It’s a Dirty Job, and You Rock for Doing It

My dad is a complicated man that I don’t write about much, in part because it takes a lifetime to figure out our relationship with our family, and in part to respect his privacy. However, I know one thing. My dad works. He works long. He works hard. And working and providing is his means of showing love and commitment to a family.

For as long as I can remember, my dad has worked what’s most often called a blue collar job: as a machinist at a factory. He works 12 hour shifts, and is on his feet the majority of that time. He looks at work as  a necessary part of life, where enjoyment is not a requirement. For my dad, work has always been borne out of necessity and social and familial obligations. And without people doing jobs like his, our factories could not run, and some of the most fundamental substances in our day to day lives would cease to be made and distributed.

Conversations with him about my work woes are not unlike those I have with one of my favorite priests, another southern man of about my dad’s age. Both of them have told me a number of time over the years, “If work was fun, they wouldn’t call it work.”

I’ve been thinking about them- and people like them of their generation, who are either unwilling or unable to retire- as I consider my own generation and the predicament in which we find ourselves. There is much popular rhetoric around “doing what you love”, “following your dreams”, and “finding/following your bliss”, yet many of us are stuck with student loans, poverty, and frustrating, fruitless job searches in our field. And for lots of us, retail jobs, service industry work, and entry level jobs outside our field are the only immediate and short term solution. They are the blue collar jobs of this age: the hard work that everyone needs done, few acknowledge or praise, and even few commit to doing.

So, while we may not be working in factories and the like as often as our parents, many of us still do dirty work, even though we want/are qualified to do something else. If you are in that situation: working in a service job, or on a cubicle row, or in a retail store, in order to meet your needs, listen now and listen good.

You’re doing what needs doing for yourself and/or for your family. You are working hard to meet needs of yourself and people you love. You are meeting vital needs within your community, without which many wouldn’t have the goods, services, and conveniences they depend on. And you need never be ashamed of that.

Obviously, if your job is damaging to your health and well-being in some way, it is prudent to come up with an exit strategy that makes sense for your needs [I had to do this recently, a decision that prompted my getting serious about my mental health, for which I am very grateful]. But it’s likely that your job is just somewhere you need to be to pay the bills and get/stay out of debt, and if that’s the case, don’t lose heart. Those goals are worthwhile and accomplishing them, even if it is through something commonplace, is worthy and wonderful.

Your career is just that, nothing more. If you have a career that does not have a creative outlet, you can still make time. Your job does not make you a sell-out by default. If your career does not align with your calling, this does not mean you have replaced one with the other. There is always someone in your peer group or your community who needs help, or a group to whom you can volunteer your time. There are ways of following your bliss and finding joy that are practical and everyday. If we focus on finding them in the everyday, we can learn to truly nurture and sustain our joy, rather than injecting it for a short-term rush through a couple of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. If we look for it, we can find humility and simplicity in hard work, and that opens the door to a freedom that diversion cannot always afford us.

So, if you have ever sold me something in a store, poured me a drink, made me a coffee, served me a burger, or cleaned a home or business that I have visited: thank you for what you do. You are intelligent, valued and amazing for your hard work. You are the legs your community (and society) stands on, and I hope you know you rock for what you do. If you are a stay-at-home or single parent, your job is work and it is invaluable. If you are a student who has not been able to use your degree, your education will never lose its value, and whatever job you are working now is important.

Whatever your work is, it matters. Whatever society or your peers or anyone else tries to say to shame you into thinking your work has no value does not matter in the slightest. There’s no shame in a hard day’s work, and whatever you need to do to ensure your needs are met and you are able to share your free time with friends and family is worth doing. You are appreciated and your job, and the community you live in, wouldn’t be the same without the work you do. Thank you.

Fear & Shaming in Nashvegas

Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Hello. I’m Beth.  And I am afraid.

