happiness: the anti-happy

Happiness is so precarious. Part of me believes that the secret to happiness is not acknowledging it. I wish that I could just go with it and accept that things in my life are actually pretty fucking awesome right now, but I really struggle with doing that. Whenever I’ve felt close to peace, when it felt like things finally might be coming together, it’s fallen apart, in decidedly catastrophic ways. Maybe it’s just human nature, but I look at my life right now – great new job that makes me feel good, awesome boyfriend, nice apartment, new car… and I just wonder what part I’m going to lose, if not just all of it, all at once. Or will it be something completely different? My health? Death in the family? I feel like it’s inevitable, because any time I’ve felt good, fallen into a few moments of unabashed euphoria, it’s ended.

For example, I go to Israel, make peace with God, religion, whatever… In fact, put down on paper, the only real prayer I’ve ever felt I should make, only to come home and have that prayer spectacularly unanswered. Or when I went off to university, made friends, finally felt like one of the cool kids, then my roommate went psychotic, my car flipped, I got cancer. These things don’t seem to happen to me in small ways. In some ways it makes me feel more sure that there’s a god or something out there pulling strings, but more in the way that old Depeche Mode song goes… I don’t want to start and blasphemous rumours but it seems like god’s got a sick sense of humour, and when I die, I expect to find him laughing.

Don’t get me wrong, all things considered, I’m happy. I have no reason not to be. But happiness, it’s such a tenuous thing. The smallest twist of fate and it’s gone. The therapist I’ve been seeing since I was a teenager is always trying to get me to live in the moment; enjoy things as they are and not exert too much attachment to any state because all things are temporary (he’s a very Zen therapist, this is why I like him) so I’m trying to just go with it and not imagine problems where there are only potential problems. But it’s hard, and all my instincts tell me happiness is a temporary state. I’m trying to just let it happen, happiness will wash over me like a wave on a beach; try to appreciate the feeling of the water as much as the feeling of the sun. Try to remember that happiness doesn’t come in only one form and despite the fact that it’s always changing, it’s always there.

asking for direction

As anybody reading this blog probably knows, I recently left my job. Not for any particular reason, other than that it was making me unhappy, making me question if I was even in the right field. It was not the right place for me. I am torn on whether I believe that it was because the environment was toxic (which is the leading theory) or if it was just a poor fit for me. I still don’t know the answer. I was not the first person to leave without any solid future plans; I was merely one in a long string of people frustrated and angered by the lack of leadership or promise of recognition. It was (and I believe it still is) an unhappy place to be. This makes me sad. On paper, it was a very good job for me.

But now I’m faced with some very important questions, which I ask myself daily, hourly, sometimes every couple of minutes: What next? Where do I go from here? What do I want to do? What will make me happy.

I have been applying for jobs. I don’t know that my heart is in it, which is perhaps why I’m not getting any interviews (or my blatant lack of qualifications, one of the other). Every once in a while, I’ll find something that I get really excited about. For example, I applied for an online content-type at WagJag.com, one of those sites that sends out daily deals for random stuff. I love a good sale, and I the concept of the cheap group buy is really cool. I’ve bought a few coupons, haven’t used any of them yet… Speaking of which, I should go get that mani-pedi I bought back in May before it expires…

I hate applying for jobs. I almost wish I could apply for each job twice – once with the standard, formal, dry and overly-respectful cover letter, and again with some charm. I don’t know which is the right approach. I’ve been going for charm lately, mainly because I’ve been applying for jobs with a bit more of a writing focus and don’t want to sound like I’ve been jailed by medical textbooks for the past three years. But nothing yet. No choice but to keep slagging away.

I might like a change, though. A few months ago, while I was still in the “should I quit my job” phase, I went for some vocational assessments. It came out saying that technical writing would be a good choice for me. And I guess it might be. But I’m taking the classes, and really not feeling it. Maybe it’s just taking classes that’s irksome. Maybe it’s that the instructor for the course comes across as a bit of a douche (not sure that he actually is… a tag would make his communication much clearer).

Going back and re-taking some of those assessments, I get completely different answers now. When I took the assessments in the summer, technical writer was top of the list. When I took it yesterday, it said oncologist. Of course, that’s unreasonable. I don’t think I want to go back to university at all, let alone years of med school, residency, fellowships and so on. I don’t want to be 40 by the time I actually start my career.

