Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Somebody else's job always seems more interesting

Deep in the paralysis of angst, I just did some googling for a career coach and came upon a site called Vocation Vacations. Run by a career coach, this business is a great racket: sell opportunities for people to do short internships with people who already have their dream careers. So, for example, if you want to be a stand-up comedian, you pay a thousand bucks or so to spend time with a comic and get a taste of what he/she does on the job. You get to see the inner workings of the career, just like an internship, and presumably the mentor also gets a cut of the fee.

Interesting, right? Then I looked through the list and saw some jobs I know about, either from having done them, or having known people who had them. Lemme tell you -- they ain't what they appear to be:
  • "Chocolate maker/pastry chef." I knew someone who had this job. Lots of time on your feet, sick of the smell of chocolate, and do you really want to make 5000 little chocolate boxes containing the ideal profiterole? Sheer hell for a perfectionist. Especially in the summer.
  • "Event planner." I've planned events. Everyone sees the party at the end, but what they don't see is the stress the planner goes through to make sure none of the guests is troubled by the slightest glitch.
  • "Author." As Anne Lamott noted in Bird by Bird, being published doesn't make you the richest, or even happiest person in the world. And if your work isn't marketable, it doesn't make you famous, either. You do it because you're compelled. And don't mind the prospect of holding a couple of other jobs so you don't end up poor.
  • “Entertainment publicist.” Again, the world sees parties, palling around with celebrities. But who wants to be awakened at 4 a.m. when said celebrity client is arrested for DWI or worse? Pick your clients well, yes, but probably most of the people who dream of this job aren’t thinking “Yo Yo Ma” when they’re considering their dream client.
And yup, Park Ranger was on the list of dream jobs. Luckily I haven't had to pay a fee to find out the inside skinny on that one over the past few months. Hey, the Park Service is happy to take you in and give you a shirt, hat and nametag, to boot.

I'm glad I chose to put in time at two very different parks, especially now that the summer season is upon us.. I’m getting two different experiences, partially because of the nature of the parks, and because the relationship is different.

Ellis Island is really heating up, so to speak. We’re reaching the end of the school trip rush (hundreds of kids wearing identical t-shirts with statements like “Podunk HS ’10: NYC here we come!”) but seem to be flowing into the foreign traveler season. Everybody visits the Statue of Liberty on a New York trip, and Ellis Island is the next stop on the ferry. Lots of people wanting to take our tours, lots of people asking where the bathroom is. Even lots of people wanting to know where the subway is (uh, not anywhere on the island). Very busy rangers, very busy volunteers, some tempers flaring.

Edison is seeing somewhat of an upswing in visitation, too. Though we're probably past the school group season, there are still adult groups that want to check the place out, so I've been at the house, helping to shepherd tours through. In fact, last Friday I did my very first entire house tour, constantly getting stumped by some of the retired school teachers in the group. However, the previous time I was there, I wasn't exactly in the best of moods to interact with the public (see previous post).

All of this experience is leading me to think I might be just a little too moody, or something, to have this much contact with so much of the public on a regular basis. Either I have to find a way to put on a good game face (cue acting skills!) or choose not to be a guide. Maybe it's just that I've gotten a bit bored with the situation. God knows I crave variety, but then it's also my responsibility to find a way through that. Change up the tour, get chatty with people to customize things to their interests, up my game.

In different ways, both locations offer that opportunity if I choose to take it. The rangers and leadership at the Edison site, in particular, are very appreciative of volunteers and are encouraging us to work on programs we can present. Seems the sky is the limit there.

Ellis Island is a different story. Because we volunteer through a separate organization, we don't have as much ranger oversight, though the staff there is helpful and friendly for the most part. We're pretty much on our own to develop and modify our Ferry Building tours as we see fit. The volunteer base is committed, smart and tight-knit, which is acknowledged by NPS staff. It's a good thing, too, as the separate organization ran into financial problems and doesn't have dedicated staff to oversee the volunteer program. Thus, we're pretty much on our own.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Balance of Independence

In my journey through the abyss, one of the things I've not written about is my relationship with the man I started dating in late October. That's been by design: given that he's an equal part of it, I didn't think it fair to be sharing my thoughts and feelings publicly, even to the few who read the blog on a sporadic basis. I guess it's all part of the "if you have something to say about someone, tell them, not the rest of the world" mantra.

Well, this one kind of skirts my usual approach, as the current state of the relationship has raised a lot of very basic questions about me and the way I interact with the people who get close to me.

First off, as background: he's a wonderful man to be in relationship with. Thoughtful, affectionate, heart on his sleeve, very bright, likes to explore and is open to doing so many different and interesting things. We have complementary senses of humor and think very similarly -- sometimes it's spooky how alike we can be, in the right ways. And he's very caring, open about his feelings and his regard for me. He's not put off or intimidated by my intelligence and, in fact, takes pride in it. He's made it very clear that he sees long-term potential and wants a committed relationship. I've been thinking that way, too, as scary as that can feel for me. And I've been happy for it.

