Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Day 2 of Just a Little Wobbly ...

Today is day two ... Cheshirewoodgie (Lauren) thought she had avoided the worst of the norovirus and went to work: no such luck for her. I went to campus to pick her up early, and now she's home and in bed recuperating while I've changed places; as she nursemaided me on Sunday, I'm now nursemaiding her as she overcomes the worst of it.

This has given me some time to return to the other topic I've addressed as of late: trying to answer the self-posed question: "who am I as a person without a job to define me?"

To help me answer that question, I turned to my favorite sci-fi series: the 5-year epic Babylon 5. The two alien races that are the antagonists, the Vorlons and the Shadows, have competing questions that form what the show is about:

From Wikipedia:

"The central theme in Babylon 5 is the conflict between order and chaos and the people caught in between.

"The Vorlons represent an authoritarian philosophy: you will do what we tell you to, because we tell you to do it. The Vorlon Question 'who are you?' focuses on the identity as the motivator over personal goals." (Put simply, when you lose the focus on "what you want", you are able to focus more on "what is the good for the whole" Or at least, you should be able to.)

On the other hand: "The Shadows represent anarchy. Their belief is that by creating conflict, a stronger generation is born — 'survival of the fittest'. The question they pose is "what do you want?" They place desire and ambition before everything else, encouraging conflict between other groups, who choose to serve their own glory or profit. Selfishness is often the turning point of a character from light to darkness, and selflessness denotes a change in the reverse."

According to the show's creator, J. Michael Straczynski, the order in which you answer these questions can make you ... or break you:

"It's not that there's a *correct* answer, but that there's an *informed* answer. If you decide what you want, before you know who you are, you're likely to get something that will destroy you; if you know who you are, you can then ask for something that will be of greater use to you."

So what is my "informed answer"? Who am I without a job to define me? The answer to that lies in a third question asked in the series:

"Lorien (the oldest living being in the B5 galaxy and older than the other two races described above), asks the series hero, John Sheridan, this alternative question: 'Why are you here?'"

Unfortunately, as I was growing up, that question was always answered by someone else, and never by me:

For my Dad, it was always: "you're here because we wanted a son to take over the family farm, just as I did", even if I wasn't meant to be a farmer and didn't want to survive at near-poverty levels. I did not want to be a farmer, where I was at the mercy of the weather and crop prices. Being the eldest, his responsibility was to the family, regardless, and he made his choices. But I did not want to be a farmer just because HE was.

For my Mom, it was always: "you're here because your father wanted a son, even though I had difficulties giving birth to you". She always held the guilt held over my head as I grew up, making me wish that my birth had been a bit easier for her.

It's rather hard to ask yourself "why are you here?" when you've already got two unhealthy answers already confronting you, don't you think?

So now I've reached a point where I have to start asking myself that question, because one of the old definitions of myself, "I am a very good technical writer" no longer applies anymore.

So "why am I here?"

On a practical level, I'm here in Maryville because it got me closer to my fiancee, let us live together, develop my housekeeping skills, and consolidate finances until I can find a job. I'm also apparently here to help our pastor learn some computer skills, if he can find the time to sit down with me to do this. I'm also apparently here to sing ... though in what capacity, I'm still learning.

I'm also here to write: this blog is an example of that, and my fiancee is encouraging me to take the time to develop some writing ideas.

Mainly, I think I'm supposed to start grappling with some of my baggage: my past struggles with my learning differences, and the work stress dealing with an emotionally unhealthy workplace, which included workplace harassment and rumor-milling that sprang from the unchecked immaturity, untrustworthiness, and territoriality of some of my ex-coworkers (not the ones I stay in contact with, I should point out).

For the last, I apologize: I once promised that I would not speak ill of my fellow coworkers, and for the sake of the company for which I once worked, that is as much as I will say about the situation.

I'm also here to learn what else I can do well, since my chosen profession is in decline: the job market for technical writers is thin at best, and I'm geographically challenged since my fiancee has tenure and is unable to move.

On an existential level, I'm here to learn to take care of myself better, to forgive myself for having weaknesses in the form of my learning differences, to accept that perhaps there is a reason God created me with them, and to forgive God for doing this. As a human being, that is the best I can do.

It may not be a complete answer to the question ... but it's a start.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Just a Little Wobbly ...

Very quick post: today finds both Cheshirekitty and myself home in bed (we know what you're thinking and it's NOT that).

