Balancing my current work with my future work goals

A few days ago, I told my child’s teacher after I completely spaced the parent-teacher conference we had scheduled, “I used to have my shit together, and then I became a parent. But I guess 6 years in to this parenting run, I suppose I can no longer claim my new normal is temporary.” She didn’t know me in my pre-parenting days, when I really was on time to things, and even occasionally organized. A time when I could string thoughts coherently, er, string coherent thoughts togetherly.

While I don’t think I can get back to being on time or organized, I intend to regain my identity as a blogger. No, not some bullshit microblogger or #sponsored content provider or mouthpiece for a giant brand. After all, how is blogging for someone else any different from what I do now: writing web content for my employer?  My blogging goal was always to gain just enough independence that I could at the very least downsize from my full-time gig, carving out a bit more space for my creative work, whether that brought me income or not. (The answer is most definitively not, if you were wondering). When that didn’t happen – and life happened simultaneously – it became necessary for me to reallocate how I used my time.

I’ve had an autoimmune disease for 11 years. Or maybe I’ve had it for a lot longer, but I got diagnosed when I was 30. For awhile – like, say, in my adult years prior to having children, I could manage my depleting energy levels by taking a nap on the weekend or even catching a nap before dinner on weeknights. But over time, I guess as I get older, between working 40* hours a week and parenting, there’s very little time for me to ever feel “caught up” on my energy. And being tired all. of. the. goddamned. time. means that I have so little ability to clear the brain fog, nevermind the energy once the brain fog may have cleared to do anything.

* Now let’s talk about that 40 hours a week thing. I used to work 40 hours a week. Then I kept getting much more interesting work, and I was actually legitimately one of those gross people who claim to like their jobs (because I did). So losing sight of my personal goals didn’t blip much on my radar at that time a couple of years ago because I was engaged and fulfilled at work with intellectual and writery challenges. But during the past two years, my good work means that I’ve been promoted a time or two…and tasked with larger projects…that take up more mental energy…with less actual *time* during the workweek to tackle those projects. So full-time work became more, like, well, let’s just say more than 40 hours a week (and in academia, so without the pay to reflect that).

So working more left even less time to devote to my stuff. Yes, some of the bleed-over of work hours into *my* time is my own fault. But I’ll also point the majority of the blame right back on the higher ed industry, an industry that relies on churn-and-burn, hardly-paid adjuncts like My Better Half. It seems like a dicey endeavor to disengage when you are the sole source of income in your household for a family of 4. And/or have a complicated auto-immune disease that insurers know better as a pre-existing condition in this era in which it is unclear whether insurers will cover your care. To sum it up: I found myself with almost no energy, nor much mental clarity, but tethered to a job that had begun to eat up any of my free time.

I’m working on that last one, though. For the past few weeks, I’ve put strict boundaries on my work hours and will truly only commit to 8 hours a day, walking out the door at 8 hours and 1 minute. Which has begun to give me a little breathing room for places like my new work blog and here. (And, to be honest, the capacity to start looking for other, higher-paying work, as putting job applications together takes energy, mental clarity, and time. With more money could come more freedom…)

reset

Well hello there, old friend.

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

Rather than bore you with all the nitty-gritty of what has (and has not) transpired over the past 2 years, let me just summarize with: I’ve been dealing with stuff. And things. Losses, deaths, work, parenting, beaches, music, and whatnot.

There, you’re all caught up. Don’t you feel better? I know I do!

I won’t get all gross on you and go into my goal for this particular year or talk about how life is so much better now that I’ve abandoned all news cycles, diving headfirst into only the most friviolous podcasts. Or how I have been contemplating whether you can go on long-term disability for being out of give-a-sh*ts about work. Or how my parenting has evolved from attentive to “eh, they’re playing quietly in their room with the door closed, who cares what they’re doing as long as they’re leaving us alone.”

