Friday, July 23, 2010

What am I doing?

Several times in the past week or so I have audibly said to myself, "Seriously Amanda? What the crap are you doing?" A few examples:

The other night I was lost, like really freaking ridiculously lost on the crazy web of interstates and highways that surround the heart of Kansas City (KS and MO). I was trying to get to a Sseko sandal party (can you tell I want friends?) and as I dutifully attempted to follow my google maps directions I got sucked into the vortex of interstates 35, 29, 635, 70, 670 and highways 71, 56, 69 and 40 I was spit back out way west of the city. By the time I realized this I was 20 minutes late and had been taking the wrong interstate for most of the trip. I sped back in the opposite direction at speeds I didn't know my '93 Grand Am could handle, got sucked back into the vortex and was spit out east of the city. Way east. I was in Independence and had put 60 miles on my car before I realized what had happened. My car does not have air conditioning. I hadn't eaten all day. I was 45 minutes late for an event I had probably driven right by. I was hot and tired and hungry and just plain pissed off.
So I swore. Loudly. For a long time. I said words I don't think have ever crossed my mouth. And then I ate a cucumber and some baby tomatoes and headed back toward the city with which I now have a rocky relationship. I continued to soar at speeds my car has never before reached, because there were people, potential friends, food, wine and sandals waiting for me somewhere in Kansas City.
I reached my destination an hour late. I bumped the rear of another car as I tried to parallel park. A group of five black women watched me from the front porch of an apartment. When I got out one of them said, "Honey, you know you hit that car," only the intonation was more along the lines of "Oh no you di' nt" (she didn't snap but I think she wanted to). I looked at the bumper. There really wasn't any damage. Really. I said as much. "Do you know whose cars that is?"another asked. A wave of fight or flight washed over me, as if something dreadful would happen if I were to just carry on. So I got back in my car and drove two blocks out of the way to park elsewhere. As I walked toward the house I wondered who I thought I was and what I was doing breaking laws, swearing like a sailor and driving like an idiot in the middle of the midwest.
I walked into the house an hour and fifteen minutes after the "start time" of the event. I still caught a lot of it and the hostess was very kind. There was still plenty of bread and mini quiches, several wines, Guinness chocolates, blackberries and chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds (all of which I over-indulged in as if I were making up for lost time).
On the way home I drove the speed limit.

The next day there was a job fair in Overland Park. I dressed as professionally as I could considering that I haven't shaved my legs for three weeks (thanks for that challenge Ellen), I left my suit in Lincoln and I've been working with teenagers all summer. I emptied my laptop carrying case, stuffed it with a legal pad and pens and pretended it was a briefcase. Five minutes before I planned to leave my office I decided to print off some resumes. This is where it gets tricky. In my office there are two computers. One of them is fast, the other ridiculously slow. They connect to different printers. They use different internet systems. One of them reads my flash drive, one of them doesn't, and they don't get along with one another particularly well. It took me nearly 25 minutes to find, send and print a document. And then there was traffic.
On reaching the job fair I was quickly under-whelmed (or maybe just disgruntled) by the companies and jobs represented. Selling insurance? Making calls for career services? Customer service for home mortgages? Working for Chipotle? Are these really my only options? I get flushed just thinking about paying my insurance, why would I want to work with it? I can't be a career counselor. What kind of career counselor goes to job fairs with no idea of what she wants to do with her life? I don't know what a mortgage is and quite frankly I don't want to. I did have a good chat with the guy from the jewelry store and ended up with a free tote bag from Chipotle (an organization that I learned is all about being eco-friendly and using local and organic produce), but at the end of the day the only thing I really wanted was to go back to college. What did I think would happen if I moved to Kansas City and just "looked for a job" with no idea of what I'm even qualified to apply for?

That night I helped out with the last night of VBS at one of our two church sites. My car had been volunteered to transport equipment from one site to the next. Baskets of t-shirts, large rolls of blue tape, boxes of school supplies and several large inflatable bees filled the back seats and trunk of my little red car. As a walked up to the main doors with my arms full of baskets and attempted to grab for the handle I lost one of bees that was tottering on the top of the pile. I made several additional trips - each more awkward than the last - and sometime in the middle wondered what I must look like hauling boxes of donated school supplies in my patched up jeans, pink flip flops and "Bee a Believer" t-shirt. Who do I think I am? An el. ed. teacher? I didn't go to school for this. I didn't plan this into my future. What am I doing here?

