Treading (Cold) Water

In my most recent round of climbing out of the rabbit hole, I’ve read and listened to lots of people with lots of ideas about self improvement. In my interpretation, the most useful advice all stems from the exact same core ideas.

Not that I’m going to summarize them for you here. If you ended up on this blog in hopes of the answer to life’s mysteries, that’s unfortunate and hilarious.

I just finished two weeks of tech rehearsals for my new show. For you civilians, that means I haven’t slept or done the shit I need to do to be less crazy for a while. If you’re a parent, it’s a lot like having a newborn who doesn’t like you. I’m lucky to remember how the coffee maker works, I’m constantly checking to make sure I’m wearing pants, and my head is most definitely not my friend right now.

So core self-improvement ideas may be the same, but unless someone presents them in a way that resonates with you, they don’t hit. I’ve read innumerable versions of these same ideas over the years that didn’t make a dent.

The fact that I’m even attempting to write today comes directly out of what Scott Adams says when he speaks of Systems vs. Goals.  If you have system in place, you can fail at specific goals but still win. Putting out a blog post on Sunday is a system. It forces me to create something, connect, think about something other than work, practice writing, and do something scary that pushes me outside my comfort zone. It isn’t a goal to have x-number of comments, garner a book deal, or get more people than my immediate family to read it. Doing it is the system, and that’s enough.

Tim Ferris says that when you’re struggling, share the thing that you’re struggling with. Let it be embarrassing. Let it be honest. Let it be.

I can do that.

So we’re working ridiculous hours. It’s temporary, it’s part of the gig, and we’re making overtime.

Stupidly, we had a conversation about what we were going to put the extra money towards.

In the past month, the washing machine broke, was repaired, then finally had to be replaced. The next week, the garage door went. After that, #3 suddenly required a housing deposit for college that was inexplicably three times what it was last year.

Then the door fell off the minivan.

van
For fuck’s sake.

This was after the snow storm (By the way, stagehands don’t get snow days. Although if you’re super fortunate, your show may get you a room in the city, which mine did).

The door on the minivan was a conundrum. CC and I stood in the parking lot at eleven o’clock at night, with a combined total of six hours of sleep between us, completely baffled. We couldn’t get the door all the way off, and we couldn’t get it back on. Plus, all our tools were at work. It was towed to our mechanic. Then towed to the dealer. Then to the dealer’s body shop, where it remains today, ten days later. It might be ready tomorrow. It might not. CC leaves for Toronto on Tuesday.

And I’m still in production. Someone I love is in the hospital in another state and I can’t get to them yet. My dreams at night are of destruction and trying to solve problems that don’t have answers. I’m sure I’m going to be fired any minute, and convinced that this is the last job I’ll ever be hired for. I hide on my meal breaks and try to regenerate enough energy to finish the next session. I’m embarrassed how hard it is for me, but this is what happens to me when I don’t sleep.

Sleep deprivation is an exponential power added on to every single flaw and concern in my life. I just keep trying to remember that not all of the things in my head are true, and that all of the things both in and out of my head will pass.

chairdogs
It’s okay. Just take a nap.

 

Saturday morning I chose sleep over a shower.

Last night our hot water heater went. The plumbers come tomorrow, well after I’m at work. Once again, our overtime has other plans. And now it’s been a little while since I’ve been clean. I’m currently debating the merits of going to the gym to take a shower, taking a cold one here, or just simply not giving a fuck.

Right now, the latter is winning. It has a high chance of still winning at 5am tomorrow. I’d apologize in advance, but it appears I’m all out of fucks to give.

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Beautiful

When I started this blog, I made some rules about certain things I wouldn’t write about. Number one on the list is the ex. Number two is anything with the kids that is truly maddening and/or heartbreaking.

There still is great value to the rules guiding me. Being a stepmom is a fluid role, ever changing, with lots of improv that may or may not be written into the script. I don’t want to wallow in negativity, nor immerse myself in problems that have no answer, but I reserve the right to break my own rules.

CC and I love each other, and we’re on the same page with respect to the kids about 98% of the time. I’ve sought support from enough stepmom forums and blogs to know that makes our situation rarer than a line at the Ladies’ Room at a Rush concert. I’m not even a little bit surprised at the divorce rate for second marriages with children.

So, what the fuck does any of this have to do with china?

old

I’m not an object-oriented person. As I discussed last week, I’m not known for my mad homemaking skillz.

Three months after CC, the kids, and I all moved in together, we moved to a place that was almost big enough for us, with space to unpack most of our stuff. One day I stumbled upon a pile of boxes from CC’s storage unit in New Hampshire. They were full of the most beautiful, different styles of china. It was like finding treasure.

I hand-washed and dried everything, found places for it to live where I hoped it wouldn’t get broken, and started thinking of occasions to use it. For people who work nights and weekends and have five kids who were under 13 at the time, that’s Christmas. . . but still.

When CC got home, I greeted him with, “I unpacked the china!” He gave me an odd smile, and told me that in all the years of their marriage, his ex-wife never let those boxes come up from the basement.

She never allowed them to be unpacked.

