To Plan or Not To Plan?

I’ve recently noticed a recurring, and really weird, theme throughout my life: whenever I make specific plans, they almost never turn out the way I’d intended. In fact, they often don’t turn out in ways that even remotely resemble what I’d intended — but in most of those cases, something better comes along to replace the original plan.

Take, for example, high school and college: I’d worked out a plan with my school to finish high school early and enroll in college during what would’ve been my senior year, because I was 1) entirely too motivated and filled with Type A ambition and drive (ok, where did all that energy go?), and 2) I loved the school where my parents worked and knew that I’d be able to go there for free as a staff dependent. (They worked at Colorado College, AKA CC, a small liberal arts college in Colorado Springs, CO.)

I wrote up a proposal for my school board, got conditional acceptance into CC, and was all set to go into academic overdrive when…my dad got a new job in Pennsylvania. since I was transferring to a new school with the cross-country move and wouldn’t be able to go to CC tuition-free, my big plans went up in smoke. I was upset at the time — there was a lot of teen angst, wailing, gnashing of teeth, etc. — but it wound up working out wonderfully: I spent the next two years attending an awesome high school and making amazing friends (y’all know who you are). After having a hard time with the first two years of high school, the last two wound up totally redeeming the whole thing — and in ways that I couldn’t imagine when I was drawing up my plans to graduate early.

spongebob high school
I found myself in this exact scenario entirely too often.

There are tons of other examples like this (see: getting into college, infertility, etc.), but for now I’ll spare you the Tolstoy-length post on all the details. Suffice it to say, though, this has been very much A Thing throughout my 36 years.

By contrast, the one thing that has gone according to my plans is my career. I got into grad school, got a fellowship to come to DC, made my big transfer into my current job, and…well, look at me. Not the happiest of cowgirls, am I?

All of this has made me wonder about the utility of making long-term plans vs. simply being open to possibility. When I was younger, I thought the Soviet concept of five- and ten-year plans was genius: I mean, why wouldn’t anyone have a master plan figured out for their life? Since then, however, I’ve come to find that this was the most ludicrous approach to life I could’ve possibly taken. I chalk this up to youthful naivete, because y’all, I soooooo don’t have that much control over the trajectory of my life. (Does anyone, though?) I’ve seen people suffer enormous tragedies, bear tremendous burdens, receive extraordinary gifts, and rise to face impressive challenges — all of which were unforeseen and totally not part of their plans.

For my part, my long-term plans included having babies with my husband, and possibly running a half-marathon — but then I got cancer, became permanently infertile, and picked up a chronic pain problem. I sure as sh*t didn’t see those things coming.

More recently, at the beginning of the year, I created a set of goals for myself (goals, not resolutions!): goals that included doing lots of planks, starting to do more weight training, and working on building muscle after basically becoming the human embodiment of cake batter over the last four years.

But then I found that I had developed a hernia at one of the incision sites from my hysterectomy, so that put the kibosh on lifting and anything involving my core muscles.  (I had surgery to repair the hernia, which I named Ralph, on June 1, so I’ll be clear to start lifting heavy things on July 13.) And then on Monday I had a massive asthma flare-up that landed me in the hospital, so even my plans to start doing cardio are on hold for now, and I continue with my whole “Hi, I’m basically sentient cake batter” motif.

I’m not pleased by these developments.

But I keep reminding myself that it isn’t all bad: I occasionally see glimmers of a silver lining floating around (coming out of the infertility-grief fog with a profound desire to write about it, for example), and moments of serendipity help me remember that things have a funny way of working out sometimes.

I decided long ago that one of my theme songs for life — you know, if you could make a soundtrack to your life, what would the primary theme songs be? — is You Can’t Always Get What You Want, by the Rolling Stones. (True story: I remember hearing it as the background music for a Motorola commercial in, like, 1998 and it burst through the ambient noise with such clarity that I felt like the Universe was shaking me and saying “DUDE. PAY ATTENTION TO THIS. IT’S IMPORTANT.”) I have to keep reminding myself that this is generally a sound approach (get it? A song is a sound approach? I’ll be here all week, folks. I also do bar mitzvahs.), that this setback in terms of my health is manageable, and that just because Plan A usually hasn’t worked, Plan B can be just as good as, if not better than, what I originally had in mind.

Joseph Campbell Quote

The Great Asthma Debacle of 2017

Welp, I’ve had an eventful week.

After taking a long weekend to visit my grandpa in NC for his birthday, I got home and ventured up to my building’s gym. Yes, I know: there’s nothing notable there (although I can report that the elliptical is just as heinously boring as ever). Mercifully, I had lots of guilty-pleasure TV shows on my phone to keep me entertained, and I refuse to feel ashamed about watching Hollywood Medium while sweating like a woolly mammoth in Dubai.

