even to me.

In May, they found a mass on his lung. In June, he had major surgery to take it out. In July, we confirmed that it was cancer and that it was an extremely aggressive form. We started chemotherapy. And just this week, we found out that it's not working and that his cancer is spreading so quickly that the doctors weren't even expecting it. And after all of the visits to the doctor and the thousands of dollars spent on caring for him, we made the decision to stop treatment and focus on palliative care.

I am devastated.

So, now we wait. We wait and try to make him as comfortable as we can, and let him know that he's loved and cared for. I've had him since he was four weeks old, a little tiny kitten who used to fall asleep on my chest, right over my heart, and stay there for hours. He's the sweet, quirky cat who loves to jump up onto the bathroom sink so that you can turn the water on for him, who loves to spoon and cuddle with shoes, who lies on his back, belly exposed, because he's so comfortable in the safe home that we've given him. Everyone who meets him loves him, because he just wants to be loved and be around his people. And the thought of losing him, the experience of watching him slip away from me, staying the same sweet-natured cat despite getting a little more tired every day, is horrible. He doesn't appear to be in any pain right now, but I know that K and I will have to make a decision about his quality of life some day soon. The doctor said that the best case scenario for him is one month. After 12 years with me. I am not prepared to say goodbye, but that never really changes anything anyway.

The decision to stop treatment was both hard and easy. Hard, because I hate to feel like we're giving up on him in any way. And while I know that we've done everything we can, the problem still isn't fixed, and I hate that. Easy because...well, because he's been through a lot. He hates being in the car. He's terrified of the vet's office, although we have wonderful vets who have taken great care of him. But he just doesn't need to be a pin cushion anymore, since it's not working. He needs to be comfortable and happy - as much as he can be in the time we have left. Which could never be enough, but I'll take what I can get.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Are We Having Fun Yet?

I've been thinking about that lately. And the answer is "no".

To clarify - it's not that there are no areas of my life that are fun. Special K and I have gone through a rough period with the stress of almost six months of unemployment, but I think we've managed to communicate better, get to know each other better, and generally survive in a way that's been healthy. (Not that it's been easy.) I'm also very blessed to have great friends and family - I'm a very, very fortunate person in so many ways. This is not about that.

It really centers on work. I like a lot of things about my job. My boss is great - very supportive and understanding. I have a lot of great co-workers. But I am still dissatisfied with the substance of what I'm doing sometimes, and while I do feel that I am paid well and have very little to complain about in that sense, I am burned out from working seemingly endless hours for the privilege of being told that I suck on a semi-regular basis -it's demoralizing after a while, and I'm a pretty resilient person. I also can't shake the feeling that the work I'm doing doesn't actually make a positive difference in the world. I feel like I've drifted, like when you get caught in a current and have no idea how the hell you got to be so far from the shore - I'm no longer the tree-hugger that I used to be. Well, I am, but I'm a tree-hugger in consultant's clothing. So, what do I do about that?

Well, it should start with a broader question - what am I good at?

I think I can start to answer this question without feeling like an arrogant jackass, because I'm at the point in my life and my career where I can say that I'm good at some things without feeling like it's not really true or it's considered "bragging" (what am I, in fifth grade?). So here we go: I am good at public speaking. I am good at teaching. I am good at taking complex concepts and breaking them down for people. And I still have, and will always have, a passion for the environment and social justice issues. Primarily the environment, as I feel that the ripple effect of either a healthy or a degraded natural environment impacts social justice issues tremendously.

So what's the problem? Well, the problem is that, because I've spent most of the last eight years as a consultant, with the last 5 spent on environmental compliance issues, I am, apparently, no longer qualified to work in conservation. (To say nothing of the fact that I couldn't take a 50% pay cut.) This is what I mean when I say that I've drifted. I have no idea how to swim back to where I should be. I know that I know this stuff - I know that I would be great at so many of the jobs I see posted. But I also know that no one is going to even look at my resume, much less put it at the top of the pile, because it doesn't say what they want it to say.

So, what's my solution? Well, I don't really know yet. I wish I had a better answer, but I don't. There are a lot of questions here - more questions than I have answers to.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Everyone Else Is Doing It...

The whole "decade in review" thing seems to be popular with the kids, so in the interest of a little self-reflection (and because it gets quite jumbled in my head when I think about all that's happened over the last 10 years), here we go - The Oughts In Review.