I am afraid I am not really a writer because a real writer wouldn’t be afraid to write, or wouldn’t wonder whether or not she was a writer.
I am afraid that other people don’t think I am a writer, either, because anyone can blog.
I am afraid I am not a writer because writers are artists, and sharing your opinions, struggles, or personal stories is not art.
I am afraid of my own opinions about social and cultural issues: that they are too too lax or too controversial for my religious friends, too intolerant for my friends who are not religious or who are not a part of my religion, incorrect, inaccurate, biased, or in some other way wrong.
I am afraid when my opinions are popular, because that makes me a conformist, a sheep, godless, or one of those weirdo Christians (depending on the day, and the issue or topic being explored).
I am afraid when they are unpopular because they might be off-base, informed by some unknown bias, or outright wrong.
I am afraid to have conversations or to post writing about these opinions on social media because I am afraid of being judged, criticized, or proven wrong in a way that makes me feel small.
I am afraid to send my posts to Huffington Post anymore, because one piece that took me months to write drew pages of criticism and trolling.
I am afraid to post to my own blog anymore, because who calls themselves a blogger that never blogs, or: who the heck wants to read a blog about someone who just talks about how afraid she is of literally everything?
I am not a good enough writer because I am not a strong-stable-or-together enough woman, an independent-enough advocate, or a smart-enough blogger.

***
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.- Nelson Mandela 

“There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.”- 1 John 4:12

I realized recently- after a series of debilitating panic attacks and depressive episodes- that so much of what I did (or don’t do) was driven by fear and its close cousin, shame. This realization wasn’t due to some philosophical epiphany or accrual of great wisdom, but because whenever John or another loved one asked me what was wrong, my answer would invariably start with either “I’m scared [or worried] that. . .” or with a litany of things I disliked or even hated about myself.

Then I started connecting the dots. I hadn’t produced anything creative in months upon months, in spite of yearning to write to you all to share my stories about my totally rad new marriage, my struggles with the unpredictability of nonprofit sector employment, or my resolution to read more books (which I am actually keeping, because I barely read any books last year: score!).  I had stopped stirring the pot in conversations and on social media, and was posting way less satire or evocative writing from others I admire. People were asking me questions like “How are you doing. . . really?” and making their best concerned faces.

“Fine,” I would say. But I was really just a time bomb composed almost entirely of frustration, tears and calling myself names that I would never call someone else.

In my rush to keep my negative emotions and struggles with shame, fear, and self-loathing a secret (so I wouldn’t burden anyone, or be perceived as a weak, weepy, weirdo, etc.), I kept the joys and triumphs a secret, too. I numbed and closed off all my emotions (because you can’t pick and choose what you numb), and kept connection and intimacy at bay across the board.

I finally got to the point where I was afraid of how ashamed I was, and ashamed of how afraid I was. “That’s enough. This has got to stop.” I actually said those words aloud, and that was when the clouds began lifting.

In addition to leaning in to the rigor of the Lenten services and prayers, I began reading and discussing (amongst a few loved ones) Daring Greatly by Dr. Brené Brown.

[Note: although my theology shares a lot of common ground with the principles in the book, it is research-based and practical in nature: I would highly recommend it for your personal enrichment, Lenten or otherwise.]

I admit, I was embarrassed to buy a book from the self-improvement section, but to say my self didn’t need any improvement would mean I should also be buying books about lying.

Anyway, Dr. Brown gets into the nitty-gritty of shame and vulnerability and how they cripple creativity, relationships, and self-worth. She unpacks over a decade of research, and suddenly I found myself saying “I am scared of everything, and that is a problematic situation in several ways. It’s science!” That was when I really started to grasp that fear and shame were not only holding me back from being creative, but were suffocating and hiding entire parts of myself and my struggle through the joys and the difficulties of life. I was fed up with who I had become, and the fact that I neither knew nor recognized her.

So I decided to take baby steps by posting a detailed account of this battle for you and God and everyone else to read about and weigh in on via the Internet.

This doesn’t mean I can say I will blog every week or every month, or that those fears I listed up at the top have stopped, or will stop anytime soon. I haven’t figured it out, I haven’t vanquished any foes. I have just realized that all of these things, even if they are huge and scary, can be pushed through, can be voiced, and their power over me can be diminished.

I don’t want to deprive anyone of my creativity or my individuality, or of my regular ole weird self, because I would rather look back and say, hey, my writing was worth it to me. Or, hey, at least I pushed through it. Being brave doesn’t mean that you’re not scared of the monsters under the bed, it means you call them out and fight back. This is a vulnerable process and we have to do it in some way every day. But I’m starting to see just how “worth it” the fight is.

What we give to the world out of our uniqueness is our art, whether it is a painting, a blog, an academic paper, a good meal, or an honest connection to another person. Whatever you do to be your true self is worth it, even though doing it is scary. You are not alone. Success is not having no battles to fight, it’s fighting and and strengthening and pushing through that makes us better in the long run.

