Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Writing Priorities

I had a bit of an "oh, shit, what have I done?" day. I kinda quit a job. Not my real, full-time job, that is mostly accounting (bleh) and management (which I like), but my "extra" job that is a lot of event planning (bleh) and marketing/program development (which I like).

My boss had wanted my help on another project he worked on (the College's Innovation Program) and it would give me more money, so i took it. I liked it better than my regular job because it was more interesting, but I discovered I really don't like event management and that was a big part of it. But I liked the organization of building up a new program and putting processes in place.

But then there was one weekend of work that happened only weeks after I accepted the position. It was hell - all the work and none of the glory of pulling off a successful event for the first time (I am hoping my boss doesn't read my blogs. I don't think he has the time or inclination. If I'm wrong - hey, you're a great boss. It's not really anything I haven't said to you before. It's not you - it's me. Or, it's the system. Anyway, don't fire me).

After all, I am only "staff" and not "faculty," and somehow staff aren't seen as real contributors in the university. They are "the help," or "support staff." They just do the work. Well, let me say for the record having been on both sides - it's a hell of a lot easier to come up with an interesting idea than taking an idea and doing what it takes to make it real. Hell, I could write a whole blog on the antiquated hierarchical bullshit that is the university system. Coming from the corporate / design world where results were everything and degree and background were mostly irrelevant, I find it fascinating to go into a system where degrees are everything and results are irrelevant.

There was a meeting on Monday and my boss listed all the things that they want to do with the program, INCLUDING another hell weekend. I still think he has no idea how much work was involved with pulling that off, since his role was just imagining what it should look like and telling me so that I can make it happen (not that there's anything wrong with that, oh very nice boss). 
I instantly felt sick. I couldn't do it again. I need the money, but I couldn't do it anymore. I have been doing the program on top of my regular job for just three months and it's been hell. I've been working my ass off and only doing a half-ass job at both positions. I had known it would mean more work, but it was more challenging work (which I desperately crave, since my regular job is below my skill-level), and I needed the money so I sucked it up and figured it would work itself out. After that meeting, I realized it's not going to work itself out.

I told my boss I couldn't do the program anymore. I couldn't pull off both jobs. And even though I would rather do the work with the Innovation Program, I needed to focus on my "real" job, even if I don't particularly like it all that much.

He understood. He said he was happy that I recognized it, that it showed integrity that I could see that and it wasn't someone coming to him saying I wasn't getting things done. I felt bad about it, because he had gone out of his way to get this position for me, but he didn't seem bothered by it. He was rather matter-of-fact, which disappointed me really - I kinda thought he would be lost without me, but that's what everyone hopes and thinks about their work and at the end of the day, you just move on.
But when my boss brought up that part of the incentive of the additional job was because I needed it financially, I burst into tears. Big tears. I HATE crying at work. But, I knew that by quitting the extra work we'd be in dire financial straights. Even though I knew we'd be screwed financially, I had to quit. I told him I didn't know what we're going to do.

The point of this (and the relevance to writing about it here), is that I discovered something important in all this. I didn't quit my writing time. That wasn't something that came into the equation for me. Looking at it practically, I could have given up my Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings to work rather than write. That would have been a practical solution. I had an opportunity to make more money, provide more for my family. But it wouldn't work for me. Right now it's a higher priority to write than to work and make more money. Without intentionally looking at it as a matter of priorities, I was pleased that I did that for myself - I made writing a priority (and then I realized I specifically set out to make that a priority, which I hadn't really meant it to turn into quitting a project. I meant it to help in prioritizing projects, but this took it to an unexpected level. I go into it more in my other "Carless and Carefree" blog).

Sure, I worry that some people may look on this as me being selfish.  But, any art (writing, painting, music - whatever) is inherently selfish. It's not about making money or contributing. It's not about anything other than what's compelling you, within yourself, to create. It's doing it, because without doing it, life is just the flat exterior of "making a living." I've discovered that what is meaningful to me in life isn't at all practical. What's different is that I'm actually starting to make the impractical the priority.

I hope I'm choosing the right priorities. I think they're right - when I'm compelled to do something so strongly, and specifically against my "better judgement," I do find it usually is the right choice in the end. But, it's just the harder choice. Now, I just have to wait and see. It's a "leap and the net will appear" kind of thing. I leapt, now I'm looking around for the net. Um, there? Net?


to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to mothertone


Thoughts? Reflections? Opinions?

Please comment!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Far Away From Here

Somehow, I got to live in the same city with Kate for about fifteen years. Even though I was an adult by the time I moved out to Portland, I was a "young" adult.

I got used to having her close by, though I don't think I ever took it for granted. We never really got to the point that things were so comfortable between us that we could just pop by unannounced, except once in a blue moon. Now, it seems a shame we hadn't.

Kate and Steve had sold their business, decided to go on their own as artists / musicians. Portland was expensive and constraining. They had to figure out their next steps. My sister, Abby, lived in Olympia, a couple hours north of Portland, and could use the help of having the grandparents around with her young daughter. Olympia was between Portland and Seattle so was a great in-between spot for them.

After almost ten years of living just about a mile from each other, we were now going to be a hundred times that distance apart.