But in the past couple of years, a lot has changed, and yet, a lot has stayed exactly the same. My two tinies are now less tiny, 6 and 4, to be exact. My house has changed; we moved to a bigger place, narrowly avoiding the murder-suicide combination that can result from cramming 4 people into 800 square feet. And yet, I still have to go to work every weekday, we still struggle against the bullsh*t that is adjuncting, we are still madly in love with our tiny familial unit, and we curse exactly the same amount about it all.

So it’s hard to neatly wrap up all that has transpired over the past 2 years, but here I am, with my reset. Time to get serious about this whole blogging thing so I can cash in on the wave and monetize my influence share my rants and raves.

Good friends are hard to find

Yesterday I was lamenting about the difficulty of making new friends at work (among other things). Here’s a perfect example. I have a coworker who I’ve often thought should be friends with me. So I followed what I think to be normal make-a-friend protocol: I introduced myself first, I have since chatted with her from time to time, sometimes at great length, I’ve IM’d her, and discovered tons that we have in common. We’re both from the South, she used to work in the same field as My Better Half and so we know some of the same companies and people, she loves all things food, and she has a kid just a hair younger than my oldest. So over time I’ve tried to transition our workquaitance into more of a friendship and…it’s gone absolutely nowhere. I’ve stopped by and asked her out to coffee: no, thanks. I’ve invited her to things that I get invited to with other moms: no, thanks. I’ve asked if she wants to check out the farmer’s market or go to this photography exhibit sometime or: no, no, no. Always no. So I basically gave up.

Today I stumbled on her blog. And I can’t decide if I feel even MORE rejected because I’m seeing how much we really do have in common (likes: coffee breaks, walks, babies, photography, baking, and cocktails) that’s making me seethe with rage at her successful blog, or if it’s just her smug-ass tone. The whole thing reeks of “look at me and my cute little family effortlessly identifying and then seamlessly achieving all our life goals one by one!” tone. It’s really hard for me to relate to, either because of the current uncertainties that underpin our lives at this moment or because I live over here. IN THE REAL WORLD where life can be HARD and can’t be photoshopped to perfection. And/or because I’m bitter as all hell that someone else seems to have achieved my perfect blend of working as a writer and still having the time + energy + spousal support to devote to one’s own personal creative outlets.

So I needed a gut check and sent the blog to my BFF without commentary.

Her: huh. So why *aren’t* you friends with her?

Me: I dunno, ask her. I’ve made an effort for a year now, and gotten shut down every time.

Her, five minutes later: I dunno, she seems a little…smug?

Me: YES! THANK YOU! I wasn’t sure if it was just that I’m having a hard time relating to her perfect little life or seething with jealousy and/or bitter?

Her: Well, then file me under: bitter as sh*t too.

And that’s why we’re BFFs.

Try, try again

Well, well, well. Here we go again. A new year, the same resolution to blog more. I should know better, especially given the 2012 experiment, but clearly I just get older, not wiser.

I could take a glass half empty approach as to why I didn’t blog more in 2012. Let’s see: it started with a 6 month old who got RSV, which then morphed into me having sinus infection after sinus infection and strep throat after strep throat for months on end (up to and including this very moment in 2013) and having trouble managing my hypothyroidism. On top of being a mom and being sick and way low energy, I still worked full-time and though I aspired to get other things done, I rarely did. See: being sick. It doesn’t help that my computer at home died and has remained unreplaced. Hey, iPod touch? You’re awesome for most everything. Just not writing extensively.

But let’s look at the glass half full version of 2012’s resolution: I wrote more than I had in previous years, including much more long-form stuff that’s still in progress offline (along with all the half-formed blog posts I have still rattling about in draft). I started another blog co-written with a friend of mine, and I reconnected with how writing helps me work sh*t out in my own head. So take that, 2012 resolution!