One of the biggest problems I had during my career assessment is that I’m generally apathetic/easy-going on a lot of things. They would present me with two cards and say pick one, and I would rarely have a strong preference one way or the other. Maybe it’s that I don’t know myself well. Or maybe it’s a flaw in the process. I look at a lot of qualities in a rather binary way. Either it’s important to me or it’s not. If choosing between two options when I find both distasteful, the answer will be fairly random, and probably different each time. And forcing me to rank a list of ten things puts me in a position of assigning more value to one thing over another when I may really feel that they are all equal. For example, my ten most important work values from when I did the assessments (out of a large list of things) are:

  • Honesty/integrity
  • Cooperation/harmony
  • Achievement/accomplishment
  • Productivity
  • Ethical workplace
  • Moral fulfillment
  • Challenging
  • Democracy
  • Supportive supervisor
  • Job security

At this point, I would take job security off the list. I’m less opposed to doing contract work these days and have enough life stability that I can afford to be out of work for a bit (as evidenced by the fact that my work for the last few days has involved watching BBC miniseries and doing laundry). But otherwise, it’s a list of equally important things. Example, if a job offered everything on that list except being ethical, I couldn’t do it. Everything except a supportive supervisor – well, an unsupportive supervisor can feel like sabotage. I couldn’t work in a job that didn’t have all of those things. And I believe I started off with 15 qualities that I felt were important, and they asked me to cut it down to ten. Why? Because there are ten lines on the page. Not because ten is the magic number for on-the-job values. I just as easily could have started with six and been talked into adding things that I don’t actually care about to the list. And the entire process was influenced by the job I was doing at the time. I was more likely to choose the opposite of any quality of the job I was doing, simply because most things about the job made me miserable, in that context. In another context, maybe they wouldn’t have bothered me.

I’m curious what other people think I should do. I’m going to continue with this technical writing course, but I don’t know if it’ll take me anywhere that I can tolerate working. I’ll continue applying for the content-type jobs. I think in the right environment I could be happy with that. But I still feel like I’m drifting. I don’t know how long it’ll take me to get somewhere that I feel good about.

Things I’ve thought about lately have been a bit of a change in focus, but none of them seem like a perfect fit, and would be a large upfront cost and commitment for me to find out that I don’t like them. I have thought about nursing before, but I know a lot of nurses, and they just don’t seem like happy people. After helping my cousin give birth, I thought about becoming a midwife, but I don’t think I’m quite right for that. I’m not quite enough of a hippie feminist to pull it off. I’m not opposed to epidurals, and I just don’t think I would be able to go back to work if a baby died on my watch. Medical school did cross my mind for awhile, but for the reasons I mentioned above, I decided against it.

I’ve always tried to pass myself off as a creative sort of person, but I’m starting to question if I actually am one. I have received a lot of praise for my writing (though I haven’t written much of anything in years). I don’t think I’m an exceptional writer. I don’t have imaginative stories to tell, generally all my writing has been extracted directly from my life. Perhaps it’s just the frankness and blatant honesty of my writing that people liked. Maybe part of it was being younger, when every event seems like an epic story, a tale worth telling. Maybe my life was just more compartmentalized into events that fit concisely into short stories when I was younger. I don’t feel the need to write anymore. Back when I had cancer, back when I thought a city was trying to kill me… that’s when I could write. Now I think I’m too normal and well-adjusted. My first-world problems don’t make for good reading. So… perhaps I am merely a wordsmith and not a writer. I can craft a pretty sentence or say the truth like it’s a proverb, but I can’t create people out of thin air. I can’t lie in fiction.

So here I am. Spending day to day trying to think of what to do next. I hope that it will just hit me (and do it soon), and I’ll have that moment of “Yes! This is what I am supposed to do with my life!” but I don’t feel like it will be that easy. I want to love what I do. I hate not working; I feel useless. But maybe that will just motivate me to figure this out faster.

beginnings

I decided a little while ago, since I’m generally under-employed and don’t have much better to do, that I would come out to Edmonton to hang out with my very pregnant cousin Beverly, and hopefully meet her new baby. I flew out last Friday, and fell quickly into the pregnancy schedule. A loose schedule of small but frequent meals, general exhaustion, and a lot of crafts and baking. I’m not really one for crafts (I take too much satisfaction in finishing, and end up treating what should be a pleasant diversion like an assembly line with a tight schedule) or baking (so much bread!), but it’s been a fun week nonetheless. I don’t get to see Bev all that often, and while she’s my cousin, she’s also my oldest and dearest friend.

