I am conflicted.
This comes as no surprise to anyone who has known me for, oh, three or four minutes.
We’re going to ramble along together here, from being conflicted over what soothes me to not enjoying my career. Yearning for past times and trying to look forward. From being convinced I can’t go back to school, to being convinced there is no other way.
Bear with me, if you are able.
I really enjoy my commute through the farmland of mid-Michigan. I love the barns, the trees, the crops, the occasional wildlife. It is deeply comforting to be surrounded by rolling fields bordered by big woods. The sight of tractors and combines working in the sunset wells up such satisfaction and contentment.
As the seasons change, so does the commute. In spring, the farmers plow the soil and sow their crops. The trees bud, flowers blossom. Everything is giddy with life. Summer rolls in with its deep greens and lush fields, relaxed and lazy, basking in the sun. As we turn to fall, the trees change their colors, the tractors and combines harvest the plants, the air becomes clear and crisp, the sunsets ever more vibrant. In winter, we still, we calm. We quiet. The magical blanket of snow envelopes everything in its slumber. Deer poke through the fields, looking for left-over tidbits. It is nothing short of amazing and spiritual.
It is this very plowing of the earth, the spraying of pesticides on the crops, the spewing of exhaust into the air that contributes to so many of the world’s troubles. We lose much topsoil annually to plowing, we do incalculable damage with herbicides and genetically modified crops. I am taking comfort in the very things that disturb me most.
Still, it is where I grew up, that to which I am accustomed on a core level. It is my comfort zone.
Farming sustained many friends and relatives, and I have always enjoyed being out in “the heartlands.”
One of the books I’m reading currently is Wendell Berry’s The Art of the Commonplace. Berry’s essays continue to evoke in me such a profound yearning for simpler times, for honest work, for respect for the planet, for the animals, for ourselves and for our fellow humans. The greed machine churns along, distancing us from our roots, from meaning.
I realized long ago I hate working in the field of computer support. It’s not who I am, it’s not anything at which I am naturally talented. I loathe this work, and I have nearly since I began it back in the early nineties. Taking the five-ish year break away from it was the most rewarding Job Time I have ever had. The problem is, it’s the only marketable skill I really have, and at this late juncture, I don’t have the time, money or energy to devote to Going Back to School to Learn A New Trade.
What would be more rewarding that computers? Biology. Paleontology. Botany. Archaeology. Writing. Photography. Ornithology. Wildlife sciences. Environmental sciences. Nursing. Habitat restoration. And yes, agriculture.
Careers involving living things (or formerly living things.)
I know I would be happier doing many other things besides computers, but I don’t think I can get there – not at this point in time. Perhaps in the future (when it’s even later to begin anew.) Certainly, we hear from time to time of people who remade themselves from the ground up in their forties, fifties and sixties, but those are the exceptions – not the rule. Pre-nursing was no exception – there were plenty of people my age or older in my classes. Still… could I do it? I don’t know.
I have a great deal of regret, bumbling into this line of work, stumbling through the University of Michigan with as little effort as possible, escaping without much of an education despite my seven years there. The thing is, though, had I not been in computers, I would not have been employed by Liquid Web and I would not have met Mike Neir. Thus, the sacrifice is worthwhile.
Still, I wonder what I am capable of moving toward now. I am not convinced, despite my 4.0 GPA in sciences when I briefly went back to school several years ago, that I could succeed academically and find a new actual career. It would take a lot of effort to overhaul my life and put myself somewhere I could focus intensely on school again, and back to school I would have to go. One does not blithely stumble into any of the careers above (writing and photography excepted, perhaps.)
Too, working in computers feeds my Apathy. I sit all day in a reasonably comfortable place, typing away and Not Doing Much Real Stuff. I have plenty of time for personal browsing, research, even playing the odd game or two. It’s kind of unconscionable. Wendell Berry notices this trend, and abhors it. So many of us in this culture have been conditioned to eschew physical labor, and I consider myself an extreme case. Getting up and going downstairs to fix a problem is such an inconvenience! I have to stop what I’m doing (which again, is Not Much.)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Computers have ruined me. It would suit me well to quit playing any computer games at all, but it would take quite a feat to yank me away from EVE. My time “in space” is diminishing, though, so I feel I’m on the right track.
In any of the jobs I crave, there would be a hell of a lot more work, and my body is aging. My body is fat. Losing weight would do me orders of magnitude of good, and perhaps my energy would return. When working at Wolf Haven, I busted ass physically, every day. And I loved that job. It remains the best job I’ve ever had.
I am increasingly dissatisfied with computers and my somewhat hectic pace because of them. “Hectic” isn’t the right word… it feels hectic, because there are always new stimuli, and if there aren’t, by god I seek them out! If Twitter, IM and email are not feeding me enough shiny things, I go off and find some on my own. I have conditioned my attention span to be minute.