There’s no way I could end this post saying “That’s it, I’m done with fear.” But I am done with being ruled by fear (and shame). I’m done with making excuses, with disconnection. I want to be myself, and for people I encounter through my writing or in my life to actually know who that is.

i am a terrible blogger.

I have a confession to make, you guys. Well, two.

The first is that I cannot stop listening to the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis album [the Heist], and I don’t care who knows it. Seriously. I listen to it once a day right now. Not only is Sir Macklemore  excellent at the hip-hoppery, he is smart. And I love a smarty.

The only better pop album to come out recently is Justin Timberlake’s opus of smooth, the 20/20 Experience [obviously, i mean, who are we kidding?]. Do yourself a favor and get both of those albums right now and listen to them. Yes, they’re commercially popular, but so is food, and everybody’s gotta eat. 

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My other confession is. . . I am a terrible blogger. I started off the year like the over-achieving boyfriend in an 80s teen romantic comedy. I had grand plans: wooing you all with flowers, rides in my convertible, and promises of weekly posts. But I’ve only managed to let you down over and over again with [maybe] monthly offerings [if you’re lucky].  

I love writing, and I think there is something beautiful about the ease with which I can share my writing in this format. I also want you all to know what’s going on, and I want to share the love through my writing whenever I can.

I like giving pause, making people think, and reminding them they are loved. I know that when I’m not writing, it is harder for me to help others in those ways. That’s really why I’m a blogger in the first place. But without blogging, I can’t accomplish any of that- at least not in a way I can see easily.

So, I’m sorry I’m a terrible blogger. 

ImageI’m sorry. But I’m not.

With working, teaching ESL twice a week, and taking an ESL certification class 3 weekends in a row, I have been slammed this month. I have spent the better part of the last 4 weeks exhausted, cranky, and probably one step above hallucinating a hot dog riding a unicorn across a rainbow bridge on the Delirium Scale.

On top of the physical and emotional demands of that schedule, I was forced to miss Church for most of July due to the fact that the Sunday classes were all-day, so I did not have my normal solace of receiving Communion and praying with my friends on Sundays.

It has not been easy. And I haven’t been writing a word.

But I have been learning. I’ve been learning how to be a human: how to be tired, how to lean on others for support, how to ask for help and prayers, how to make mistakes and learn from them; how to bite off more than I can chew, and what to do when that happens. I’ve been so focused on being a living, breathing, surviving, regular, normal human being. I just haven’t had time to be a proper blogger.

It’s been fantastic. Not because I didn’t write, or because it was fun and carefree. It’s been fantastic because- through God’s mercy and the love of my Someone and the people in my life- I’ve made it. 

Now that I know I can be an employee, a friend, a girlfriend, a student, a teacher, and a human all at the same time, maybe I can get back to being a blogger, too.

Maybe.

the update boogie: getting down to where i’ve been

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Blogging every week was going great for a while. Until I stopped about 6 weeks ago and remembered I have a job, up to 2 hours of commuting a day, a Church, a relationship, an apartment to maintain, and a social life. Yikes, Universe. What’s going on here? Who am I, and where did that little kid with no responsibilities and a Barbie Corvette Powerwheels go? [Yes, I really had one of those, and yes, I always drove it at the highest possible speed. Also: it was hot pink. Mindfreak.]

I have decided that I am going to blog when I can, not only because I enjoy keeping you all in the loop, but because I have new motivation to do so. I have been invited to be a regular contributor at OurAbility, an internet community for people with disabilities and their loved ones. I befriended their founder at a conference I attended recently. When he found out I am a blogger, he quickly suggested I contribute. I will be writing about whatever I want, but with a unique focus that will foster dialogue about disabilities and within the disability community.

I am thrilled about this opportunity as a writer and as a human being: to find common ground with someone, and then to be able to edify one another, that is a great responsibility with a great reward.

There is another thing keeping my attention, and I am growing more and more excited about it by the day. In May, I am taking a certification course to become an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. I had never considered a career change, much less to a career in teaching a subject I had no idea about, prior to a few months ago. But my personal and professional lives have aligned themselves in such a way that I realize: I need to do something new, and, in this case, it needs to be big. Not only will having the certification open me up to employment opportunities in a variety of places both here and [ahem] abroad, it will give me the chance to look the people I am helping in the eye, to learn from them and get to know them. . . which is something I have missed acutely since my joyous summers at camp.