Which is, of course, why I wanted to be here for the birth of her baby. I am not really a kid person, but this was Bev’s baby – I had to be here. By Wednesday morning I was getting worried the wouldn’t be born before I had to head back to Toronto. Bev seemed quite happy to remain pregnant forever, and there was no indication that anything was happening to speed things along. But, things went according to my plan, and Claire was born on Wednesday evening.

Bev was a rockstar. Not being much of a hospital person, she wanted to do it with as little intervention as possible. No epidural, no IV, just laughing gas for pain. Her labour was fairly quick – we got to the hospital at 2:30 after contractions started around 1:30, already only 5 minutes apart. Claire arrived at 8:32. I was there. I feel a little trite for thinking back to that vagina monologue “I was there in the room” but maybe I get it a little better now. I’ve certainly spent more time talking about vagina in the past week than I’d ever hoped to. Through the labour, Bev’s husband and I worked to relieve her pains with a slew of techniques and eventually got it all down to a science. When the baby was born, there were about 10 people in the room (9 women and the dad), and I got to do my own little part in the birth. I won’t go into too much detail, but it was amazing. And Bev will probably shoot me for saying so, but she made it look easy. Our family has a history of easy births, but this was pretty impressive. Everything happened exactly as it’s supposed to, and then there was this tiny screaming person in the room, just like that.

I feel so lucky to have been there.

It’s got me thinking about some things. I’m at a bit of a sticky point in my life. I really don’t know what I want to do. I’m trying out this technical writing thing, but I’m not entirely sure it’s for me. I do like writing and learning new things, but I don’t think I want to learn computer systems or programming, and there seems to be a need for understanding of those things. But both Bev’s parents and Bev have said I was excellent during the birth, so now I’m tinkering with the idea of becoming a midwife. It’s really strange to say that. A while ago I thought about trying to go to medical school. I think it’s the thing I probably should have done after high school, but I was not very driven at that point and wasn’t interested in pushing myself in that direction. I think I’ve always wanted to be a creative type. I’m not sure I actually am, at the core of my nature. Anyway, I looked at medical school the prep work I would have to do to get in (for example, I’d have to go learn science)… And while I scored about 50% on an MCAT prep exam that I did for fun with absolutely no studying (I failed hard on the physics section), I don’t think I’m up for anther 10 years of education before I can start my career. Again. I’d be 40 before I could even do anything.

But midwife school is only 4 years, which seems less and less daunting the more I think about it. I am one of those people who looks for weird signs that tell me if I’m on the right path. My ‘crazy’ one is the number 343. I’m not the only person with a fixation on this particular number – it’s a good number. It works in a lot of ways for me, which I won’t go into, but it’s just good. Anyway, as I was standing there taking pictures of the new baby and thinking about this whole midwife thing, I noticed her weight, 7lbs, 9oz or 3430g. Yeah, it’s silly, but it’s how my mind works.

The thing that’s blowing my mind right now… I’m going back to Ontario, and I know I’m going to miss this little squirmy thing that just cries and poops (and farts!) and sleeps. It’s strange. I’m not so sure who I am right now, but I don’t think it’s who I was or who I thought I wanted to be, but I think I’m okay with it.

On Stopping

I’ve always been a little bit proud of myself for being able to power through just about everything that’s come at me. Even with pain and frustration, I have kept going. Yes, I complain, but I tend not to stop.

For the first time in a long time, I have stopped. I was overdue. Now, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why I was so damn proud of myself for being steadfast and blind. I am kind of a mess.

It’s strange how everything that’s happened in the past four years has somehow come to be about my mother; her illness; her death. Since she died… since she got sick, I have not really stopped. If I could keep busy, I could avoid thinking about it, avoid feeling anything too deep. And now that I’ve decided to pull myself out of a situation that was becoming destructive to my very nature, I’m faced with it again. It’s not like I’m not busy. I’ve got a substantial freelance project that’s taking up hours upon hours of my time, and two classes worth of reading and assignments. All in all, unemployment has so far been a little hectic. I think it comes down to the amount of time I’m spending with myself. I used to be so good at that. Now it’s my undoing.

I don’t regret leaving my job. I think it’s a good thing. When I wake up in the morning (or afternoon) I feel relieved. It was not the right place for me, and I know that I will do something better with my life, and now I have the time to figure out what that will entail. But… For the past four years, I have not stopped. A few brief vacations here and there, productive weekends, busy evenings. There have been a few times. And every time it happens that I stop, it goes like this.

