Continued from 3/19/15
“Actually, of course, it’s the tenure process, referring to the academic practice of hazing a probationary faculty member until they pass all your tests or go away. From the French, tenir, meaning to take, hold.”
B., a woman I met in a networking group, sponsored me into an online business course that she said had changed her life and her understanding of her work. She became my online business mentor, one of my most faithful clients, and a healer who helped me and my kids in direct and subtle ways. The course was packed with information, connections, ideas, and more work than I ever completed. I liked the Seattle meetups, the accountability partner I connected with, the other women near and far whose stories and influences I connected with in dozens of ways.
Then my dad had a stroke. We’d been watching for that in the year before, as he’d been hospitalized several times for mysterious reasons, some hospitalizations leading to further hospitalizations and some healing and rehabilitating him. For nearly 20 years, he’d been experiencing an unnamed neuropathy that weakened his legs to the point where he had to use a wheelchair (another big, long story for another time), at the same time maintaining independence and as much fitness as possible, volunteering as an ombudsman in a nursing home and taking the bus everywhere, doing chair yoga and lifting weights when other exercise became untenable. I called him the Best Little Cripple Ever. Probably never to his face. He beautifully modeled aging and mobility reduction, taking each loss as an opportunity to add something new. Yet he required a lot of care and assistance and attention, and my stepmother had already begun to get quite rundown before his hospitalizations.
I insinuated myself more and more in their life. I made myself a helper, no longer a guest, and spent more time with Dad than ever in my life, especially more one-on-one time. Conversational routes that had opened up when I was in college became paths I returned to, sensing that even if Dad was around for a lot longer, that didn’t mean I had any more time to waste.
The hospitalizations were like a car alarm, going off occasionally and inconveniently and raising hackles and awareness, which tapered off over time. The stroke was a fire alarm, so loud and persistent it couldn’t be ignored any more at all. In other words, what I had suspected before and known all my life, that Dad was going to die, was imminent and immediate, and became part of the fabric of my daily life.
I’ve written about Dad a lot elsewhere [really good grief]. Here I am writing, I think, about my career. Right? When Dad went home after the stroke, after the rehabilitation facility, nobody (but maybe him) wanted him back in the hospital. (Dad liked hospitals. He liked meeting nurses, who all thought he was adorable. He liked being cared for. He was happy and in no pain. But they never seemed to have soup spoons.)
I needed to make a living, which I’ve always done with my mind, and the grief and fear and sadness made me lose my mind, my focus, my will to work. Poised on the verge of launching my online business, I remained poised, frozen, with a foot in the air. Instead, I became a paid caregiver, my official title Memoirist, which I came to share with my sister, Care Coordinator, a job I could never do the way she did.
Dad died after 3 months of home care. My life was his care and recording his stories and looking things up for him and hunting for a photo of his beloved Aunt Gert (which I never found) and being present with him and my sister and my stepmother, and leaving their presence to get crushed by my kids and coddled by my husband. Once he died, my life was grieving him, and I was able to use my Memoirist pay to keep me from having to work again.
Nine months after Dad died, I was ready (sort of) to rejoin the work world, so I let people know I was available to talk about writing. I had a series of video conversations with lovely women from my business class group, and I came back to worklife, learning as I went how I wanted to show up. I showed up fully myself, grieving as necessary, even crying before settling down to productive copywriting. Those conversations helped me clarify how I do my work:
- I show up as my whole self, the person with the feelings and experiences that have shaped me.
- I work WITH you, not FOR you. I don’t do homework. I think marvelously on my feet.
- Getting paid to be smart and have conversations is a blast.
- Everyone has an interesting story to tell. Everyone has something important to say. Everyone is carrying a profound, complex world inside their head that others can’t begin to imagine. The world — and my own life — is enriched when you get your story out.
- Decisive and imperfect with high standards is much more successful than perfectionistic. Writing and publishing quickly generates energy and maintains momentum.
- There are no bad words and no good words, so fuck that shit. I can say what I want. Nobody has to listen. Anybody who does is in the right place.
I had a long talk with M. yesterday, who is experiencing one of those career crises that seem practically cyclical and likely endemic among the creative self-employed. The work she does more or less fell into her lap, she’s really good at it, it pays generously, and she’s not that interested in continuing to do it. While others are struggling to make a living at the thing they’re really good at, she’s making a living and struggling to find a place to do what she really cares about.
Me, I’m doing what I want to do, and seeking to channel that into a comfortable living. Here’s what makes me comfortable:
- I get to wear comfortable clothing.
- I take care of my health better than ever, and I set my own schedule (for better or lazier).
- As when I was teaching, I get to walk outside at will in the middle of the day, something I never took for granted, since I’ve had 9-5 office jobs.
- I never wear pantyhose or high heels — unless I’m acting.
- I charge the rates that make me comfortable, working primarily by the project and not by the hour (with a few exceptions, and you know I’d do anything for you, ladies).
- I take online classes and in-person acting classes, and I go to workshops and conferences that pique my interest.
- I spent a bit over a year acting in one production after another and I’m taking time off from auditioning for others’s projects so I can get my own project (working title: The Pearl Klein Uncastable Project) off the ground.
- I have intermittently recurring paid acting gigs, approximately 4 of them. I talked myself out of a directing job in order to do the marketing for a show that excites me.
These are just some of the elements I compose my life out of.
And now I’ve promised to blog every day for 90 days. What was I thinking?