Meaningful Work

So it has taken me quite a while, but I have managed to work my way through more of Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. And as I keep moving through it, I continually wonder exactly how it is that she has such a direct line into my head. Chapter after chapter, it sounds like she’s either reading my mind now or has in the past – but I would imagine a lot of people would feel that way, reading through this book. It seems to cover a variety of situations and circumstances that are common in all of our lives, simply because of the way in which we live or lives. The one that really made me want to write something, though, is Guidepost #9: Cultivating Meaningful Work.

Those of us who have jobs go to work. But not all of it is meaningful. I like working at B&N, but I don’t really find any meaning in it; it’s just something I do to make money and get experience that I can use further down the road. What Dr. Brown calls meaningful work comprises  a number of different factors, on which she elaborates: gifts and talents (when and how we use the gifts that each of us have), spirituality (being able to share our gifts and talents with the world), making a living (the ability to use your talents to, well, make a living), commitment (how committed we are to our particular area of work), supposed-to’s and self doubt. Both of the last two are linked, because every time we think of something that we are supposed to do – “I’m supposed to hate my job,”, “I’m supposed to care about making money, not meaning” – we start to doubt ourselves, and drift away from being committed to doing any meaningful work.

She talks about other things, as well, but I really like this chapter, because while I have a job, the meaningful work I do is totally unrelated. To be honest, it’s here. I don’t have to write this blog; there are reasons why writing it could be problematic for finding another job. But I find meaning in it; it lets me explore what is going on in my head, talk about issues that have meaning to me, and do it in a public forum where anyone else who feels inclined can comment. It might end up helping other people who have had or are having similar experiences, too, and that’s always a plus. I used to think that, when I ‘grew up’, I would be a writer of fantasy novels; now it turns out that I did end up writing – just doing an entirely different kind. 

It turns out – according to Dr. Brown and another author, Marci Alboher, that more and more people these days are pursuing what they call slash careers – writer/surgeon, carpenter/playwright, lawyer/artist – in order to give themselves as much of a helping of meaningful work as they can. When people don’t feel fulfilled doing one thing, they’ll often turn to something else – maybe not as a full-time job, but as something that helps them to express themselves, and use gifts and talents they don’t get to use in the rest of their professional lives. I take some solace in that, because no matter what else I end up doing in my life, I can always write – whether on this blog, or on something more private, or something more whimsical – and find some sense of meaning in that.

In the meantime, I think more people should read The Gifts of Imperfection – you’ll probably be surprised at how much of what she talks about in it applies to you.

The End is the Beginning (is the End…)

So, earlier today I heard from Calla that she is finally leaving Menninger, and moving on to another facility. I know what it is, and where, but I’m not going to put that here; it’s not my place to say. I know that she’s relieved to finally have an answer on this, and that makes me feel better, and I feel hopeful that she’s going someplace where she can really get some help. But I’m also sad that she’s going to be leaving, because I won’t see her for a long time, months maybe; and I’m scared that once she’s gone, I’ll lose her.

It’s not really a rational fear, because I know she doesn’t like losing people any more than I do, but then, fear isn’t generally rational. I know we’ll still be in touch, though I’m not sure if it will be by phone, e-mail, or regular mail. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to go visit her where she’s going, either because I might not have the time to take off work or because they might not allow visitors.

I also have hope, though, because it sounds like the place she is going has some very good people who specialize in her issues; when she talked to them with her social worker from Menninger, the person at this new facility was basically finishing the social worker’s sentences when they were talking about Calla’s diagnosis, which sounds like a good sign to me. Oh, and they have equine therapy, and Calla loves horses. If she can get the kind of help she needs dealing with her issues, maybe when she’s done we can find out if there’s really a relationship in the cards for us.

So, it’s a real mix of things going on, in my head and heart right now. And I don’t know if that has anything to do with it, but I actually tried my hand at writing tonight, for the first time in a very long time. It’s nothing terribly long, or deep, and it might not even be very good; I’ve had blog entries that were longer than this attempt at writing. I’m not even sure I can call it a story; it’s under a thousand words. I know, though, that there are some people who read my blog who are interested in anything I might try to write, especially because some of them (cough, cough, ahem) keep asking about it, so I’ll post it here without further comment. It’s my own work, not for repost without attribution, etc.

Home Sweet Home

Hello, earth.

It’s been a long time. To me, it’s been twenty years as I record this, but to you it has probably been far longer.

You may remember me; my name is Major John Abrams. I am, as I say this, the last surviving member of Earth’s first manned mission to Mars.

I still remember it like it was yesterday; I was checking instruments in the cockpit with Brody, and we were still weeks out from Mars. We were joking, like we always did, to try and keep from being bored – there’s really not all that much to do on a straight shot to another planet, even traveling as fast as we were. I can even remember the joke I was telling him – “What did one shark say to the other as they were eating a clownfish? This tastes funny!” Terrible joke, but it was all I could think of. Strange, the things you remember.