And then there was last night when I came home around 9:00 p.m. and thought that this would be the evening that I actually went to bed at a decent hour so I could get my butt out of bed in the morning and go for a run. I might grab a snack first, but that was it. Then it was off to bed. I opened the fridge and noticed a container of strawberries that hadn't been touched for a week. I decided to clean them, quarter them and move them into a tupperware. Then I cut up a whole cantaloupe. And cleaned the grapes. And the blueberries. And then I made two loaves of banana bread. And cleaned my toilet and my shower and the sink and mirror. And I vacuumed my room and made my bed and reorganized my closet. And then, just for good measure I decided to finish a movie. I have a writing project due in two days that I haven't begun work on. I have 8 weeks to get in shape for a half marathon. I made no progress on either and I still didn't go to bed until 1:30 in the morning.

Similar things happen all the time, and I'm not entirely sure what to do about it. I don't really think about how I'm spending my time. I just do. Or I don't. And then I look at what I've done and what I haven't and how crazy early in the morning or late at night it is and I ask myself...what are you doing with your life?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Small and misguided step of faith

Last night I registered for the KC Marathon, to be held at Crowne Centre (you'd spell it that way if you were British) on Sunday, October 16. This is a big deal, and not such a big deal at the same time for two reasons.

1) I have not registered for and run in a half marathon in 2 years. I happened upon the Lincoln half this past spring and ended up running part of the full as well (16 miles total, I don't think I could have done past 20). I built up pretty good endurance during my Lincoln hiatus this past spring (running 10 miles on "long days"), but since moving to KC my ability to run has gone downhill pretty fast (downhill now being the the only way that I move quickly). I've blamed the hills, the humidity, and orienting to a new place, but I'm starting to wonder if something is just wrong with me. I couldn't even finish today's 5-mile without a walk break. Yes, it was over 85 degrees at 8 in the morning. Yes, the heat index is going to be over 100 today. Yes, there were hills and the air was thick with humidity. No, I didn't sleep all that well last night, but still. That's not even a quarter of a marathon. Lame.

And yet I have paid $50 to participate in a 13-mile race in 10 weeks. I suppose 10 weeks is a pretty decent chunk of time. It better be or I'm going to shame myself walking around downtown KC as people 10 years younger and older than me pass by.

2) October 16 is the furthest into the future I've ever pictured myself in Kansas City. As of now I will have no home, no job, no money and no plans in October. Part of me still thinks I'll be overseas teaching English or working in a hostel. In the grand scheme $50 is not a lot of money, but registering for a marathon is a commitment to be in Kansas City in 10 weeks. I'm still not sure what I think about that. Registering implies that I'll be here. I'll belong to a gym (or having a few really great running routes). I'll have moved to an apartment. I'll have a job (maybe). I'm at least saying that I intend to look for all of those things. I didn't know I was ready for that. Then again, the discounted deadline is today, so maybe I was pushed.

I've had a lot of conversations with a local friend about how I feel about being in KC right now. I've been here over a month, sort of. I spent week two at Youth Front Camp with my middle school students. Week four was spent in Colorado at Lutheran Valley Retreat with some high school students. Those 12 days aside I've been in Kansas Ctiy. This last time though, when I got back to the house it didn't feel like "home" at all, which is weird. When I moved to Orange City, to Oxford, to Derby it took going away for those places to become "home." I need to "clean my home" and then "come home" to really feel at home. But this time around things are different. I've cleaned. I've left. I've returned. I've even housed company over night, but I still don't feel like this is "home." It's just a place, like any other place I've visited. I feel no compulsion to stay, no regrets if I were to leave.

And despite all of that I am deciding to stay here. I am forcing myself to try stabilizing for 9 months. To find a church family. To make friends. To find a job. To get an apartment. To pay rent. All of the stuff that constitutes as "normalcy." Not because it suits me, but because it doesn't. I am not normal. I am not stable. I do not even resemble something stable.