It shouldn't matter. The time together and the shared experiences should cushion that gap. But, somehow the delicate nature of our relationship makes these shifts surprisingly scary. Why it's surprising is because in the most core ways, our relationship doesn't feel delicate at all. I know I'll know Kate in my life, for the rest of my life. I know she won't go away.

But, the part that's scary, is that some part of me doesn't know that in some primal way. She wasn't a part of my life, and she could just not be part of it again. And, if she fades away, what about that part of me that became solidified by knowing her?

When I first moved out here almost (crap!) twenty years ago, Kate was younger than I am now and lived more unconstrained than I do now - single, twice divorced, living in a tiny apartment, without children to raise (Abby was already a teenager), working a job she didn't much care about and playing music that she did care about. I didn't think of her as an "adult," just more as an older kind of "me."

But not long after that, she fell in love, bought a house, had her husband's kids to help raise, helped run the business, and became more of what I think of as settled and, I guess, "adult." And despite my own aversion to having that for myself (or so I thought), it was a grounding thing for me. A home to visit, a fireplace, dinner, holidays, even a bed to spend the night if I needed to.

After almost a decade in Portland, I had to move back home to New Jersey to be with my family. But, somehow without my quite noticing, Portland had become a home to me. And Kate had become that center point, the staking for my tent. The luxury I imagined at staying in fancy hotels in Portland paid for by my job left me feeling cold and alone and instead I would stay with Kate at her home in her guestroom.

After just over a year back in Jersey, I returned to Portland. I was in love, bought a home, had a job, got married, had kids. So, another almost ten years and Kate and I have come full-circle in a way. Kate went from independence to domesticity and back to an (adjusted) independence where she's traveling around and trying to find her grounding. I've gone from being just out of school, traveling, trying to find my grounding to being the home where Kate comes to spend the night when she's visiting Portland and fantasizing about having the freedom I did back then.

I guess we're still trying to find our way with each other as we find our ways in the world for ourselves. Still vulnerable, still afraid, even after all these years. But, hey, we're here, and even the distance doesn't get in the way of that.


to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to mothertone


Thoughts? Reflections? Opinions?

Please comment!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Extraordinary Ordinariness

I haven't seen Kate for months. I'm not sure how many. It was before the holidays, before her birthday in October.

Now we sit writing together, separately, in the Starbucks around the corner from my house on a surprisingly sunny Sunday afternoon. It seems silly to spend our time together this way maybe, but it's become our thing. 

It has started three summers ago, when I got laid off from my job and had the summer of severance to do what I wanted. Kate had recently sold the music shop, so we both had time. So we would get together to write on our co-memoir - together, but separately. Not reading each other's writing or even talking about it, but just having the practice of getting together writing together, face to face but with the laptops back to back. Like gym buddies, but for writing, and writing on the same project.

I think the most amazing thing about our relationship, the thing I find most interesting, is how extraordinarily ordinary it's become. We have our routines, our shared history. An ability to fall into things as if they were normal.

But, of course, it's not normal because even as I try to write to express it, I can't. Like a...normal mother and daughter? No, that's not quite right. Like old friends? No, that doesn' fit it either. As I've written about before in another post, there's not really a name for it, so just the fact that it can feel ordinthink given the choice ,she would rathI ary when there's not a word for it, is quite extraordinary.

Maybe part of it's me. I have a thing for "unusual" relationships that feel quite right to me - like one of my best friends being my ex-boyfriend that's accepted into our life with my husband and kids like a part of the family. It's just sorting out what feels right.

Part of me wonders if we've been working on the book so long that we've forgotten to how to just be together in who we are - "birthmother and daughter" for whatever it is - without it being about the book - where we are in the writing, next steps, it is a shard project, and our project togther. 

Although we've been a part of each other's lives so long, it's not without discomforts and feeling of awkwardness.

Kate and Steve stayed at our house last night after they had a gig they've done for years, Winterfolk. I was in bed by 11pm, and they didn't roll in until 2am following the show's after-party, which amuses me - being that they are the grandparents. But Kate's always been the more wild one of the two of us, I think. Though, "wild" and "folksinger" don't really go together in my mind either : )

However, I remember as a recent college-graduate feeling hard-pressed to keep up with her when it came to parties and socializing and being out at the bars and shows and such. Most nights I would rather be in, cozied up on the couch with a book than out at a loud, crowded show. Ironically, given the choice, I think she would choose that too. But being a musician, a performer, she doesn't have much choice.

This morning, they were up early and playing with the boys. I rolled out of bed and said the perfunctory morning greetings on my way to the coffeepot. We go out to breakfast, and I know they will insist on picking up the tab. I know that Steve will take the boys for a walk so that Kate and I can have some chatting time alone together.

And, really, it's no more awkward than when anyone else stays at our house. Even when my parents stay for their long stretches over winter or summer, their presence has it's own discomforts and awkwardness - wondering how they're judging me as a parent, thinking they are worried about me or that I'm not doing a good enough job.

So, I think that's part of it - my relationship with Kate feels ordinary. Not perfect, not without flaws, but not dramatically awful either. And that it can be just ordinary is extraordinary.