I try not to think about it, but I know that I have changed in some profound and upsetting ways. I don’t really write anymore. I have ideas, thing I’d like to put into stories, or even blog posts, but it’s always a struggle. Just to get the words into a coherent order is a fight every time. Once I try to put my thoughts down in writing and work out what I’m actually feeling, it all gets jumbled up and turns into something (probably something like this) that is just a stream of consciousness nonsensical rambling. Some people might say that’s what blogging is, but I’d put that more in the class of diary writing.

I used to love to write, to tell little stories, vignettes, anecdotes, written so that people could read them. Now writing is an exercise in failure. It makes me sad.

I miss my mother, but not in ways I even realize. It happens in ways I don’t notice. I feel it as an absence. I wasn’t the greatest daughter. I didn’t call all the time. I barely ever talked to anyone at home when I was at university. I went to Europe and didn’t call (not even to say I’d landed safely or anything) for three weeks until I was drunk in a bar in Switzerland. That’s just how I am. And I don’t know if I would call now, if things were different. I wish I could talk to her now, but I know I’d be so much less vulnerable if she were still here. People say I can still “talk” to her, that I’ll know what she would say. But I don’t. One of the best thing about her was the surprising wisdom she had. Sometimes I’d be able to guess what she’d say, those logical practical mothery times, but other times… she’d just come out with some amazing insight.

And she turns up in strange places, those shocking moments where you never expect to find a memory… The dress I wore to my cousin’s wedding (my grandmother started crying; she feels this more acutely than I do, I am sure), eating a mango, taking off glasses to read something, the movie In Her Shoes, great blue herons, monarch butterflies, old age homes, silly beanie hats, a certain type of flip flop, pearls, antenna toppers with cowboy hats, Drew Barrymore, soft snowfalls… I feel like the list has become shorter as I forget. But… maybe stopping will give me some time to re-file memories.

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

–ee cummings

in defence of happy endings

I like things that are bad. Bad movies, bad books, bad television. I like it. I love it, even. And I’m sick of feeling like everything I like is a guilty pleasure. This is entertainment, after all — isn’t it supposed to be pleasurable?

There seems to be some idea that unless it’s hard, some great story of human suffering and triumph, that being invested in the story, caring about the characters, isn’t worth it.

I would like to make a case for the happy ending. What’s wrong with taking a little fantasy in the possibility of all the issues neatly resolving and loose ends being tied, everyone going home happy? Real life never works out like that, but we’re all aware that fiction isn’t real, and there are certain rules that just don’t have to apply.

This is why I like romance novels. I was raised on Harlequin romances. If I’m feeling stressed or sad or just bothered by the rather depressing state of the world, I turn to these. Why? Because there is no question that everything will turn out all right. Nobody you care about will be killed, someone will always come to the rescue of the heroine, and at the end, we’ll all ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. I know that this is not a realistic outcome, but it’s reliable.

This realization came to me back when I was in college and trying to decide where to do my internship. My two options were Elsevier, the powerhouse of medical publishers, where I would work on anatomy textbooks and nursing manuals, or Harlequin. I ended up going to Elsevier, but I said to the director of the program when she presented me with the options, “I’m more inclined to take the medical… but there’s something to be said for happy endings…” This was two weeks after my mother died. I probably should have taken Harlequin. How different my life would be.

Or Twilight. Yeah, I read the books, and I liked them. I enjoy the movies because they are soooo terrible and campy (minus the street cred of being campy). No, the characters are not realistic and the whole thing is ridiculous, but hey, we’re dealing with vampire stories here, it’s not based in reality. It’s a long saga of characters who have no real purpose or motivation except to be in love with each other. Yeah, that’s kinda dumb. I get it. But it’s crafted well enough that you can let yourself be engaged by the fantasy and not look too deeply for realism. It’s escapism. It’s not meant to be deep.

I realize that there are plenty of things that would qualify as escapism that are not necessarily as bad as Twilight or Harlequin romances, or True Blood, or Glee, or 17 Again (to name a few things that I love that I’m aware are bad), but I like that these things are at least honest about it. I don’t want to fear that bad things will happen.

I guess this all stems from accidentally reading a book that I should never have read. I’d already read and enjoyed a book by the same author, and figured it would be an interesting book, so I checked it out from the library. And I was reading it on the subway and got to one part that horrified me to the point that I’d felt like all the blood had drained out of my body and was sitting in a puddle there on the ground. That book, that one scene, ruined me for reading serious books. I’ve tried a couple of times since then, but never been able to let my guard down enough to enjoy the story, just waiting for something atrocious to happen. I even tried to finish that book. It sat on my table for a while, taunting me. Eventually I took it back to the library because the very aura of it being in my apartment bothered me. It’s something I need to get over. I never used to be so sensitive, but now I need an erase function on my brain.