No, we're both home sick ... I seem to have picked up a norovirus from somewhere on Saturday, which left me flat on my back for most of Sunday, and I think I've given a mild version of it to Cheshirekitty, who is queasy but not as in bad a shape as I was ... which is why we're both in bed, reading, blogging, and recuperating this morning, subsisting on sports drink and water and a bare minimum amount of breakfast.

It's just as well ... with another five inches of snow on the ground here, we're enjoying the winter wonderland from indoors, as well as the comforting crackle from our WoodWick candle.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Cheshirekitty speaks: Scrapbooking the courtship process

Today and tonight I have been working on a scrapbook/storybook that commemorates (sp?) our courtship, engagement, wedding planning, and wedding. I figured if I was going to have a wedding album, I wasn't going to have a photo album only, because pictures DON'T tell a thousand words, especially the typical professional wedding portraiture. So this is a wedding album that includes things like:

* we met on Match.com and talked by computer for a while
* my family flipped over him the first time they met him
* we started hinting to each other about proposing on the same day
* we had to go through a lengthy pastoral counseling because I was previously married
* we want a special, not-too-big, and not-too-expensive wedding.

Richard is contributing his voice to the album, which will eventually have the wedding pictures, guests' signatures, stories, etc.

Richard and I won't have children to pass it on to (by choice as well as by medical prudence, given my age), but I have discovered that one can pass things on without having children to pass them to. My Aunt Peggy, who never had a daughter, has supplied me with the "something old" in my wedding wardrobe -- a handkerchief from her recently deceased friend Evelyn, which Evelyn carried in her wedding almost 71 years ago. I am absolutely thrilled with this!

Monday, January 15, 2007

At Least We Don't Have This To Deal With ...

We were reading the other day about a New Orleans couple who seemed to have an even more interesting wedding dilemma than the usual:

Wedding Plans Disrupted By Saints Playoff Game

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Who Am I? (pt.1)

According to the cats, I'm

  • "He Who Scritches Their Ears"
  • "He Who Should Pet Me"
  • "He Who Fills the Water and Food Dishes"

and ...

wait for it ...

  • "He Who Cleans the Litter Box".

Dealing With Shame

As I look back on the last year's worth of posts, I realized that in discussing life in Maryville(tm) and wedding planning, I've haven't really written anything self-reflective, because I've been too busy trying to find a job.

And I realized (after dealing with the stress of not getting another job this last week), that as the job search has gone on, just how hard it is to be an unemployed male, and how I've had to go back and do some self-work to deal with the shame from that.

I must admit how hard it is for me to be unemployed. For six years, I was a technical writer, working for a company with a good reputation as a workplace, getting raises, and working toward a promotion. I was SOMEONE. A professional, with the benefits, perks, and rights thereof. And someone who could be counted on to deliver on-time (or early), or come up with the right answer or the goods when needed.

But now, due to budget cuts because my former company's income dumped due to the worsening economy and jobless recovery following 9/11, I'm unemployed. My daily routine now consists of taking my fiancee to work, heading home, jumping online, checking job websites, submitting resumes if I find anything promising (or even if not), and, while sitting home alone at the laptop, coming to terms with my limitations and self-definitions. I went from productive ... to disposable.

Those of you who know me may know me as quiet. A little bit of an introvert. A geek. A little hard to get to know. There's are reasons for that.

I'll admit that my communication skills are good. Not great, but good. You could even say that they're pretty good, if you factor in that I have had very bad allergies ... it's a bad trade-off when, even if you're on allergy meds, you're having to choose between breathing and speaking. (Kudos to an unnamed program manager at my last job who tried to give me well-meaning advice about public speaking and breathing, but he couldn't seem to grasp that I was dealing with severe allergies and he also couldn't understand that there is a difference between one's speaking voice and singing voice. Taking in enough air to project a good speaking voice only works IF you have the ability to take enough air in to begin with ;-).

You also have to factor in that growing up, I had to have speech therapy to correct some pronounciation issues. And you also need to factor in the possibility (which I haven't been tested for but hope to test for in the near future), that I may have a learning difference or two ... maybe a mild form of ADD, maybe an encoding problem such as dysnomia that mimics ADD.

Either way, it's clear that I ended up with a few stumbling blocks toward having a professional career, but I still managed to have one for six years on the basis of my writing skills and my problem-solving ability. That, I could do well. And I tried my best to develop what speaking ability I did have. You might be surprised to know that I was in Toastmasters for several years, and achieved my CTM (basic level), and ATM-B (advanced), certifications. To do that, you had to have done a minimum of 22 speeches and done them very well.