The first six months were, for the large part, bliss. We spend the weekends together and there's been a lot of the sloppy, goopy being-in-love kind of behavior that makes the start of a good relationship so much fun. You know how it goes - even when just watching TV or walking around the city, there's lots of casual, loving contact, and you tend to do a lot of stuff in tandem.

That said, we've had our moments of disagreement, misunderstandings, what have you. While I've overlooked much of the inconsequential stuff (I'm just as apt to make silly mistakes as he is), there have been one or two things that felt like narcissistic tendencies at the time, and I'm very sensitive to that, given my history of involvement with narcissists. And we haven't seemed to be able to make the transition from doing absolutely everything together to being able to be in the same room doing different things. Being so accustomed to going solo, I like having a little time to do the Sunday Times crossword puzzle without being otherwise distracted.

It's a high-class problem, especially for someone who doesn't enter relationships quickly or lightly, right? Somehow, though, it's become an issue. A big issue. I had to admit to feeling a bit smothered by all of the attention; he told me that if I needed some time to do stuff solo, I needed to find him something to do during that time. That seemed a little weird. He's an adult and should be able to figure something out. His answer was to leave for a few hours, which felt a bit extreme. All I'm really asking for is a half hour to do something without being prodded for my undivided attention.

He's as much of an internet junkie as I am, and he admitted he went on a web board to post his frustration on the topic and get some input. The big idea from that was for us to take a week off from seeing each other. Since Edison Day was going to take up the bulk of my time on June 5, we considered taking the break that weekend, rather than spending the Memorial Day weekend apart.

Then in a serious conversation last Sunday, he admitted that he'd gone from feeling very committed to the relationship to taking more of a wait-and-see approach. That hit me like a brick. For the first time, it seemed that there was a fair chance it all would end, just as I'd seen other relationships fall apart at the six or seven month point. Is it just a natural breaking point between two people who ultimately aren't meant to be together, or is it a pattern with me? Somehow I was able to recover and distract myself from those thoughts, and we had a good afternoon and Memorial Day, but the aftertaste of that discussion lingered.

I wasn't entirely sure a break was necessary, but I ultimately agreed to it because he seemed to feel strongly about it. What I didn't realize was that he considered it to be a week off, from the point we agreed on it (last Tuesday) until sometime this week (undetermined). I only found this out when I sensed radio silence -- no e-mails, no calls -- and called on Thursday to find out what's up. Even then, I agreed to stick with the plan due to his feelings about it. I figured it was better to take advantage of my being tied up on Saturday (and likely exhausted that night, too) than to blow a whole weekend.

By Friday, though, I felt awful about it, and while I figured it was too late to pull the plug on it, I gave it a try. I called him that night to let him know I didn't like the idea very much. He seemed happy to hear that and admitted to feeling the same way. However, he'd already finagled himself an invitation for an activity on Sunday, and he didn't think it was right to back out. I had to respect that. Thus, I spent yesterday on my own.

I was still tired from Edison Day, and the impending rainstorms kept me indoors and brooding. Usually I over think relationship stuff, but this time I was doing a lot of feeling. Feeling alone, solitary, unhappy. I took a walk, as I have often done solo, and it only put things into starker relief. While I've taken so many lonely walks because I wasn't in relationship, this time I was doing it because I'd chosen to be alone when I didn't have to be. Some might even say I was pushing him away.

Truth is, I'm not incredibly good at this relationship stuff. So many times I've been told I'm a catch, and it's amazing that I'm not married. Yeah, while I'm pretty modest, I agree that I have a lot to offer. And I do want a good man in my life. So am I creating some sort of barrier? If so, why? I've gotten way too good at going solo, but that doesn't mean I have to stay that way.

I do wonder if, to some degree, some of my behavior might be seen as selfishness, maybe not making enough room in my life for him. On the most basic level, I am honestly not accustomed to having a man around and literally sharing my space. He has a tendency of bringing stuff over for the weekend, or buying movies, etc. for activities, and then leaves it here. I'm glad he feels at home here, and I've made space for him, but my apartment isn't all that big. It's cluttered enough without another person leaving stuff around. And he's, uh, sloppy in the bathroom, which I don't think he realizes. These are all fairly small things to resolve, admittedly, but they're poking at a deeper level. Might be some childhood thing of feeling encroached on or invaded, but definitely something I need to be conscious of. And see for what it is -- totally benign and unintentional coming from him.

On the pushing away or creating barriers -- that's been a tougher nut to crack, and one I attempted to get a handle on during years of therapy. No sure answers there, but knowing it's there is a start in changing it, I guess.

And when I think about it, I don't have a lot of experience in compromise. I've often been quick to get out of friendships/relationships when I perceive someone has done me wrong. The old "fool me once..." thing, thanks Mom. Intent here is everything, and sometimes I wonder if my gut is being outvoted by my stubbornness. There was one big thing he did to cause the whole narcissism thought to run through my head ... and while it took place at a crucial time for me, the truth is that he followed through exactly as he'd committed to. He kept his word. I didn't much like his grumpy attitude at the time, but when I discussed my fears (mostly of abandonment) with him later, he strongly confirmed that he never would have left me high and dry. In my heart, and from experience, I know he's different from those who've let me down. I can't treat him as if it's just a matter of time before he will, too.

