I made a promise to myself that I would take any offer of any kind of help. I don’t know much about accepting help. It’s a really hard place for me to go. Especially when I look at all the misery in this world and all the other people who also really need a hand. I’m hardly the only person who’s caught in this same trap.
But I did this today. I went out in the world and talked to people and let people buy me coffee and food and give me money. And it’s an emotional roller coaster for me. I bounce from tears of misery to tears of joy to genuine laughter to cynical laughter. But what I really want to say is thank you to those people with their hands and hugs and hearts. I don’t have to live in terror of the heating bill and I can get a few groceries and pay that application fee. And this makes a huge difference. And I can’t say thank you enough. And I have some little spark of confidence and direction and hope and try back.
Yes, that application fee. It’s still not too late to finish an application and at least try. I had two good talks with good people today. As I left the first I realized that I already know the answer to what I really want to do. If I had total freedom and no responsibilities and plenty of resources I’d go to seminary. But I don’t. For one, I can’t move my kids out of state without a custody battle and seminary means making another big move to another state. There are no options that direction in New Mexico. And it’s not likely my ex would be cool with it if I took the kids any further away than I already did. I’m pretty much sentenced to staying in New Mexico until my kids finish high-school. Not to mention the stress on the kids of making another big move. And on me in moving two kids to another new city where we know nobody and start all over again. So this is my first, deepest wish. But it’s a pipe dream for circumstances I don’t have.
And my second choice is to stay here and go to grad school. And I think about how the disappointment of seeing this as an impossibility was the straw that broke my back this week. About how I wanted to be filling out that application but realizing I couldn’t submit it if I did did me in. Which reveals something about how much I want this. And I think about what I’m going to do after grad school if I do manage it and what I do in the meantime. I think I would be a good teacher. I like the academic world. It’s not lucrative in anyway but it’s a place where positive differences can be made in the world. And education is about a lot more than knowledge, I think. Over and over teachers and professors have shaped me and my life for the better. I’ve been exceptionally blessed to have had (mostly) very good educators in my life. And some the most rewarding moments in my own life were working as tutor. I loved that work. I felt like I was doing something good in the world. But I don’t think I’m really cut out for teaching kids. I like kids but what I really liked was working with college students. Even my own kids drive me up the wall by the end of the day and they’re exceptionally good kids. Their teachers say so. 😉 But what I love is that it’s a place where the lights come on in more ways than one. It’s those few students who really light up who made it truly rewarding work. Some just want to learn enough to pass and sneak by, true. But then there are the beautiful moments of watching the pieces come together and seeing confidence pickup and knowing that this person is going to go out in the world and take this moment, this skill, this information, this little jewel of another frame in their worldview, along with them. So if this is my second choice it’s still one I really want. In the mean time, whatever else happens, I’m still looking for work, still babysitting and bartering and trying to make ends meet.
And I learned that there might be a way I can get funding for grad school. It’s a bit of a long shot and I didn’t even know this option was possible. But it’s a chance. It’s not a chance I want to count on. I still need to keep looking for other options. But it’s a chance I think I should pursue. See, after that talk I had lunch with a friend who said she wanted to pay my fee for me. And wow. I told her it’s still a long shot, still odds stacked against me to try this. But if she’s willing to gamble on me then I’m going to give it my best try. I don’t feel particularly hopeful that this is going to work but then nothing seems to be working right now and maybe the odds here are still about as good as the job market odds at the moment.
So I’m still damned depressed about being unemployed. And I’ve still got a lot of anxiety about this whole situation. And I’m still fighting my feelings of failure and fuckup. But I also feel cared about and feel like I did conquer the worst of my terror in owning up to where I am and my need for help in finding a way out of this. New Mexico might be a hard place but it is also home and the people are good. And this little city, this little city amazes me over and over with it’s compassion and community. I don’t really mind being sentenced to ten more years in New Mexico. Maybe unemployment is high and educational options are limited but what and who is here is real and beautiful and includes me.
It’s not something I want to get into, the faith thing, I’ve been going rounds with myself and God on that the last six months. That’s a whole story of it’s own. But I’m here on a leap of faith, that crazy idea to go back to school and move across the state and leave my comfortable little house on the bank of the irrigation canal. And somehow I have to trust that however depressing the present circumstance are, they are probably still part of the whole educational process thing for me. It’s one thing to theoretically understand the depression of long-term unemployment. It’s another thing entirely to actually experience it and live it and feel it. I’ve never had much of a surplus in my life. It’s always been lived on slim margins careful prioritizing. But somehow there has usually been enough.
I made a cup of coffee yesterday, real coffee, and thought about how careful I am to ration such relative luxuries. The days of just wanting to make coffee and having coffee seem like a dream. And I’ve never cared much for anything more than just plain black coffee. It’s simple and it’s where I’m comfortable. But I made my one cup of coffee, carefully measured, and thought about how being always careful and worried is, in itself, wearing and wearying. No wonder my hair’s going gray and I feel depressed. But if there’s one thing I’m really, really good at it’s making things last, getting the last drips and dregs out, repairing and repurposing and rationing and scrimping and saving. These are skills learned long ago, the careful prioritizing of what we really need and what we need but can put off and what’s just a want. There’s a lot of self-denial that goes into these decisions, a lot of wanting a cup of coffee and not having a cup of coffee, of needing a haircut and not getting a haircut. It becomes second nature to feel like I’m not worth these things. Bit by bit, month by month, it builds up and feeds into the spiral. And so even these little things, a cup of coffee and or slice of pizza are huge.
It’s the same thing with attention or affection, companionship or conversation. Isolation feeds this feeling that I don’t deserve things which are genuine human needs. We aren’t creatures that can survive well alone. We go crazy and die when our social needs aren’t met. But once I lost touch with the human world I felt more and more like I didn’t deserve to be a part of that human world. It becomes this cycle of anxiety and depression where the only way out of it is to go see people. This is where the shame really kicks in and eats me. I think I’ve got decent social skills, it’s rare I meet someone I truly can’t get along with. Even people I have serious disagreements with. Underneath it all I like people and I like myself. But shame is a killer. That shit will eat the soul, bones and hair and all.
And now I’m tired. Tired and still struggling but also grateful. I’m a far cry from peaceful or content but I also have my characteristic hope and ability to laugh at anything back. Sometimes it’s a cynical laugh, a dry humor, a willingness to see the absurdity in my own misery. And it is absurd, really, that we humans can be undone so easily. My cats don’t give a shit, they know nothing of shame or unemployment. As soon as the food got switched up for the cheapest brand they started going out and looking for their own breakfast at the crack of dawn. Eating a mouse on the porch or taking a bath in public or sitting on someone until getting a snuggle doesn’t bother them in the slightest. Not that I’m suggesting any of us do any of those things anytime soon. But I also can’t help but wonder at the absurdity of how much we drive our own, and each other’s, suffering with the slave whips of shame. It’s a shitty thing to laugh at, but it is funny, if dark. There’s a strange kind of theodicy in laughing at the suffering born of the shame we inflict on ourselves and each other. Because that is so much of what this comes down to for me, it’s not injured pride at lacking a good job, not a bruised ego over having been reject for even holiday temp retail work, it’s the shame of admitting this to the people I love and respect that really ate me up.
And yes, there are those few people who have judged me and found me wanting. Not everyone has been kind and supportive. And some people have promised to call or to call back and then mysteriously disappeared like I have a contagious and life threatening condition. And yes, it does hurt to learn that people I love, trust, respect don’t return the favor. But the handful of people who showed up and preformed the alchemy of turning shame into support are miracle workers for me in this moment.