But I digress. I was talking about shame. And its corollary brother, guilt.

The author of the book Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich, recently wrote a follow-up book called Bait and Switch about the struggles of middle-class unemployment. On her blog, she writes a scathing commentary about shame and unemployment, which illustrates my dilemma:

"Something similar goes on in the case of the laid off and unemployed, thanks to the prevailing Calvinist form of Protestantism, according to which productivity and employment are the source of one’s identity as well as one’s income. Not working? Then what are you? And to put the Calvinist message in crude theological terms: go to hell."

Woodgie and I have talked a bit about gender roles and jobs (and she's well equipped to do so, given that her field is family economics and she's written journal articles and papers on various aspects of the subject), and the hardest part for me hasn't been the income loss (although part of me does feel a little guilty for not being able to contribute to the household monitarily as much as I'd like). Instead, the hard part has been the loss of identity.

There's a burden that comes with being male. The dominant culture perception is that the male is the main economic provider of the household, and if you aren't working or aren't able to readily find a job, it's because you aren't trying, or looking hard enough, or you aren't doing the right things to make you presentable for employers. And in the meantime, you aren't being productive, let alone useful, and you're a bad person, bad husband, bad provider, bad whatever, simply because of that.

Add in the perception of failure - the feeling that if I had planned better, or worked harder, or been able to do something beyond my physical limitations, I might still be employed or have already found another job - and it's a hard burden to overcome.

I'm thankful that Woodgie doesn't subscribe to the dominant culture paradigm ... in other words, she thinks it's great that I'm a house husband, and that her house is cleaner than it has been in ages, and that I contribute to the household chores and cooking as I can.

But now I'm left with the open question: who am I? Or more specifically, who am I without the artificial definition imposed by a job?

I'll touch more on that in the next entry.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Wedding Blog

In lieu of setting up one of those absurd wedding websites that charge a monthly or yearly subscription fee, we've set up a wedding-specific weblog for our upcoming wedding.

We hope to use the site for pictures and for updates leading up to the wedding. Ultimately, we'll hope to have pictures from the wedding itself.

Our Wedding Blog

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

Oh yeah ... before anyone asks, here are our New Years' Resolutions:


Lose 5 pounds.


Walk 3 miles a day (or the equivalent workout thereof).

Something tells me that both of our resolutions will be workable ... I'll probably lose those 5 pounds keeping up with her on her walks.

More Christmas Pics

Some more Christmas pics from the holidays:

Christmas Eve

Christmas Day

The Christmas Table

Randy and Lisa (Lauren's sister and brother in law)

Woodgie Wearing a ???

Woodgie Getting a Gift

Rachel (one of Lauren's nieces) and John (Lauren's Dad)

Making Springerle

Here's Woodgie showing off a fresh batch just prior to baking.

Springerle Before Baking

Christmas Decorations, Washington Park, Ottawa, IL

Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year!!!

We stayed at home to ring in the new year. With snow on the ground, the roads mushing over, and the temps dropping outside, we decided to ring in the New Year quietly. With the kitties in attendance, we watched a bit of Emeril Live and later worked our way through a couple of episodes of Crusade until right before New Year's local time. Bowing to Woodgie's Quaker tradition, we observed 15 minutes of silence leading into the New Year ... a time for prayers, thoughts, observations, and hopes that the New Year will bring us a better year. God knows, after the year I've had, I could use some positive breaks, and a chance to start over.

Returning to the usual (for most) New Year's Eve tradition, after that, we toasted the New Year with a kiss (awww!), and a bottle of August Hill's Illinois Muscato, one of their new, very sweet, low-alcohol dessert wines. For luck (since Woodgie isn't much of a fan of black-eyed peas), we sampled some pickled herring to accompany the other snacks.

This morning finds us watching the Tournament of Roses parade ... watching it whenever I can is one tradition from childhood that I won't stint on. Of course, this year, we're watching it for the Star Wars special event during the parade. Only true geeks such as ourselves would watch a parade simply to see two floats filled with Star Wars characters and the Grambling marching band dressed as Imperials while playing music from the movies.

We'll probably call around to our families (or vice-versa) sometime today. In one case, I'll have to sneak calls in before the Rose Bowl game.

Also today, Woodgie introduced a new idea to me: to have a productive year, on New Year's Day you should do something work-related but not too much like work, so I read an article about freelancing as a technical writer.