I want to leave KC for the same reason there are six windows open on the computer screen in front of me, five books stacked up beside my bed (which I'm "currently reading"), four letters waiting to be finished in my sling bag and a trail of post-it notes and to-to lists that have never been completed. I want to do everything and be everywhere at the same time. I don't want to miss out on anything. And so I start lots and lots of things that I never finish. I start down a lot of roads, then back up and start another road. When there's a fork in the road it drives me crazy because I want to go both ways at the same time (true story, I stand at the fork all the time). It's not wonder I have no sense of direction.

But here I am anticipating the fork and making my choice ahead of time. Kansas City, I have decided, is where I will remain. Jacob's Well, I have decided, is where I will go to church on Sundays (even if spending time with Ellen's friends sometimes leaves me feeling like the girlfriend who doesn't really know what's going on but smiles and tries to make conversation anyway because these are the friends of someone I care about so I want them to like me too). I don't yet know where I'll live or how I'll afford to live there, but I am a very capable waitress and there are a lot of important people who need administrative assistants (cringe). So be it.

Now I really ought to finalize one of the 8 drafts of my resume and get a cover letter put together. Oh, and shut this computer window, before I decide to draft another post.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

I had a dream last night...

In order to really appreciate the title of this post you should be familiar with Josh Ritter's Change of Time (which you can listen to here), because that is what plays in my head every time I begin a story with the phrase that titles this post.

...and in that dream I had acquired some sort of strange terminal virus. I wasn't in pain. I wasn't incapacitated. I didn't look or feel poorly. The only change was that I was dying. In a matter of days or hours I would no longer live.

What struck me most in the dream and in the early waking hours thereafter was the way I interacted with my family and friends (as well as the way that multiple periods of my life - childhood, high school, college, and post-college - were all blended together into one present). I wasn't worried about finding a job, earning a second degree or attaining social significance. I stopped going for runs and getting sleep. The only thing I wanted to do was be with the people I cared about. The problem was, they didn't have the time to just "be" with me.

At one point in the dream my family was on vacation. My brother and sister were wrestling on the floor and then went off to go skiing or something. My parents went with them. They left me in the hotel room. I don't know what this means, but I've often felt like the odd person out in a family of five.

I ran into a friend I'd been quite close with in college. We haven't actually spoken for months, aside from brief exchanges on the internet and his empty promises to call "sometime." I explained to him that if we were going to talk it needed to be now, because I didn't know how long I had left. He showed genuine care and concern and even prayed for me (which I wouldn't anticipate in a dream or in real life). But he was busy, and soon  - before we had a chance to "really" talk - he was gone.

A rather poignant encounter with a different friend affected me even after I woke up. We were sitting together talking when a guy in an orange shirt that I've never met before, but apparently knew in the dream, came up to me. I spoke with him for a while, explained my situation, exchanged goodbyes and he went away, leaving the two of us alone. My friend - who sometimes seems to know me better than I know myself - turned to me and said with some astonishment, "Who is this woman?," a statement that expressed his simultaneous disbelief and approval of what I had become. Still dreaming, I self-reflected (I am truly one of the most introspective people I know). Since learning of my illness I'd actually become more relaxed. I was calm. I was confident. I didn't care about pleasing other people or living up to expectations. Hours or days from death I was finally content with my life. Tragic, isn't it? I looked my friend in the eyes, put my hand on his shoulder and leaned forward.

It was around this point in the dream that I started drifting out of REM, the whole time fighting to dip back down so I could finish my conversation, but I didn't have the opportunity. I stayed in bed, shut my eyes and attempted to return to my dream, but to no avail.

This morning as I was eating breakfast I wondered how I would change if I really did have such a virus, if I knew I was going to die soon. What would I do? What kind of person would I become? What would I stop caring about and stressing out over? Which relationships would really matter? I don't know. I can't really answer that question. Despite what Kris Allen says it isn't really possible to "live like you're dying" when you're not. It isn't really practical either. (If I was really dying I'd stop making payments on my student loans, going into work in the mornings, looking for employment, and saving money. Assuming I am going to live for the next several years, this might prove rather detrimental). It is, however, something to think about.