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And the rest of the time, when I haven’t been working, growing up, praying, apartment cleaning, or planning a major life change, I’ve been Skyping. Being with someone an ocean away is not always a stroll down the thoroughfare, so to speak [do people actually say that?!] But I continue to be amazed at the grace, mercy, patience, and peace that follow us throughout our days. It is teaching me something I have always needed to learn: how to live in the present, enjoying the moments as they come, and how to dwell every little moment of blessing you can find. As he shows me every day, if you look for them, they are innumerable.

And more to come.

blogging the life fantastic

I don’t do nearly as much reading as I used to. In order for me to read something all the way through nowadays, I have to be transfixed. Captivate me. Make me think. Challenge me. Throw me into the fray right alongside the hero. When I write, it is no different. Whether you love it or hate it, I want you to feel something when you read it. I want to share what I see with you, whether it’s pretty or ugly.

So, why haven’t you heard from me lately? Is it because Moonrise Kingdom just came out on DVD, and I’ve been holed up watching it on constant loop? No [although that is an excellent guess if you know me well at all]. Is it because I’ve been working on a masterpiece to rival all previous blogs? As a matter of fact. . . no.

Moonrise Kingdom, original fan art by Adam Juresko

I haven’t written lately for the precise reason I should have: my life has been challenging and exciting, exhilarating and heartbreaking, romantic and infuriating. There has been so much fodder for creativity in this emotional tour de force that I should be crowding your inboxes. But I have been painfully silent.

For that, I apologize.  I am careful to avoid details on these posts that may make others uncomfortable, and the situations themselves are nothing unique to human beings. But the honest truth, nonetheless, is that my life has hurt lately. It has made me angry, and it has confused me to no end. I have been knocked off my feet, cried many an ugly-cry, eaten too many things that weren’t good for me, and listened to the saddest folk music imaginable. But, amidst the maelstrom, I noticed something.

I was still waking up each day, still going to a job and coming home to an apartment, and still surrounded by the love of God, and the people he has given me to talk to, buy me beer, and bake me cookies. My life has managed to keep going, despite my complete uncertainty of how it will do so, or where it will take me along the way.

I recently watched an incredible film, two days in a row, that came onto my radar at the right time. In Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (for the Elderly and Beautiful), the owner of the hotel says, “In India, we have a saying: everything will be alright in the end. So if it is not alright, it is not yet the end.” Thanks for the knowledge bomb, Focus Features. I sat there on the couch, ruminating. Curses, I thought, I have officially been indie-schooled.

Even crazier was the thought that, not only would things eventually change for the better, but that there were already so many things in my life that had. When I stopped and began to think about it, I realized it very clearly. I slightly amended Joe’s little prayer in Joe vs. the Volcano tonight as I was winding down for the evening: “Dear God . . . thank you for my life.”

This doesn’t mean I’m loving every minute. There are still things I regret, and things I would change in a second if I could. There are moments when I wish I was a different person, and entire days where I want to be in a different place. My insides are still a whirlwind. I’m lucky if I can utter a clear “Lord, have mercy” some days. But it’s my life, I’m glad I have one, and I’m doing the best I can with it.

To everyone who has loved and supported me this past month, near and far, I say thanks. To everyone who has taught me with their silence, I  say thanks. And to all of you who have allowed me to be myself, even at its most frazzled, I owe you big time.

Thank you all for listening. Next time I won’t wait so long to tell you more.

it takes all kinds.

I have been debating whether to write this for weeks now. And once I decided to write it, I turned over and over in my head the question of whether or not to share it with anyone [and everyone, as the case may be].

At the risk of sounding a bit Doom and Gloom, I have to level with you guys and say this is the hardest, weirdest, most difficult Lenten season I have had yet. There has been lots of uncertainty, sadness, fear, brokenness, and anxiety. There has been a little reprieve here and there. But even that seems strained and out of place.

So, if we haven’t talked in a while, forgive me. I haven’t known where to start, and I haven’t wanted to trap you under a fast-flowing stream of molten Sad.

