I drove to church this past Sunday (I’ll spare you the list of excuses I have, both reasonable and un-, for driving instead of biking), and on the way home, “Float On” by Modest Mouse came on the radio. I’ve operant-conditioned myself (I’m taking an intro psych class right now, ok) since 2004 to crank the volume whenever I hear that drum riff at the beginning of the song, and the reward has been immediate and consistent every time in twelve years: good feels.
The sky was doing that November-in-Portland, could-rain-at-any-moment-but-right-now-it’s sunny thing, and I drove through the intersection in northeast Portland where I was hit by a pick-up truck on my bike in 2008, and I thought about how little that event negatively effects my life now, and how big and horribly important it felt to me at the time (and for a long time after). We’ll float on, right?
I thought about getting divorced a few years ago, and the friendly happy-birthday email I’d sent my ex-husband just the other day. We’ll float on.
This feels like some cheesy bullshit, but please don’t mistake it for positive-thinking crap. Those things both sucked a lot at the time. Like, a lot. But eventually, they stopped sucking and became learning experiences and new opportunities. At the very least, they stopped hurting as much.
So I thought about these things while the song played, and cried a little, and when the song ended I turned the radio off and drove in silence the rest of the way home.
More recently, I met J for lunch tacos before work. We were chowing down as a line formed at the counter, and I commented that, at 1:30 or so, it was late for a lunch rush. We chatted inanely back and forth about lunch hours, and then I said: “At my last job, I used to wait as long as possible before taking lunch, so that I’d have less time at work after my lunch was over.” J kind of looked at me for a moment. “Yeah… I shouldn’t have stayed at that job for so long.” I can’t believe, in retrospect, how stuck I felt, and how long I let myself stay in a job I hated, feeling worse and worse at it and worse and worse about myself and my prospects.
I mean, I can believe it; I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to shake myself out of it (thanks Mom), but I’m not exactly in the awesomest of financial positions now (to say the very least), and I’m more than a little daunted by the next few years of my life. I’m moving out of my studio apartment this month and into my parents’ in-law unit; I’m working a low-paid, part-time job; I’m about to be enrolled in school half-time, with student loans.
I’ve been thinking with a lot of intention about my priorities since I quit my job in July, and I’ve been encountering my priorities in my every day life, too. When I first got back to Portland in September, I stayed with my folks while my subletter found a new place to live. I made a few trips, each separated by a couple of weeks, to my apartment to bring things back to my folks’ place so I’d have access to them.
First priority, the day I got back: my cats and their accoutrements. (My loved ones.)
Second priority: A couple duffel bags full of clothes, ‘cause I’d been wearing the same three damn outfits all summer. (Publicly-visible self-expression?)
Third priority: Art supplies, a few books, boots, cozy quilts, my winter coat. (Warmth?)
I enrolled at PSU as a postbac student, registered for the one class it wasn’t too late to register for (intro psych, as mentioned), sent out a bazillion job applications, and eventually landed pretty much the perfect half-time job: working as an aide at a physical therapy clinic. Here’s what I am doing for the next few years: I am completing my prereqs (all the science I didn’t take in college), getting in some observation hours, learning about the field, and hoping to start applying for Doctorate of Physical Therapy programs in a year or so. Let’s go student loans, let’s go!
I feel sort of shockingly good about this, and a little surprised at how easy, in retrospect (y’know, once I actually got a job offer and wasn’t just throwing resumés out into the void with no feedback), it was to get on this path. I did it by acknowledging that the things I had tried so far, as far as my career is concerned, had not worked and were not working. So I rearranged my priorities, and instead of assuming that the things I’d always thought I wanted, like “creative expression,” would eventually magically somehow lead to other things I’ve always wanted, like “financial security” and “the ability to support a family,” I took a good hard look at my strengths and weaknesses, and then I started from “financial security” and worked my way down.
Here’s a truth about me: I suck at hustle. Two years in marketing, four years as a wedding photographer — these things have shown me that I straight up do not have what it takes to mold my dream job out of the new economy, the internet, my creatives skills, et cetera, the way I kinda always thought I eventually might.
In August, I sat across from Elana at a breakfast place in New York, telling her about my thought process so far and the paths I was considering that might get me where I wanted to be, and she looked up from her pancakes and said, “have you thought about physical therapy?” and I said, “huh. No” and I thought about it.
Being a PT requires schooling, but not so much hustle. It is a fairly well-defined title with a well-defined role. Starting salaries post-degree are good. I am good at school. Being a PT requires creative problem-solving, which I love, and working directly with people, which I also love. Unlike many other healthcare workers, PTs get a lot of one-on-one time with their patients. There is always more to learn in the field. It’s evidence-based, but with lots of room for personal experience and trial-and-error. There’s both variety and routine. Some PTs specialize; others work with people of all ages who are rehabbing from injuries and traumas of many different types. I have benefitted from physical therapy myself, and I love the idea of helping people exist more happily in their bodies. I will get to exist in my body while working, too.
