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plans are getting me down, letting me down

August 20, 2012

20 years ago, I was corresponding with a number of men I had some interest in. The most recent of them was a guy I’d only been writing to for a few weeks. There was a different guy that I was half in love with, and thought would be a big part of my future.

But in the meantime, I was desperately unhappy at my job as a switchboard operator and receptionist. My supervisor loathed me, but loved my ex-boyfriend (our coworker) –her malicious head games with both of us made work a certain kind of hell.

I don’t remember if I was under ‘progressive discipline’ yet.

The one bright spot was that I lived in my own apartment. No woman of my mother’s family had ever moved away from her parents, without going away to college, or getting married. (Including my younger sister, who had gotten married the year before, at age 22, largely to escape our parents.)

When I went home to my apartment, I reveled in being able to do whatever I wanted.

I didn’t have a TV, and I didn’t miss it. I had almost no social life, but that was actually a good thing. More time alone meant it was easier to find my own thoughts, feelings, yearnings, as the usual social clutter was missing.

I mostly hung out with my house plants, and read books.

I didn’t have to please anybody but myself.


I navigated boundary issues that would never have arisen while I was still living with my parents. I made mistakes, allowing me to learn the hard way what I preferred.

I started to dream my own dreams. They were all really nebulous, but they were my own. Maybe I’d end up dating B, which could mean visiting Greenland (where he worked), or just Mississippi (where he was from), neither of which I’d ever been to. Maybe some fabulous job would drop into my lap. Maybe I’d find a college major that I could follow to a doctorate. Maybe I could move out of state, with minimal planning, and just see what developed.

None of those options were things my parents would want me to do. I don’t know what they did want. Whatever it was never overlapped anything I actually did.

When my brothers did things similarly, they were adventurous, and admirable. When I did them (or just aspired to them), I was being deliberately annoying and unrealistic. How dare I think I could claim a future no other woman ever wanted!

(Well, admitted to wanting, maybe.)

My father was disappointed I wasn’t more ambitious with my job. Which I hated. And I totally sucked at. That job destroyed my confidence. Gee, I wonder why I didn’t aim higher?  Oh wait, I did. But my boss wouldn’t let me transfer to a different department: she liked having me under her thumb.

But ambition by itself was going to cure all that! Therefore, I should have it.

I didn’t.

Yeah, I thought about the future. But not very much.

I’ve never been much of a planner.

It took me years to realize that my way of doing things is just as valid as planning is.

Beyond that, I really tried planning, a bunch of different times. It just doesn’t work for me.

Any plan that I could have possibly, remotely, imagined for what my life would be like in six months . . . would have completely missed the boat.

Just two months later, I would find out, almost by accident, that B (the Greenland/Mississippi guy) had been stringing me along while secretly getting back together with his girlfriend from grad school.

The guy I had only just started writing to in August 20 years ago would fly out to Chicago to meet me over Samhain weekend, and we would fall in love over body slices.

We never even dated! We got engaged 2 weeks later.

19.5 years ago – ‘6 months later’ — we were in Kentucky for his grandmother’s funeral, my first time to meet his extended family. And we were newlyweds, living near Rochester NY (a state I had never been to before meeting him).

What PLAN could have accommodated all of that?

We lived together in New York for about 10 weeks, during which I only worked one day. Then we moved to Indianapolis. Apparently I’d been to Indianapolis as a child visiting my father’s family, but I have no recollection of it.

That first year of our marriage, my father’s oldest brother died unexpectedly in June; my father’s uncle died three months later.

For my uncle’s funeral, Spouse and I drove back to Chicagoland. My father’s uncle, though, had been living in a nursing home for old veterans, outside of Lafayette IN, and his funeral took place there. I drove there alone. I think that was my first solo ‘road trip’. When I managed to locate my father and one of my uncles on the extensive grounds, I felt like an adult in a whole new way. Afterward, the three of us went out for lunch.

Maybe it was the presence of his brother (who is my godfather), but my father was respectful of me. He talked to me like I was an adult. Like I was interesting in my own right.

That description echoes what I’ve written before about he and I going to family funerals when I was a teenager and young adult. But this day had a different flavor.

I felt like my father saw me, for the first time.

So odd that that could happen at the funeral of a relative I didn’t remember ever meeting.

When lunch ended, my father and uncle got into their car to return to Illinois. And for the first time, I got into my car, and drove back to my home, which was no longer Illinois.

Two years later, I started commuting to Purdue as a nontraditional adult student. The drive to Lafayette and back put 400 miles on my car every week for the first semester; more, the second.

Ultimately, though, I earned my bachelor’s from Indiana University in Indianapolis (IUPUI) almost four years after I left Purdue. Studying biology in West Lafayette became studying Latin and statistics and eventually geography in Indianapolis.

IUPUI was the 5th post-secondary school I’d attended, in the third state. The class and majors I had while in Indiana did not overlap with any classes and majors I’d had elsewhere.

Changing my environment also changed my context, and I changed to match. I became someone in Indiana that I could not have become in Illinois.

And that Indiana person was, perhaps surprisingly, strongly seasoned by those 10 short weeks in New York.

I’d been desperate to escape from Illinois for years. Every place I visited on vacation was a potential new home. Places I’d never been seemed somehow even more promising.

And I fell in love with New York. It didn’t look anything like Illinois. The terrain was hilly, and nowhere near as densely populated as Chicagoland. Architectural styles were different; New York State was frontier long before Illinois, so they had different histories, different settlement patterns.