It’s the strangest feeling; it’s not just introspection. It’s something like isolation. Lately, I feel like I am a million miles away from how my life used to be. And not in the inspirational, empowering chick pop kind of way, either. And I feel a million miles away from figuring any of it out. In spite of the love I know surrounds me, it seems the comfort of even my closest friends is still somehow out of my reach. My whole life has that feeling you get when you realize you are light years away from the stars.

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Philo of Alexandria [or Plato, or your mom] once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” Everyone. The guy that cut you off in traffic, the girl who is mean to you at work, the annoying close-talker seated next to you on the bus. Every single person you come into any kind of contact with has it rough in some way. Sounds kind of emo, right? But held up to the right light, it can be comforting to know we’re not alone, even though it is easy to feel that way when the going gets dodgy.

We’re all getting tested this time of year. Lent (and life, to an extent) seems to be the kind of thing where, if it’s not difficult, you’re probably not going about it the right way. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself lately.

But we have the solace of Grace to comfort us, even when it seems very dark. And when it’s difficult to discern its coming from Above, we can do our best to share it amongst ourselves. In other words, hang in there. I love you. You’re doing just fine.

O, Lord and Master of my life

Grant me not a spirit of sloth, meddling, lust for power and idle talk.

But grant unto me, thy servant, a spirit of integrity, humility, patience, and love.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults, and not to condemn my brother,

For Thou art blessed unto Ages of Ages. Amen.- the Prayer of St Ephrem

Badvatar

I hate to admit it, but I was among the Close-to-the-Population-of-Earth number of people who went to the movie theatre to see Avatar. Or as some may call it, Dances With Wolves [in space!]. Or, as still others may call it, Fern Gully [in space!]. I enjoyed it the way one might enjoy a heap of grease-soaked diner food: it seemed like a good idea at the time, it was okay, I was satisfied in the moment, it took me forever to get through it, and once it had been a while, it didn’t sit well.

Why-you may ask-did I, of all people, spurn Avatar? After all, there’s a guy in a wheelchair in the main role, for goodness’ sake.

You’re right. The protagonist is in a wheelchair. He is also muscley and manly, and is completely emotionally unavailable. AND he saved an entire alien planet from mean, greedy white people. What’s not to like?

Again, I see where you’re coming from. And to an extent, I agree. But I feel like saving a planet, being a hero, and getting the hot Native Amer–I mean, alien–girl would have been sufficient for most movies of the White-Guy-Saves-Natives-From-Other-Different-White-People genre.

But no, the coup de grace for Wheels McFightsALot is still to come. After risking his life to save generations on the Home Planet of The Blue Man Group, his triumph is fully realized when he gets his Sea Legs back. By the end of the film, he can run and jump and play on the playground like all his other friends.

Really?

That’s what I’m supposed to take from this?

Oh, man. He doesn’t have to be in a wheelchair anymore. That was totally the BEST part of the whole MOVIE.

I understand.

It’s a fantasy.

It’s not bound by typical constraints.

But Avatar leaves me feeling suspiciously like I just witnessed a faith healing. . . on the set of Pocahontas [in space!].

Granted, I shouldn’t expect the guy who directed Titanic to come up with a small budget cult classic with minimal special effects and a predictable plot line, but I can never shake the sense of disappointment I feel when I hear someone call it a great movie.

At the end of the day, I have to cross my fingers and hope that people don’t really look at life the way they do in the movies. Because I do hope for my life to get better and better, but I do not equate that with typical extremities.

In order for a truly great story to be told, there have to be a few imperfections here and there. The guy and girl can’t really realize they’re in love until they’ve fought and spent time apart. The nation can’t truly pull together to defend itself without the impetus of a crisis. So why should a hero have to get his legs fixed? Why can’t he just be gnarly and awesome and heroic the way he is?

It’s been a rough few weeks: challenges at work, at keeping the apartment in order, and in my family; emotional low points, friends coming and going and changing themselves; adjusting to a new job, living situation, and parish simultaneously. Not to mention this time has generally been one of intense introspection and self-work, in terms of Faith.

I haven’t written because I haven’t been able to think of anything to say. There haven’t been any stories from my life I could package well for you; nothing I could tie up in a pretty bow.

Then again, perhaps that’s the way it should be. After all, my life isn’t Last of the Mohicans [in space!] Perhaps the best st0ries are the ones with the flawed hero, the messy conflicts, and the uncertain ones. Let’s hope so, for my sake.