So, since I’m trying on 2013 for size, how’s it measure up so far? Not good. I think part of it is I have a tendency this time of year to look back on the previous year, and in comparing right now to 2012 at the same time, I was much more settled and content then than I am now. I was confident in my abilities to parent a 6 month old. Now I’m facing new toddler-sized issues (no impulse control, limited ability for us to understand what she’s trying so desperately to communicate, chasing her down at the most inopportune times because running away is FUN!, and trying to determine how to make meals out of the 3 things she’ll eat) that make me less sure I know what the hell I’m doing. A year ago, I had an awesome boss and felt, for the first time in a long time, that my work was a good match for my skills and background. Now? A reorg at work has left me working in the same place but with a new, totally absentee boss, and a new role in a new career path that does NOT suit me at all, leaving me utterly dissatisfied. A year ago I was much healthier. I was working out habitually, I felt good, had high energy, and then having drifted off that course from being so sick, I now find myself still on steroids and antibiotics, feeling pretty gross. And a year ago, I wasn’t faced with the prospect of our nearly 13-year old dog’s final weeks. That part, I’m not prepared to talk about or deal with yet. But it’s there, lurking in the shadows of the weeks to come.

I know myself. I know that I have a tendency at this time of year to feel the post-holiday blues. The trips to look forward to have come and gone. Regardless of whether the job sucks or is awesome, coming back to my cubicle after a few days away is always a let down as it means the end of hanging out in pajamas, playing with the girl, and taking naps. So I’m trying to be extra-cautious right now not to let my feelings of unrest cascade over into other areas and color the otherwise excellent things that I’m sure are to come in 2013. I’m trying to compartmentalize – not in some unhealthy way but to try to prevent my general anxiety disorder from trampling all over everything and mixing it all up so that all of my worries won’t get inextricably tied up together until they’re one giant sinkhole of suckitude. Trying to deal with one thing at a time, and then putting it back up on the shelf when something else needs to be dealt with instead.

Trying. Maybe that’s my guiding word for 2013. I will try. I will keep trying. If I fail, maybe I will learn something. If I succeed, who knows what could happen?

Where Have I Been?

I don’t know. I haven’t actually *been* anywhere. Didn’t go away since May for the summer. Or anywhere, really. I’ve just been working sitting at a desk in my cubicle. And getting sick. Repeat.

I’ve been on 6 antibiotics since the spring, but I’m still fighting a chronic awful sinus infection (and periodic bouts of strep throat) that make me feel lousy. Just not lousy enough to stay home, but lousy enough to not be able to keep up with all my normal routines. Between working full-time sitting in a cubicle 40 hours a week and being sick full-time and taking care of Baby, who is now a toddler by the way, I haven’t had time to do anything else, like post here or watch an entire season of Breaking Bad. (Which, thanks to the immediacy of our web culture, has already been ruined thanks to the presumption that if you own a DVR, you must not use it because it’s fair game to discuss it freely and openly within 24 hours of its original airing). So while you can talk to me about Breaking Bad, what you cannot do is stop by unannounced and ask to come in to my house. I will cockblock you at the door and get rid of you as quickly (and politely) as possible so you cannot peer past me to even so much as glimpse the absolute wreck within.*

*This is not to say that My Better Half™ has not been keeping up way more than his fair share of things at home. He has been, as always, a tremendous support in all the cooking, cleaning, diapering, feeding, and everything else that goes into being an all-around awesome partner. But still. He’s only one person.

While I haven’t been anywhere, my mind has been wandering. I’ve been thinking more and more about finding another job until I can figure out a way to work for myself. But the thought, which used to be a polite little occasional rap on the door, has become a deafening roar. It’s like there’s a mob armed with pitchforks ready to break down the door and storm the castle. I can accept that I have to work full-time to provide for Baby (and support My Better Half™ while he finishes grad school). But if I have to be in a cubicle 40 hours a week, I’d much rather be doing something that keeps me busy, at a minimum (though it would be nice if it also kept me interested). I got offered this job when I was laid off and knocked up. I accepted the job because it seemed like a good fit – it made use of my existing skills, it was at a university where I figured I’d be around bright people, and it seemed like a place where I could learn a few things. It’s hard to learn anything when, after a year and a half, I’ve had 2 short-term projects. And I am around bright people – my boss remains the best boss I’ve ever had…but she’s no longer my boss, and she’s leaving soon. And I’ve realized that what I love about being in a university setting is the students, and I don’t work with them at all. As far as I can tell, my job seems largely to consist of showing up 40 hours a week to be available in the event that someone needs something that only takes me a couple minutes to do. So I read blogs. And this morning, I read this post by (Not) Maud, in which she writes that she used to keep herself busy at work by reading blogs because she had nothing else to do. This part really sums up what I think is at the heart of my dissatisfaction with work:

“I’m not the only overeducated underused employee that ever existed, so I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who ever did this. I’m not the only person with a degree in English to find herself sitting behind the receptionist’s desk or waiting for someone else to schedule a meeting so that she could update a handbook that nobody would read anyway. On a global-economy scale, that’s a lot of unharnessed energy.”

Damn straight. I have a ton of unharnessed energy, and I am more than ready to harness it and put it to work for myself. Not only will that be much more satisfying to me, but I also would be able to spend more time on the things that matter to me – Baby, My Better Half™, and napping, for starters. Bonus: If I worked for myself, I think I would be better equipped to carve out the time I need to get a few weeks rest because this nickel & diming my time off to rest isn’t helping me get over months of being sick. I’ve made a plan and I’m going to keep myself accountable to it.

At Least I’m Not the Only One Uninspired

Earlier I posted about how I haven’t been writing because I’m just so damn worn out. And while I try not to be too hard on myself about that, that itself is…well, hard.

I mean, all it takes is one sideways glance at my feeds to see that they are clogged with new blog posts, updates, follow-ups, and news items that get updated by the hour moment to prove that only I’m to blame when I find myself staring at a blank screen. Obviously I’m not creative enough. Or the ideas I have are bad and not worth exploring. Or the writing I am producing is crap. Pick your flavor – I’ve got 31 ways to blame myself. On really bad days, my efforts to shoo away my internal critic is so hopeless I’m left alone with “I’m not cut out to be a writer.”

When I get some space and take the time to cross examine my own worst critic, I realize how ridiculous that line of thinking is. It’s also reassuring to read something like this to see that I’m not the only one caught up in a tug of war between wanting to write and insisting that what I write is the BEST THING EVER PUT ON PAPER (or, ahem, screen, in this case). I loved the advice she gives her students going through “Bad Brain Days”:

I tell them that they are feeling this way not because they haven’t learned enough, but because they’ve learned so well. They understand how hard what they’re trying to do is, and know that they’re not there yet. I quote to them from Wallace Stevens, that the difference between a good poet and a great poet is that a good poet reads his work and is satisfied.

So as I slowly build up my motivation and inspiration again, I will be trying hard to take her advice and be a little less hard on myself.

Uninspired. Or just plain tired.

I’m sitting here staring at my monitor ready to write a post. Why? Not because I have anything to say but because I have, for the 1st time today, 20 minutes or so to myself before I collapse in exhaustion.

Between working a full-time job and taking care of a 10 month old without a single full night of sleep in more than 10 months, I feel drained. Creatively. And physically. Spent, in every way. The time to write & the moments of inspiration just do not coincide. And when I do have time, like now, I flip to “inspiration, saved for later” and find…nothing.

I guess the good news is that it’s starting to dawn on me that perhaps the two (sleep deprivation/fatigue, and inspiration, lack of) are related….

long time, no write

It’s been forever since I was here.

26 days to be exact.

In part because I have been alternating between sick and swamped at work, leaving me neither the time nor the energy to sit down in front of a computer at home. But mostly because in the moments I did find the time to write, I found I didn’t have anything to say. I was spent. You can’t force inspiration. It just doesn’t work that way. You can’t sit down, put on your inspiration cap, and tell yourself “Time to write….now what are we going to say today?” Nothing worth writing or reading comes of that.