So, when I stopped looking for what I felt like I wanted to do and started considering what I want my life to be like (how I want to be when I grow up, vs. what I want to be), I found something I’m actually really excited about.
I wish it hadn’t taken me so damn long to figure this out. On a bad day I feel downright despairing about the way I “wasted” my twenties. At thirty I should be grown up, with a career and a family, not divorced, broke, going back to school to take all the science classes I should have taken in college.
But in the days after I got hit by that pick-up truck in 2008, unhappy and in pain and horrified by the swollen lump over my left collarbone where the bone was broken into several jagged pieces, I flipped through my boyfriend’s copy of that crazy/wonderful book by Ram Dass, Be Here Now, and stared and stared at this page:
It’s not that the caterpillar doesn’t have control over her own destiny. It’s that she can’t possibly see what’s coming. In Stehekin this summer, Paint Your Wagon, in that overheard conversation, taught me another thing about butterflies: in order to be the beautiful, flying creatures they were always meant to be, they need to struggle. Scientists who tried to help by cutting them out of their cocoons discovered that “it doesn’t work. The struggle pushes fluid into their wings. They need to struggle to break the cocoon to be strong enough to fly. Strength comes from the struggle.”
I wish I could find a source for this that wasn’t a feel-good allegorical retelling just like this one, but I can’t. But: it sure does feel useful to think about struggle in this way — to give it meaning. But: that’s got to be some kind of logical fallacy — there’s got to be a word for it — narrativizing the past in such a way that it just has to have arrived at the present with some kind of intention. So I can say: I had to spend my twenties wandering from job to dissatisfying job, in order to learn what I needed to learn about myself and the world to find and recognize a better path. I believe it, I feel it, and I chafe against it. I feel so angry at myself. So impatient.
When I was breaking up with my ex-husband, I felt incredibly ashamed. I judged myself for my failed marriage because I had always judged others for theirs. So when I finally told my friends, and they said, “it’s okay, we love you,” and I finally told my parents, and they said, “it’s okay, we love you”… that experience was powerful. The experience of being understood and forgiven made me a more empathetic, forgiving person (eventually).
All of these lessons are two-steps-forward, one-step-back deals. But there’s forward motion. Maybe a narrative arc. Or a narrative fallacy. Whatever.
This is gonna be a strange leap from there, maybe, but — I’m trying in some kind of long-winded roundabout way to write about my conversion to Christianity. It feels weird to write that, because I still don’t feel unhesitant to claim that identity. I have a doctor’s appointment coming up, and the clinic sent me a bunch of paperwork to fill out, my health history and so on — and some demographic information, including a little blank for “religion.” I left it blank.
I can’t stop reading The Toast’s Convert Series ’cause I’m trying to figure out where and how it happened for me. There wasn’t one moment. It was a series of moments, I guess, spread out over many years.
In 2012 I did this project I called “holy daze” wherein I studied Christianity and kinda sorta followed the church calendar. I intended to do this with other religions, too, one year at a time, but then I got divorced instead. I left the Bay Area and my UU church in Oakland and put a lot of things on hold, including religion, though I continued to go to UU church on Christmas and Easter and cry during the hymns about Christ.
Over lunch yesterday, my mom asked me, “Why Jesus? Why Christ? Why not Buddhism or Judaism or something else?”
I said, “Cultural context?” and spoke a bit about how I feel culturally connected to Judeo-Christian culture, and how Judaism would feel appropriative, and all those things are true, but mostly it’s because I cry at Christmas and Easter services while singing about Jesus Christ.
Maybe if I still lived in the Bay Area, I would still be more or less happy at my UU church in Oakland, which I loved. (And, doctrinally speaking, I will be a universalist forever, if not a unitarian.) But I was a member of that church while I wrote all this, while I looked for meaning in the trinity and sin and salvation. I reread all of it the other day, an hour or so before I had a meeting over tea with the pastor of the church I’ve been attending for a few weeks now. I was taken by surprise, a little, by some of it… I was reminded that this really has been quite a long time coming. In the last “holy daze” post I wrote, I talked about digging wells, looking for water/truth. Maybe I feel the ground getting moist in this one; to mix my metaphors, it feels like good soil. Maybe it doesn’t matter which well I choose to dig in, and maybe I’ll really be sort of agnostic my whole life. But I can tell you with certainty that it’s possible to be two things at once: an agnostic and a believer. Picking communion bread out of my teeth with my tongue, and overwhelmed by and grateful for the sacrament and for God’s forgiveness.