And so, in defense of happy endings, I say that it’s okay for everything to turn out all right once in awhile, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying that as a break from real life.

On things I forget

So I was watching Say Yes to the Dress today (yeah, I know. Stay tuned for my post on things that I know are bad but love anyway). There was a girl on it who had thyroid cancer, and the mother was so emotional, going on that she almost died or whatever. And the girl had pretty much the same story as me. The inconclusive first surgery, the second the get the rest… They didn’t mention the radiation, but I’d imagine she had it because it’s standard treatment (although current studies suggest it might not be necessary for a lot of cancers, though mine would still qualify).

It made me start thinking. Maybe it’s just because it was so long ago (7 years since the second surgery, to be exact, although my cancer’s special and I won’t get the all-clear until 10 years), but I don’t remember anyone crying about it. I don’t remember people being upset. Maybe my parents were… I’m sure my mother would have been, though not in the jump-in-the-car-to-see-me kind of way (mind you, I was a seven hour drive away). I remember calling home after I got the news that it was cancer. I was in the parking lot outside the surgeon’s office (my excellent surgeon, I still get compliments on my scar), with my boyfriend at the time. My dad picked up. I told him, in this matter-of-fact told-you-so sort of way. Maybe he was just in shock, maybe it was because I was so blase about the whole thing, but there was no strong reaction that I remember. No tears. Not even from me.

It’s at the point now where I don’t think about it. Maybe I even forget about it sometimes. I’ve never thought of myself as a cancer survivor. I was most impressed with myself for only missing two weeks of school for the whole ordeal. Working where I do, I keep informed on the literature. It’s at the point now where I can pick up an endocrinology or oncology textbook and read the chapter on thyroid cancer and not learn anything new. But I spend a lot of time reading medical textbooks, so there are few conditions that are old news to me every time.

I guess the most emotional moment I had in the whole thing was driving myself to the hospital for the first surgery. I was nervous, more about the surgery than the cancer, and I managed to hit another car as I was parking. I left a note saying something to the effect of “I’m sorry, I hit your car. I’m having surgery for cancer today and I’m really nervous about it.” I don’t remember if I left a phone number on the note, but I’m sure they could have taken my license plate and tracked me down, but they never did. I remember smoking before going for the surgery, looking at my hand shake, contemplating the irony.

I’m not sure what the point of this post was. Probably something to do with spending my life waiting for the big reaction and never getting it. I don’t know. File this post under “musing.”

Whistling

I think this blog will be a testament to all the things that I find particularly bothersome, annoying, or to which I have a neurotic aversion. One of the things I most enjoy doing is complaining. It’s something that I can’t really explain – why does it make me happy to point out things I don’t like? The truth is that I have a thing for having my pet peeves and irritants known, without any expectation or hope that any action will be taken to remedy the situation. It’s probably driven by the same compulsion that drives me to take surveys and answer questionnaires whenever possible, to fill out all the comment cards and participate in market research studies. It’s just something I like to do.

Which brings me to this blog. It will probably be a long string of complaints, with (I hope) the odd witty comment or musing thrown in for variety. If you’re not into that, look elsewhere for reading material.

Today’s complaint revolves around whistling. This is perhaps the best known of my neurotic aversions. It’s not just a dislike; the sound of whistling actually makes my skin crawl. It’s just so annoying. It’s not even a real sound. Why anyone would take enjoyment from creating or listening to the sound that old, environmentally unfriendly windows or poorly-spaced teeth make is beyond me.

And people seem to accept it as a form of music. And one that can be reproduced anywhere. When you see people singing on the subway, a far more valid form of music, you probably give them a strange look. If they’re whistling, people tend to let that go, especially if it’s some grandfatherly old man or smart-ass kid. Personally, if someone is whistling on the subway, I will get off and wait for the next train.

On the other hand, I was on the streetcar last week with a girl who was unabashedly singing, and I thought it was actually pretty cool. Of course, she was singing a song I like by one of my favourite bands (Little Hands by Mother Mother), so that may have influenced my opinion on the incident, but I’m inclined to say that random girl singing along with her iPod is far superior to weird old guy whistling.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.