But it’s also a balancing act, because there’s the pitfall of falling into thinking that because what I have to say isn’t brilliant or perfect, I have nothing worth saying at all.

There’s all kinds of advice out there about how to break through writer’s block, but, for me, there is no surefire cure, other than carving out some time and space away from the computer, but only while giving myself the permission to take a break, so that I’m coming back to something I enjoy, and not trying to escape something that’s become a burden.

FAM Turns 6!

happy-birthday-candles

Today is the 6th birthday of my little blog. I can’t believe it’s actually been six years. Sure, it came off the tracks a lot during those six years. When Funky-Ass Monkey wasn’t online, it was because I was grappling with being overworked, an all-time low of energy thanks to Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, and all manner of other things. Things like blog identity crisis. All I blogged about early on was how much life in PHX sucked. Well, that, and how museum work is was awful. Things that are still part of my life experience, but not what I wanted my blog to be centered around. So when I brought it back in 2012, I carefully curated and removed posts – not because I’m ashamed of them, but because I’ve learned a lot about what I want my blog to be and where my boundaries lie in terms of what I’m willing to share.

But the most challenging obstacle that prompted me to stop blogging and simultaneously regret that I’d stopped blogging was crushing, debilitating doubt in my writing abilities, an ever-present hypercritical voice inside my head that said that I should quit. Because I didn’t have anything good to say. Because I wasn’t funny enough, distinctive enough. Because I wasn’t good enough. And then beating myself up because 1) I wasn’t good enough to “be” a blogger and 2) quitting my blog made me a quitter, because I was abandoning my dream of being a writer.

What I didn’t know then that I know now is that the best therapy for me was that I should write. Because it’s how I unravel my thoughts. It’s how I get what’s in my head out of my own way so I can move on. And it’s how I can move past being hypercritical and way too hard on myself. In fact, blogging in particular helps me to see that my writing doesn’t have to be perfect before I hit “publish.” That I can be okay with letting my writing go and not constantly tweaking and reworking, revisiting my drafts over and over again, only to find new things that need to be “fixed” each and every time. It’s one thing to constantly strive to improve. It’s another to never move forward because you are your own worst critic. I finally decided enough is enough. I could either keep revising and revising in pursuit of elusive perfection…or I could just start to accept my writing for what it is and let good enough go. What I found is that publishing my posts, even or perhaps especially those that weren’t perfect, is the very act that let me carve out the space to find new inspiration. Staring at a draft over and over with a hypercritical eye didn’t help me get any better. Actually writing and hitting publish is what will help me hone my craft and improve. But another important reason I’ve returned to blogging is: It’s what I like to do. It took a long time for me to realize that simply enjoying blogging is reason enough to do it. So I made it my New Year’s resolution this year to blog every day so that I wouldn’t forget to make time for myself and something so small that brings me a lot of pleasure. And while I haven’t quite achieved a post a day, I am proud of all the days that I have managed to post. And I feel my creative mojo trickling back little by little.

Tongue Tied

I haven’t had much to post lately. Actually, that’s not true. I have lots to say. It’s like thoughts and ideas and posts are just spilling out of me so fast I can’t get them down to paper computer monitor before they float downstream. I have half-baked scraps of posts strewn all over the place. Shards of ramblings that I need to fully develop into posts before I can publish but I just can’t seem to get my act together. Sure, I’ve been home from work with a sick 7 month old for almost 2 weeks with no time to put on pants, nevermind write. And sure, I myself have been really ill. But it’s just so damn frustrating to have so much to say and not enough time to figure out how to say it. It’s like some kind of clogged writer’s block. I start to type all stream of consciousness, only to find that somewhere near the end of the post, I’ve run out of steam and forgotten where this is all going. Or how I meant to construct the narrative. Or the example I wanted to include. So I just keep saving drafts, hoping that I’ll have the chance to revisit, come back, and whip that draft into shape. I’m still hopeful that I’ll have that chance, but in the meantime, just wanted to check in and say “Hey Interwebz! Yeah, how you been?”