I showed him where I stored everything and he started picking up plates and telling me stories. Every piece had a history: his grandparents’ wedding china from Tiffany. Several pieces that dated back to the 1700’s. The Sunday dinner plates from when he was growing up (his was the train).

train

Eating is family time. Even if you have scattered schedules, eat in front of the TV, or use paper plates, those memories are burned into your brainpan. I remember the green plastic bowl with feet and a face that I used to eat my Spaghetti0s from. When I go to my sister’s house, she serves me on the china we grew up with. I hold the plate and remember:

  • My mom’s fried chicken
  • Learning table manners
  • The time I was so hungry I ate three helpings of everything
  • When my sister’s class took a field trip to the City Market in Indianapolis and she spent her pocket money on a single ear of corn
  • Accidentally taking a huge gulp of wine and spitting it back into the glass and then watching my dad finish it
  • The fight my parents had on Mother’s Day that was the beginning of the end of their marriage.

CC’s ex doesn’t have a spot in my blog because it’s mine. Unless you have done this yourself, you have No. Fucking. Idea. How. Much. Work. I have put in over the last ten years to be able to dig in and find compassion for her. Every heartbreaking, gut-wrenching thing she has done to the kids has, in fact, stemmed from mental illness. Mental illness is super shitty and takes countless different forms. We didn’t say those words for a long time because we didn’t want it to sound like we were badmouthing her. But at some point, that gives a kid a really fucked up perspective on love. Knowing it is mental illness doesn’t make it suck any less. The truth will set you free. . .eventually.

Yet, I return to the china, and I don’t understand. I get that sometimes beauty isn’t practical, and that things are simply things. But I can’t wrap my head around burying a beautiful piece of your spouse’s history in a cardboard box in the basement and never letting it see the light of day. Maybe it was a symptom of the undeveloped mental illness, but I fear many of us make equally one-sided choices far too often.

CC and I are both in production on new shows right now. His company put him up in the city this week and his hotel was right next to my theater, which was almost so perfectly awesome –and then our breaks never lined up. I didn’t see him until my birthday on Friday, when he met me for dinner and brought me a gift:

creamer

It’s the creamer pitcher that matches our own wedding china. I saw the pattern on the cover of a magazine the year we got married, fell in love with it, and looked forward to making our own memories. We only have enough of it to serve our family plus one guest, so we mix with the other pieces in a collage of mismatched patterns. It suits us perfectly.

It’s cool if you don’t give a shit about china. I get that. But if there’s something important to your spouse, you should be the first one to know about it, and do what you can to share it. We can all stand to ask ourselves if there’s anything boxed up and shelved that could use some unpacking, a little dusting off, and a bit of illumination.

Light

Near the end of last summer, after clumping around the city in Da Boot for about a month, I got the results of my MRI. I was not even a little bit interested in having surgery, and sick to death of that goddamn boot.

So I wasn’t in the greatest state of mind, thumping slowly to the E train underground at 42nd street, when someone flew by me.

I mean, this guy flies the fuck past me. One arm and one leg, riding backwards in a manual wheelchair. He’s simultaneously propelling himself with his leg, pulling a suitcase with his arm, steering perfectly with his torso. Going somewhere. His skin looked like it had melted and been reformed. It looked like it still hurt.

It looked like it didn’t matter.

You never know someone’s story simply by looking at them, but I’m guessing IED, near something liquid and flammable. I’ve thought of that guy so many times since that night. Not in a nauseating bravely-succeeding-in-the-face-of-obstacles kind of way, but in a shit-okay-what’s-next kind of way.

My friend wrote an essay about having bipolar disorder and presented it in a workshop. All the feedback she got was like oh my God, I can’t believe you’ve succeeded despite all these hardships and handicaps weighing you down. The point she intended was entirely different: That her successes and failures in life were neither in spite of nor because of bipolar. It does not define her; it simply accompanies her as she goes about the business of living her life.

That’s not a perspective you’re born with. It’s not one that comes easily to most people. I think most who can consistently pull off that attitude have fought for it quite fiercely. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it.

When I think of that guy in the subway, I wonder if that could ever be me. If that were my life, could I ever get out of my own way enough to still go somewhere. When I think of him, I remind myself to try. I remind myself to quit whining and get on with the business of living my life.

I was listening to Jocko Willink being interviewed by Tim Ferriss. Jocko is a former Navy SEAL officer, instrumental in securing Ramadi. He’s an early riser because he wants that advantage over the enemy. In Ramadi, there was always a guy somewhere in a cave, rocking back and forth with a machine gun in one hand and a grenade in the other, waiting for him. He wants to be ready for that guy.

My enemy is my head. Some days it’s my friend, some days it talks shit to me, and some days it’s got explosives. What can I do to be ready for that guy? I ask myself this a lot. I have a lot of operational theories. Periodically, I get to test them out.

Responding to the question of who he thinks of when he hears successful, Jocko instantly named three guys he had served with, all of whom were dead. They were bright points of light to him in the darkness of war. . . success measured not in achievements, but by the degree to which you can light up the darkness for someone.

I like that.

Here’s to light.