Listening to The Story on NPR, or the Diane Rehm Show, I often hear interviews with people who absolutely love their jobs, and this floors me. What it must be like to wake up and go to a job one adores and is passionate about every day! I remember that at Wolf Haven, and for awhile at the alpaca ranch, and it was glorious. But I think I always knew those times were fleeting. This, right here, is a happy girl:
I want that happiness back.
The question being, of course – how do I get there?
Now granted, I find working at the library more rewarding than working at LW, simply because the end product is more meaningful to me. The environment is far more peaceful, the people more relaxed. The pace is almost 100% less frenetic. We provide important services to our patrons, fosters growing and learning and community. While literally millions of people rely upon the services LW provides, how many of them did I meet, how many were just out to make a buck, how many offered meaningful Services of Value?
Many of LW’s employees love computers and enjoy working with them, and good on them for it. Mike Neir is one of them. I’m not. It’s not enough.
Doing something else would take immense discipline, but would hold vast rewards. Still, as with many Huge, Vast Yearnings… it’s hard to make a plan for it. More “scary” than “hard,” I suppose.
Let’s take my weight. I’d be back at my ideal weight were I to lose 70-ish pounds. I would be healthier and probably have more energy. I would live longer. I would enjoy life more. I’d do more stuff. And yet, when I contemplate cutting back on tasty foods, and exercising more, my inner computer-addled lazy brain says, “yeah, but what’s in it for me?”
What’s in it for you? See the previous list, bucko. The whole “my entire life would be better” scenario. I know losing weight will not fix all my woes and worries, but it’s a damn fine start. I’ve been working more on accepting my age, size and shape with some success, but as I do so, I wonder, “What the hell for? Why accept something that’s so far away from what’s best for me?” My post on moving toward self-acceptance focused largely on my weight, and I remain conflicted there, as well. I am all about size acceptance and self-acceptance and Being Who We Are, but I think I’m just being lazy. I’m not fulfilling myself. I’m not living up to what I can be.
That’s what it comes down to in so many regards.
The yearning I feel is self-induced, with heavy influence from Our Stupid Culture. If I had one area of my life pretty well lined up, were I fulfilled by doing something meaningful to me really well, perhaps it would fill the void that is not only within me, but which encompasses me.
While I enjoy radical change (of which I am in control, mind you,) I’ve usually found it’s not sustainable. Thus, we go back to the Baby Steps Method.
Right now, I’m playing computer games less and reading more. I’m trying to explore what would truly fulfil me, what would give my life deeper meaning. For too long, I’ve been a jack-of-many-trades-master-of-none. There are very few things I’m good at anymore, because I stopped pursuing the things that used to make up my life BC (Before Computers.)
I am good with animals. I am good at analyzing things. I enjoy living systems. I can see many sides to every situation. When I’m on a roll, I’m a decent writer. When I apply myself, I’m a pretty good cook. I read people well. I am trusting.
Those are my Meaningful Skills. What the hell do I pay the bills with there?
If “loving my dogs” would pay the bills, I reckon everyone would just be doing that, inserting whatever variable for “dogs” is appropriate.
This is, I suppose, why we have Hobbies. More people might define themselves by their recreational activities than by their career. I haven’t made a lot of time for hobbies in the last decade, especially since selling my motorcycle. A lot of that was lack of finances to do much of anything. I slipped and slid into being sedentary over time. In truth, I have probably always had that tendency, but it is certainly more pronounced in recent years. Part of it is, I feel, that my career sucks so much life and energy out of me by virtue of its frustrations and lack of meaning, that I just want to hole up and recuperate when I’m not at work. It takes Real Effort to motivate myself, because I just want to retreat. And yet, some of that getting away (nay, a large portion of it) involves sitting in front of a computer.
So here I am, throwing myself against computer systems I will probably never come close to fully understanding. In truth, I have little desire to understand them beyond fixing the problems that crop up, because I don’t like or care about them.
Boy howdy, am I ever in the wrong line of work.
In my successful scholarship application when I was pursuing nursing school, I wrote, “It is a profound thing to realize one’s life calling when one is nearly forty.” While I may have been exaggerating a bit about nursing being My Life’s Calling (I know how to pitch things, as well, but a salesperson I will never be,) I was at least on the right track.
Overcoming fear and apathy are immense tasks; even starting to try is intimidating, which feels extremely weird to write having jumped out of airplanes, undertaken cross-country motorcycle rides alone and having made rash, life-altering decisions with swiftness.
The things that will only better myself are perhaps the most intimidating undertakings. What is that about?!
So… now what?