Anyway, there was a bright flash of light, and the last thing I remembered as everything went white was both of us gasping. And then, when I woke up… well, I wasn’t in the cockpit anymore. I wasn’t really sure where I was; I’m still not sure where I ended up. All I know is it wasn’t the cockpit, it wasn’t Mars, and it sure as hell wasn’t Earth.

For one, the plants weren’t green. They were red, kinda purplish. And the sky looked orange, almost like a sunset. Man, I remember sunsets. I wandered around for a few minutes, not really thinking about what was happening. Then I saw him – well, it, really – my first alien. It was stunning, and I think I passed out, because the next time I opened my eyes, it was a lot closer.

It looked almost like a bipedal dog – well, if dogs had nictating membranes on their eyes, used advanced photon weaponry, and could speak alien tongues. It was trying to talk to me, but it wasn’t English, or Spanish, or German – those were the only three languages I knew. I just stood there, trying to make sense of it all. I still don’t know if I really have.

That first alien – I called it Monster, because that’s what it turned out to be – eventually decided that, since I couldn’t speak to it in any language it knew, I must not be smart enough to keep my freedom. So it took me as a prisoner, or a slave. And that was the start of my exile.

For twenty years, I traveled across the galaxy. I think it was just one, but I’m not really sure; I just know it wasn’t ours. I was a slave, a servant, a warrior, a laborer, a pilot, and more. I traveled the stars; I visited hundreds of planets. I met more alien races than I can keep track of; I stopped trying to keep records after the first fifty. I’ve had to learn four new languages, and phrases in a dozen others, none of them close to anything on Earth. I never stopped looking for a way home, though.

I’m still not sure what happened to me all those years ago. But I miss my home; I miss baseball, blue skies, apple pie. I miss my parents; my brothers and my sister. I miss my girlfriend, and even after meeting Monster, I miss my dog. I have been looking for a way home for twenty years, and I’m tired. My bones ache with it – even the arm I lost and had replaced. I’m almost sick of it. In fact, I am.

A month ago, I found some aliens near the edge of this galaxy – I think on the side closest to ours, but without really knowing how travel and distances work out here, it’s hard to tell. And I started telling them all about Earth. How easy a target it is – no space-based defense, no real laser weaponry, nuclear weapons at best. I told them about all the minerals, the gases, the metals that Earth had. And I made sure to tell them about all the billions of people – the defenseless, helpless people. They know what a good worker I can be, how good I am in a fight, what I can do, and so they listened. Because I want to go home.

I don’t know if we’ll get there before I die. I doubt we’ll get there before this does, and that could take decades; everyone I know may be dead by the time this arrives, if it ever does. But I just wanted to let you all know that war is coming, from places far beyond anything you’ve ever thought of. Destruction and death are going to rain down on Earth, and nothing will ever be the same. You may be more developed when the invasion gets there, but don’t fool yourselves – it won’t be as easy as the movies.

I waited so long for help, and it never came. I begged and I pleaded, but I never heard anything from anyone on Earth. I was all alone out here, in the dark of space, and there was nothing to comfort me. I was the farthest man from home, and nothing else could seem to get me any closer. So this is your notice, Earth. I’m coming home, dead or alive.

Homes is a four-letter word.

Grateful Dead Poet’s Society

So I have decided to start doing the gratitude challenge’s second iteration with or without Calla, though I hope she is at least reading along, if not trying it herself. There’s also some other stuff that is on my mind, but I will mention that after I go through the gratitude challenge steps. Just in case the steps aren’t clear, I’ll repost them again here:

1.Write down three new things you are grateful for each day, in a journal or somewhere else easily accessed. Be specific.

2. Write for two minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours.

3. Exercise for 10 minutes a day.

4. Meditate for two minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out.

5. Write one, quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising a friend, family member, or other person you are grateful to.

So, I will start with the three things I am grateful for. First, I am grateful for Calla. She’s on my mind a lot lately, and I miss having her around; but regardless of where she is, I am grateful for how amazing she is and how she has made me feel; however things turn out, she has made me feel joy for the first time in a very long time. Second, I am grateful for my vanilla-scented candle here in my apartment; I find the vanilla scent very nice and soothing (even if it does occasionally make me really want cake with vanilla icing). I really like having the scent around my apartment, and so having such a convenient source is nice. Finally, I am grateful for my apartment. It’s nice to have a place of my own to come home to, to spend time in, to invite friends to; it’s nice that it is my choice who to share it with, and how to decorate it. It’s a type of freedom that is still pretty new to me, and I really enjoy having it.

A little earlier tonight, I got a chance to go out on a late-night candy run with a good friend just after she got off a long night at work. It’s kind of a ritual or habit between us, since both of us like to stay up late at night. She is a big fan of various kinds of candy, and it gives both of us a chance to clear our heads, talk about what has been on our minds all day, and just get a little time together to talk and hang out even if both of us have had busy days. Also, there’s candy, because there’s a 24-hour Walgreens not far from here, and they have a pretty good candy selection. Especially now, near Halloween. We talk about a lot on these trips; it was on one of these trips that I first told her about my feelings for Calla, and we cover a lot of our other issues, as well. I really enjoy these trips. They’re one of the best parts of my day on the days we go on them. 