Side note: I especially refuse to feel ashamed when it keeps me from also being so bored that I contemplate things like what I’d eat if I ever became one of those people whose Ambien prescriptions cause them to binge-eat in their sleep. (Would I wind up eating gluten, either inadvertently or out of some kind of subconscious sense of defiance? And if I did do that, would I go for just any gluten, or would I seek out the good sh*t like pizza and brownies? Would Ambien-me know that Celiac-me would suffer grievous consequences for this, or would Ambien-me just not care?)

But I digress.

Anyways, after my session with the elliptical and Tyler Henry, I got in the elevator to head back to my apartment, and I found myself in there with two heavily-cologned dudes. Now, this isn’t unusual either, despite Axe Body Spray being basically a weapon of mass destruction.* But this time, for whatever reason, the mild asthma that I’ve had since I was a kid, and which was well-managed until this week, decided to become wildly ambitious. Because why not? Breathing is for sissies, y’all.**

I started coughing almost immediately, and since hot air and steam usually help to loosen up my spazzy lungs, I jumped in the shower to let the steam work its magic. But it didn’t work. Soon I was dizzy from the lack of air, so I took a seat and had my husband bring me my inhaler. Now, for me, using my inhaler is the nuclear option: it makes me shaky and anxious, so I prefer not to bust it out if I can resolve an asthma attack by other means.

As you will soon find out, my inhaler is no longer the nuclear option.

Because it barely worked.

And then I could barely breathe.

It wasn’t fun.

I couldn’t talk by this point, so my husband called an advice nurse to see if we needed to go to urgent care — and she immediately told him to call 911. Basically, my existing respiratory distress was at a stage where it could rapidly turn into respiratory arrest, and since I could feel my airways swelling, it was time to go for the real, actual (but not, y’know, literal) nuclear option: an ambulance.

Since I’m stubborn and also vain, I resisted this because I knew it’d be embarrassing — and, since I was conscious and able to walk around, it didn’t seem bad enough to warrant this level of emergency response. But, deep down, I knew it was imperative.

So I did what any 100% sane, level-headed person would do while my husband coordinated with the 911 operator: I tried on four different shirts, all while wheezing and coughing my brains out and barely moving any air, because I didn’t like the way they looked with my pants.

Oh, and I also grabbed my phone charger, list of medications, and all the responsible, logical things one should probably consider taking in a f*cking ambulance.

Yeah, I was doing really well.

So then the EMTs arrived, loaded me onto a stretcher, and wheeled me out through my building’s lobby (thus causing me to almost die of embarrassment in addition to hypoxia). All in all, I got three nebulizer treatments, one prescription for Prednisone, five hours in the ER, another prescription for Singulair, and a fancy new inhaler.

I’m doing better now, thanks to the, like, veritable cornucopia of medications I’m now taking. But looking back on it, it was scary and weird. At the time it was mostly weird, since the lack of airflow made me do bizarre things like worry about whether or not my shirt worked with my pants, and not, for example, the fact that severe asthma attacks can wind up being fatal, and that I was definitely having one. Deep down, I knew I was in serious trouble — when I’d thought about trying to drive to our urgent care clinic, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it there in time before things got precipitously worse — but my conscious mind wasn’t willing to acknowledge it. (Hence the “OMG, but what am I going to wear to the hospital?” fashion crisis.)

Now I just have to finish out the Prednisone and hope that I can eventually start exercising again soon, since that’s the primary way that I manage to stay sane. Until then, a brief PSA: friends don’t let friends wear Axe Body Spray. Especially not in elevators. The public thanks you in advance for your consideration.

*Props to one of my favorite former colleagues for pointing out the Axe-WMD connection. This makes perfect sense, you guys: Saddam Hussein gave all the WMDs all to Unilever.

** As you may have discerned by this point, it’s not for sissies. It’s for people who want to stay alive. Vital functions: who knew?

 

Mama* Needs a New Job, Like, Yesterday.

Mama* Needs a New Job, Like, Yesterday.

One of my big goals — nay, one of my primary goals — in renovating my life is to somehow, by the grace of God/Oprah/the Flying Spaghetti Monster, transition from my career in government to a career that’s more my style.

I may or may not be willing to sacrifice a goat and/or make a burnt offering in an effort to help make this happen.

I’ve been trying to investigate possible avenues for this aspiring career change, since a lukewarm, limp, and — ok, I admit — really whiny “I dooooon’t knoooooow?” isn’t a great answer to questions about what, if not government and public policy, I want to do with my life. All I know for sure is that I want my work to involve writing, autonomy, creativity, and being able to serve as a catalyst for good in the world. Beyond that, though? The details elude me.

dafuq
An actual photo of me when people ask what I want to be when I grow up. Except that I have dark hair. And I’m 36. But that’s not the point.