I was so eager to belong to some place new that New York became my new template for what ‘home’ meant.

By the time I made my first visit back to Chicagoland as a married woman, I could compare data from three other states I’d lived in to what I’d grown up taking for granted. Of course I knew the world was a big place, but for the first time, my sense of where and who I was within it had expanded.

In her lifetime, my mother’s had at least five residences; my father may have had more. But for both of them, they’ve only ever lived in Chicagoland. Where they live now is less than 40 miles from they were born.

They’ve traveled all over the world, but they’ve never lived anywhere but Northern Illinois.

I’ve had at least 14 residences, in five states. I’ve lived as close as 4 miles, and as far as 790 miles, from where I was born. Some people say Chicagoland is culturally not really part of the Midwest, despite the geography. Even so, I’ve lived in the Midwest (Indianapolis), as well as the Southwest (Oklahoma City), the Northeast (Rochester), and now the Mid-Atlantic (Maryland). So, I’ve made a home in four distinct U.S. regions.

Spouse and I have visited 10 states and I visited an 11th that I never saw with my parents.

Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve seen ways of doing things that differ from what I grew up with. What’s appropriate varies, depending not just on who you are but where you are, and who else is around you.

Maryland is easily the most challenging place I’ve lived. The Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia CSA sprawls across three states and DC, containing over 8 million people in 2007. The Capitol draws smart, highly-educated, creative people from all over the country and/or the world. Wherever you look, intriguing ideas abound.

I had all sorts of innovative ideas while living in Indiana that there was no way to put to use. A certain population threshold has to occur before creative/innovative/etc. infrastructure happens, and Indianapolis was too small. Still, if I’d known the right people, I might have still been able to do something. But I didn’t know the right people, and I didn’t even know how to find out who they were.

I was endlessly frustrated living in Indiana. My ideas were too big for the place.

Here, I’ve had the opposite problem. 13 years in Indiana, and my ideas had gotten smaller, less robust. I haven’t attended college (for credit) here, so I haven’t had that easy access to ideas. But through various other means, I’ve discovered other ways to interact with interesting people. (Things that don’t exist in Indiana.) Being from Chicago sounds more impressive here, probably partly because it’s so far away. But my most impressive accomplishments occurred in Indiana, which itself is not impressive. I lived in Illinois for my first 26 years, and I barely accomplished anything worth mentioning. I wasn’t in New York long enough to accomplish anything there either.

And all the stuff I did, anywhere, belongs to lives I barely remember living. They are not that far back in time, but the contexts have changed so totally that I almost can’t believe I ever was any of those people.

All those miserable years in Indiana, I couldn’t wait to get back to Chicagoland, or New York, or anywhere that I wouldn’t be outsized for my context. And now that I’m in the most diverse and enriching environment of my life, I feel utterly inadequate.

Nothing I’ve learned from anywhere I’ve lived or visited sufficiently prepared me for living here.

I keep sensing, deep down at tectonic plate level, that parts of me have been waiting and hoping for opportunity like this all my life. They are more than ready to test their mettle and find out what we are all made of.

But for 46 years they’ve been buried under stuff. All my algorithms and workarounds for deep-seated fears I could barely admit I had. Posturing and playacting, hoping to impress ‘the right people’. Jerryrigged short-term solutions to problems that kept recurring, but I refused to consider that there might be systemic issues. Basically 101 different ways to say Fear.

These days, I’m not just confronting Ereshkigal [letting go of worn-out attachments], but Tethys [my inner ocean deeps]. And maybe others I can’t identify.

I can’t move forward until I cut back to the bone. I don’t know what will remain. Who might I be under all this detritus? I really have no idea.

My uncertainty and discomfort signal that anything is possible. Conceivably, I might do more than surprise myself — I might shock myself.

If so, it’s long overdue.

Game-changing innovation only becomes possible when I discard the past. No plans, no expectations, no (established) preferences allowed. Just me and my context, coevolving, self-organizing from the bottom up.

And no timetables allowed either.

I have upcoming events that I had hoped to have my new venture in place in time for. Tethys is telling me I need to re-think that. I’ve already pushed too hard, trying to nail down exactly what the new venture ‘should be’, and received a reality check showing me I was on the wrong path altogether. So, I need to stop trying to figure things out. I need to stay in the moment. I need to follow my current interests (but not think or worry about where they might be going). I need to let go, of anything and everything that no longer fits. I need to let myself just be.

This is so hard. My chest feels tight all the time, but it’s stress. I feel super anxious a lot, then find myself diving into distractions, instead of just sitting with the uncertainty, and getting used to it.

I’ve been through positive disintegrations at least four times before. Unlike the first three times, I recognize the process. But that doesn’t make it easier to live through it. It might even make it harder. Because the first three times, I thought I was going crazy, and/or that my life was ending. Worrying about those two possibilities consumed most of my nervous energy. It wasn’t, therefore, available to obsess over ‘can I plan my way out of this?’ (even though I’m not a planner, dammit!)

In fact, maybe that right there is one of the lessons I’ve been missing: I am not a planner. I don’t need to be a planner. Plans work for other people, and good for them, but I have a different way of doing things, and it works best for me. It doesn’t matter if nobody else gets it, or if everyone else thinks it’s a dumb way to do things. It Works For Me. I’m even happy with it, when I don’t think about other people’s opinions of it. Hell, why do I keep mentioning other people when I’m trying to talk about me? No wonder my chest feels tight! I’m prejudging my own thoughts!

No self talk. No judging. No pushing.

What will happen when I’m not trying to do anything?




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