As for exercise, I’ve been working on a series of exercises out of a book called Convict Conditioning, a book that focuses on using just exercises that can be done with a bare minimum of equipment (pushups, situps, pullups,, etc.) to tone and condition the body. There is one that is focused on eventually being able to do one-legged squats, which I am avoiding, but the others I try to work through on a regular basis; today is one of those days. I took some time out in between sets to meditate, because I find relaxing my muscles and clearing my mind between sets helps to make my exercises more effective. Doesn’t make the workouts hurt any less, though.

It’s not an e-mail, but I did get a chance earlier this evening to talk to someone I haven’t heard from in a while and express my gratitude to her for her friendship and advice. Yeah, I have a lot of female friends. We haven’t been in touch for a while, but even though she’s younger I think her experiences have given her a remarkable degree of wisdom.

Outside of my gratitude challenge, my father is sending me e-mail about possibly collecting, altering, or re-writing my blog posts to put them together as a book, maybe to try and help other people who have struggled (or will struggle) with mental illness. That is at least part of my I was writing my blog in the first place, though telling my story for my own gratification and therapeutic purposes was also a part of it, so I will have to put some thought into that; I don’t know if I would want to rewrite things from my blog, or rewrite them entirely to fit into a larger narrative, or try to describe my experience in chapters. There’s a lot to think about, but I would love to hear anything my readers have to say about the idea, especially if they have any experience in the area.

I’ve been doing something with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) called Peer-to-Peer Mentoring; it’s a ten-session class to try to teach volunteers about how to talk to others who aren’t doing as well with their mental illnesses as we are and try to mentor them, using our own experiences to try to help others see that while they may be in a very dark place, there is still hope on the other side. I have no formal training in mental health counseling, but I do want to help others who have trouble with mental illness; I’d like to believe that my experiences and thoughts might be able to help others. That’s why I’m taking this course, even though it is entirely a volunteer position.

Any thoughts from my readers, about anything mentioned above?

Writer’s Block

When I was younger, I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy books, and watched a lot of movies in the same genres, and I really wanted to become a writer someday. I wrote a lot of stories, and even some poetry, in my spare time, and one of my close friends had similar interests; we critiqued each others’ work often, and sometimes even collaborated a bit.

You can still find at least some of my work still online; I still have a library at Elfwood. It includes several short stories I wrote, and a large portion of a story I was, at one point, hoping to turn into a novel someday. But that was all before my serious depression hit. It’s probably been a decade since I have written anything fantastical or creative; there are probably good reasons for that. I could blame my teacher of creative writing at Kenyon, P.F. Kluge, the writer in residence, because in his class he only wanted students to write realistic fiction and Americana, like he did, and anything else was graded poorly. But I don’t think that’s really it.

I think that, once my depression really moved in and made itself at home, I didn’t feel like anything I wrote was worthwhile anymore. I felt that everything I did was useless, that I myself was useless, and therefore there was no point in writing more fantasy stories. I had no hope of ending up as one of the big names in the field, I thought, so there was no point in continuing. So, I just… stopped. I didn’t write anything anymore. I tried to use LiveJournal for a while, but I felt ignored there, so I stopped that, too.

I even stopped having good ideas for gaming. I find that nowadays it is much harder for me to come up with decent story ideas for things like RPGs; it is why my latest attempt at a D&D game relied almost entirely on pre-written adventure. It didn’t help that I had difficulty explaining the game and couldn’t keep the attention of the players, but then I was extremely out of practice. It’s why, for the last several years, I have been more comfortable as a player than a DM or GM; I just don’t know if I still have it in me.

Even though I have been dealing with my depression issues for the last six months, I don’t think this is something that has been covered, or ever will be. Writing, when I did it, was something I felt a need to do; it got into my head and bounced around until I had to put the idea down on paper or type it up on the computer. I never wrote outlines; the stories just flowed out of my thoughts through my fingers. I haven’t felt that motivation for a long time, and I’m not sure how to get it back, or if it is even possible.

This blog is the most writing I have done in years that wasn’t for a class. And while some of the papers I wrote for class were fun – talking about zombies as a metaphor for social problems was an interesting paper – they never really gave me the spark I felt when I wrote stories. I have at least one, possibly two, friends who seem to be having their own writing slumps, so they can probably empathize with me on that. But I don’t know that there is one specific cause of my writer’s block, and without that it is just guesswork to try and overcome it.

It seems that Demonsong may never be finished as a story;; but maybe my ramblings here will prove to be both interesting and useful enough to others that they may one day see print. In the electronic age, it is hard to say. But until I find that out, I won’t keep anything back from my writing here, and I’ll keep hoping that my creative juices start flowing again.