Well, ok, that’s not entirely true. The full truth is that I want to be a writer. I’ve been in love with words since I was a child; I remember desperately  wanting to learn how to read because I knew my whole world would change once I did, and I used to beg my teachers for extra creative writing assignments when I was in grade school. There have only been two things that I’ve consistently always known I want to be when I grow up: a writer and a mom.

Hooooowever, I’m also a realist, and we all know that unless one is an extremely successful novelist like, say, J.K. Rowling (whom I admire and adore), that writing generally doesn’t pay the bills. So, while I’d love to just…be a writer, the reality is that freelance writing isn’t exactly reliable or lucrative. And, since I have enough student loan debt to sink a fleet of aircraft carriers, and since I also enjoy things such as having food and a nice place to live, a gal’s got to make money somehow.

With that in mind, I’m investigating a handful of ideas for jobs that a) I might enjoy, and b) can pretty reliably pay the bills: content marketing, social media marketing, grant writing, college essay tutoring, and copyediting. That list might expand  — or contract — as I learn more, but for now, information gathering is my primary game plan. My hope is that I can build multiple streams of income so that I will, to use finance speak, diversify my portfolio. You know, balance risk and reward, remain agile, all that jazz.

(Although really, I ran far and fast from any sort of math class once I was done with high school, and I never once looked back — so maybe I should give the finance metaphors a rest?)

Anyways, aaaallllll that being said, yesterday’s Act of Renovation was to visit my friendly local career center to review my resume with people who are Legit Authorities (TM) on this sort of career voodoo. Mercifully, these people are incredibly helpful. They’ve been helping me though each painful, bewildering step of editing my resume from a Lumbering, Bland, and Bureaucratic Government Resume, which is loaded with arcane D.C.- and government-centric terms, into a Nimble, Witty, and Modern Private Sector Resume (also TM…but not really, I just like making proper nouns out of things that don’t warrant capitalization in real life). You know, one that can actually be read and understood by normal people outside the Beltway.

The woman I met with not only really liked my first round of changes (yay!), she also had some insightful suggestions for my next iteration revisions (double yay!). So, I have myself an Act of Renovation for later in the week, too.

We on the rise, y’all.

* Oh yeah, and I’m not actually a mom, despite weirdly referring to myself as Mama. That whole cancer thing kind of deep-sixed my grand maternal plans, but that’s a topic for another post.

The Great Un-F*cking of 2017

This is a story all about how
My life got flip-turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute and sit right there
And tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air

No, wait. Hold on. That’s not my situation. My life definitely got flip-turned upside down, but the last time I checked, I was neither royalty nor in Bel Air. (Alas. Le sigh.)

Let me try this again. You know how sometimes people have a so-called “annus horibilis” (year of disaster/horrors/misfortune)? I had four of those. In a row. It was exceedingly lame.

To make a loooooong story super short, endometrial cancer, the realization that I got myself into the totally wrong line of work, student loans, fibromyalgia, major depression, a hysterectomy – and the resulting infertility and premature menopause – all pulled a Captain Planet and combined their powers to turn me into a hot mess.

I’ve been pretty fercockt for a while – but now, with my health under control and things calming down a bit, it’s time for me to rebuild and recreate my life not as something to slog through, but rather as something to enjoy. Hence the renovation: much like HGTV – but without Chip and Joanna Gaines or the Scott brothers, alas – I hope to tear out the old, dilapidated parts of my life that don’t work anymore while rebuilding a much nicer, more livable structure in its place.

It’s not what I had originally planned or wanted for my life, but a mantra that has gotten me through the last few years has been a quote borrowed from Sheryl Sandberg’s incredible Facebook essay about life after losing her husband: “Option A isn’t available. So let’s kick the sh*t out of Option B.” The things I had planned, hoped for, and wanted – fertility, a job and career that I love, perfect health, full repayment of my student loans, a life free of debt (the aforementioned loans) and chronic pain (fibromyalgia) – aren’t available right now, so I have to move forward and rebuild with what I’ve got.

So, this is my effort to start kicking the shit out of Option B. My goal is to do one thing each day that helps me renovate my life. Whether it’s something that helps me improve my physical or mental health, un-fuck my professional situation and move towards a new career, improve my finances, pay off my loans, or just something that brings me happiness, I’m a big believer that small steps can eventually lead to big changes.

And so, to use the already heinously overused cliche,* if a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, this is that first bit of forward movement. I don’t anticipate being able to write a long and involved post about each daily activity, but as long as I’m doing something, I’ll consider it a win. So, feel free to come along on this ride, and welcome to the party.**

* May the writing gods forgive me this sin. I shall provide a burnt offering in hopes of absolution.

** And by “party,” I mean an introvert party wherein things are tame af and we all go home by 9.