2000 - Started off the year in New York, loving my crazy group of friends, time with my cousin in NYC, and knowing that if I stayed where I was, things wouldn't turn out the way they needed to. So I was deciding on which grad school to go to - University of Arizona or University of Wisconsin. I chose Wisconsin, mostly to be near family, but also because the program seemed to offer something a little different.

2001 - Continuing through grad school, trying to think about what I wanted to do with my life once I finished, feeling like staying in the Midwest was maybe not for me. Highlights were definitely seeing so much of my brother and his family (especially bonding with my nephew David), and my two best friends living in Chicago. Low point was being so far away from everyone I wanted to be with on Sept. 11th, and that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I thought my dad might have been on one of those planes.

2002 - Finished grad school and after some deliberation about where "home" would be next, I made the unexpected choice to return to a place I'd been before - Maryland. I was nervous because I didn't have a job, *really* nervous when I started working at Crate and Barrel again, and the relieved when I got a job somewhat closer to my field. Was thrilled to welcome my nephew John into the world.

2003 - Started off the year traveling to South Africa, which was the first time I'd left the country in a long time. I had wanted to do international work, so even though this was a short trip, I loved the experience. I experimented with online dating (not for me), and watched happily as five friends got married that summer/fall. Started training to volunteer with the DC Rape Crisis Center, and got mono because I had worn myself out completely.

2004 - Continued the online dating experiment. Clearly still not for me, although I got some good stories out of it. Started a new job with the promise of international travel. That promise took a while - the only new stamp in my passport for 2004 was from a mission trip to France (which was a wonderful and challenging experience). Welcomed my nephew Mikey to the family!

2005 - Had a fairly unhealthy relationship - nothing out of the ordinary, but I cared about him and he cared about him, leaving no one to care about me. It was draining. We broke up as I left for 3 months in Pakistan, which was interrupted by 7 weeks in Vietnam. I spent the summer working in Karachi, near the house I grew up in, swimming in the first pool I ever swam in. I then traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, and spent time exploring the Mekong Delta and all the shopping and culture that Ho Chi Minh City had to offer. I came home, stopping in England for a wonderful week where I saw Ewan McGregor in Guys and Dolls in the West End! Actually made peace with the idea of being single. Left again for two months in Vietnam. Came home via a week in Paris, which was wonderful - it is still one of my favorite cities in the whole world. Came home for three days and then left for my first two weeks in Yemen. Came home for Christmas and met this new guy Keith that my friend Sarah had been telling me about. Spent time with the friends I'd been missing dearly.

2006 - Spent the first two months in Yemen, feeling as isolated, yet under a microscope, as I ever have or ever hope to. I wouldn't change the experience but it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Came home for a friends' wedding and had to do some serious thinking about whether to continue as a road warrior or give it up. I had some opportunities that presented themselves, and decided to hang up my traveling shoes for a while. Continued to hang out with this new guy, Keith. Then realized somewhere along the way that I'd fallen in love with this friend of mine around whom I felt totally comfortable and totally myself. So we got engaged that September. I ruptured a disc in my lower back that December.

2007 - My niece Katie was born on January 16, I had back surgery on January 17, and my wedding shower on January 21st. Yowza. I recovered pretty well from surgery, after learning to let people do things for me when I needed it. We got married on March 16, 2007, which coincided with an ice storm/blizzard. Dammit. Despite the weather, many more people that I had expected made it out to celebrate with us, and it was the most fun I have ever had. Keith's mom had been suffering from liver disease and her condition deteriorated rapidly that spring. After much deliberation (and after she stabilized following many sleepless nights for us in the hospital), we went to Italy on our honeymoon, as planned, and returned home to find that they had found a donor liver and she'd had a liver transplant two days before we arrived back in DC. That fall I led the next mission trip to France and we spent some extra time in Paris at the end of the trip with some very close friends.

2008 - I started a new job and changed my name. Both were challenging for me. I traveled to Alaska and Guam, Keith and I started talking about when we'd like to think about starting a family. The answer was "not yet".