I'd like to see where this takes us, but I'm also wondering how long he'll hold out ... and if I can stop the cycle of pushing away.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Did Edison play table tennis?

Today was Edison Day, the special event at Thomas Edison National Historic Park that includes free admission to the park, kids activities, live sound recordings on vintage media, lectures, tours and a bunch of other fun stuff. I've gone to many of them in the past, so I was kind of psyched to help out for this year's event, even though it meant I missed the lion's share of activities.

Midway through the day, I was stationed in Building 5, the largest building on the property, and the site of much of Edison's thinking and doing. Since the building appeared to be pretty well staffed, I planted myself on the second floor, in the precision machine shop, where no other volunteer or ranger happened to be.

People milled in and out, but there were occasional periods where I was the only person on the floor. I took the opportunity to commune a bit with the spirit of invention, walking among the machinery behind the fence that separates it from visitors.

It was at one of those points that I heard a brief rolling noise (like a small ball going through a tube) in the ceiling in the opposite corner. Then, out of nowhere, a ping pong ball dropped from the ceiling, bounced a couple of times on the workbench below, and rolled out of sight.

Hmm. That's odd. Perhaps it came from the third floor? At about that spot, rangers were supervising young kids in science experiments. Maybe something dropped?

I went upstairs to find out. Sure enough, there was a large-enough hole in the floor next to a heating pipe; a small ball could reasonably pass through it. No, the ranger told me. They didn't have any ping pong balls up there. Uh, but there had to be. This one looked new -- not something that might have gotten dislodged after being up there for a while. And wouldn't they have found it during the renovation?

The ranger and I looked at each other, wide-eyed. Then we laughed. The ghost of Edison, playing table tennis. And here we just thought he liked parcheesi.

Now, I do have an explanation for this one, but I'm not telling.

Friday, June 4, 2010

And here I thought I'd be all psyched for some time during the week while the weather is sunny and warm. Instead, I find myself hit with anxiety, lacking answers or any real direction.

Maybe the hospital bills have something to do with it. I'm doing okay financially, and of course the insurance is handling the bulk of the costs of the biopsy, but yeah, the reality of those 'unexpected' costs is getting to me at the core level. And yeah, I'm getting my money's worth out of the insurance -- without it, the whole process apparently would have cost me over $10,000 -- but it does lead me to wonder how much I'd end up paying per month once the COBRA runs out, now that I have this nice little incident on my permanent record.

So what is it that I'm supposed to do? The more I mull through the whole touring/ranger/know-it-all career concept, the more I realize it's not financially workable for me. When I stand back and view it objectively, I totally understand why. Who puts that much value on learning about arcane things from someone who can spin a good story? I mean, it would work if Richard Branson wanted someone on staff to research his personal whims and tell him all about them, but how likely is that? I've learned a heck of a lot hanging around my pal in Princeton, and while she's really making a name for herself locally, she ain't gettin' rich off it. She is, though, seeming to have a lot of fun.

Everything's telling me that what I'm doing now is a fantastic post-retirement avocation, and there's nothing wrong with that, but how am I gonna make money? More immediately, how am I going to get myself back on a productive path?

What have I learned about myself?
  • I do like telling stories.
  • When I'm on, I'm really on... and I love getting positive feedback in the form of laughter, smiles and engaged conversation about the topic I'm covering.
  • I like having latitude and being my own boss.
  • I'm not really big on being told what to do by people who boss me around. I'd rather be a partner than an employee. (I'd use the word 'collaborator' but ever since a European pointed out the negative connotations of the word, I've been cautious about labeling myself that way.)
  • I'm not all that motivated. When things fall into my lap, I'll go for them, but do I go looking for them? Not really.
This puts me squarely where I was: being unhappy with the prospect of a corporate environment, but in a position where I half anticipate having my next opportunity presented to me. Somehow the prospect of being stuck in an unhappy situation a year from now, regretting that I didn't make a real leap forward, isn't enough of a motivator to get off my ass and do something truly scary.

One would wonder why I'm not seeking some sort of accountability to get me moving. On occasion I've considered talking with a coach to get me working on some concrete goals. (I guess one could say I have accomplished some things by doing what I have with the tour stuff, but I think I've been resting on that for far too long, like an eight-year-old who keeps pointing to the fact she can tie her shoes.) BUT that would then require me to face a lot of tough things, and do stuff I don't really like doing, right? Maybe I'd actually not do so well on a few things, to boot. And isn't the point of this to just drift along without conflict? And to get all philosophical without having to actually do anything?

Uh, yeah, and how's that working for you?

I do this a lot in my life: drift, then get frustrated and build up enough moxie to move forward. The big problem here is that I'm not challenging myself. I'm just hanging out on an extended vacation, and feeling vaguely guilty about it.