2009 - We welcomed a lot of new babies into our circle of friends, I started knitting again and have found it really very soothing. I retired from the Rape Crisis Center. We replaced his old car, Whitey, with a new Ford Escape hybrid that we call Angus. We are very grateful for Angus. We decided that we would start trying to have a baby in the spring of 2010. Keith lost his job and mine became more stressful than I can ever remember it being. We put family plans on hold pending a little more stability. Traveled to Puerto Rico to be with Keith's brother as he got married and took some much-needed (and pre-paid) time for ourselves at the end. Returned home, and after growing tired of crying on my way to and from work most days, I accepted that I am having a really hard time managing my life right now. So I started seeing a therapist. I have done a lot of soul-searching to ponder whether I'm really heading in the right direction, career-wise. I have more questions than answers at this point.

So there you have it. I'd say that at the age of 23, I probably wouldn't have guessed that I'd be where I am today. That's something of a comfort when I look ahead and have difficulty seeing through anything other than the lens of the hard time we're going through now. What would I like to be writing about in 2020? I can't always see that far ahead - but that's okay for now.

I had noticed, that, while not devoid of good things by any stretch, the odd-numbered years tended to be harder. In retrospect, while it's easy to say that they just sucked more, I think that's not true - they were harder because I had to learn a hell of a lot more. And while that can often suck in the moment, I have to say that looking back over all of it, I have usually emerged better for it. That which does not kill us and all that. Having said that, I'd still really like for 2010 to be a little easier, if that's okay.

Much like they say married couples keep having the same four fights over the course of their marriage, I find that I'm still struggling with some of the same things. Balance. Identity. Direction. Self-forgiveness. I know myself much better than I did then, I'm much stronger and more self-assured than I was then, and thank God for that. I've had a fairly successful career and have developed expertise that I never thought I would. My faith is a much bigger part of my life and it's brought me a wonderful and supportive community. My family has grown and will likely grow bigger in the coming decade. I have wonderful friends that I didn't know 10 years ago and without whom I couldn't imagine my life. I have a loving and supportive husband who can stare all of my crazy in the eye and not blink. I still have Milo and Xena curled up next to me, purring away contentedly. I still have an amazing core group of women in my life that have stuck with me for more than a decade - some of them coming up on two.

On the whole, I'd say I've done pretty well.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Holy crap - if you want to give me writer's block, just ask me to write a proposal. I've never been good at these things, and this is no exception. This is why I am unlikely to advance beyond a certain level in my company - and honestly, it's okay for now. I have been trying to write six pages *all day long*. I now have 2 1/2, and that's only because of a 1/2 page graphic. If it's technical writing or creative writing, I can do that in my sleep. But here I am, staring at requirements that I have to translate into exciting, sexy-sounding "the Team will..." action statements. And...nothing.

I get that this is absolutely an essential part of business. I really do - and I respect that. All I'm saying is that I am much better positioned to be the person who will do good work that will get you more work, instead of the person who has a BRILLIANT way with persuasive language.

Ah well...a necessary evil, I suppose. I will sleep well tomorrow night, that's for sure.

Thursday, August 06, 2009


So there I was the other day, singing along (loudly) to a fun, pop-y 80s chick tune as I drove home. Then it occurred to me, I was driving my beloved 1997 Hyundai Elantra (which, once again, does not have functioning air conditioning) and singing along to "Material Girl".

Oh, hardly...

Sunday, July 26, 2009


I think it's been a long time coming, but after four active years, and a couple of less active years due to long-term international travel and other things, I've retired as a hospital advocate for the DC Rape Crisis Center. I think I de facto retired a while ago, becoming less and less active, realizing the extent to which my habit of overextending myself had taken a toll, but officially doing it...that was really hard. I can't fully describe how it makes me feel, but a significant era of my life is over. Not that I can't go back, but walking away from something that's had such a profound effect on my life is...hard. I know it's time, I know it's been time, but letting go feels awful - like I'm abandoning something.

Since March 2003, I've spent countless hours at the hospital in the middle of the night, I've seen some of the most horrible things that people can do to each other, and I've seen people in the most raw and vulnerable state imaginable. I've held the hands of women experiencing every meaning of the word "pain". I've seen strength beyond measure. I've seen the profound impact that treating someone with compassion and basic human dignity can have.

I don't think I'll ever forget what I've seen as an advocate - I know my experiences will always be with me. And I'm grateful every day that there are many, many women who continue to sacrifice their time and energy to be a light for someone else in the darkest time imaginable.