Friday, July 2, 2010

On My Own

Ah yes, another allusion to musical theatre.

Last night was the first Friday of the month, which in Kansas City (and actually in Lincoln as well) means open art galleries, complimentary munchies and an eclectic array of people. I had hoped to venture into midtown with Ellen and some new friends from Jacob's Well (Ellen's church, possibly soon to be mine). But Ellen went to South Dakota, Rachel was out of town and Emily never got back to me.

What to do? It wasn't the first time I'd been alone in KC on the weekend. A few weeks earlier I'd driven myself to Shakespeare on the Green, and though I got painfully lost doing so (I called my dad and had him google me to a place where I could ask for directions), I did enjoy Acts 2-5 of Richard the III.

So I set off once more for a night out on my own. I don't think I realized how badly I needed to get out of the house until I was on the highway. My little red '93 Pontiac Grand Am has seen better days. She currently lacks air conditioning and I lack the funds to fix that, which means the windows are always down. This is usually sufficient for city driving. It's excellent when going 70 miles per hour.

I reached my destination in good time, quite pleased with my ability to follow directions. The only problem was that I hadn't left my house until nearly 8:00. Many of the galleries close around 9:00, and at 8:25 I still needed to find parking. I headed toward 18th and Broadway, hoping the parking there would be less expensive.

I enjoyed my singleness, my anonymity and ability to appear and disappear at will. I checked out a three-floor building housing something like three-dozen independent artists who all rent out little spaces to work on and display their work. There were welders and painters, jewelry makers, photographers, and this guy who collects "found objects" and random pieces of "junk" that look like letters in the alphabet. I think the M was my favorite. On the top floor is an open loft area where a small band was set up a large table of picked-over finger foods stood behind velvet ropes. My guess is that either there was some kind of party or the roped off sections were reserved for artists. It was hard to tell.

Following the people in front of me (who I later noticed were wearing special name badges), I walked into the loft and past the crimson cords. "Are you with them?" a suspicious black woman asked me. I nodded and continued on, making careful observations of the remaining food choices. I picked at some roasted asparagus and sampled a few salsas, trying to blend in without actually striking up a conversation. I made my way to my target - the wine bar. The little blonde behind the counter knew just about as many people as I did, and happily poured me a glass of Chardonnay, which I carried with me back through the gallery, and sipped on as I spoke with a few of the artists.

A while later I wondered into a place called "The Fringe" (one of the half dozen or so galleries still open after 9:00 pm). Outside the door a small crowd was watching short independent films that were projected onto a stucco wall. Inside a man clad in a straw cowboy hat, sleeveless multi-colored zebra print shirt, and navy skirt with a baby blue floral spray strummed on a guitar and sang about the way he loved his girlfriend's stomach. I doubted his sincerity based on the fact that he prefaced the piece by stating, "This is a song for fat people." Did I mention he was wearing make up and accompanied by another guy (?) wearing Frankenstein boots, fishnet hose, a tattered black skirt and playing the bass? Yep. This, I assume, must be normal in Kansas City.

I noticed that the vocalist was wearing flip flops as he sang "we are just misplaced parts." Eclectic? Yeah, that's probably about the best word for it. I mused some more on the scene around me and decided that the singer's voice reminded me of the guy from Deep Blue Something that sings "Breakfast at Tiffany's." I don't really think that artist knows anything about Truman Capote, the story line of the novel or even the film about which he sings, but that's beside the point.

I ventured out of The Fringe in search of other galleries that might still be open. I came across a woman selling jewelry in front of an old Diner. I wouldn't have stopped if it weren't for the call from her scraggly-bearded but rather congenial husband, "Free jewelry, plus tips!" I stopped and chatted with him a while. He was quite a character. I'd wager he'd had at least four beers in rather steady succession before our conversation. He didn't talk me into purchasing anything, but he did pique my curiosity. The entire night, really, I just watched and observed and considered (and occasionally interacted with) people.

I found a pottery exhibit in the basement of an old office building and wandered through an array of bottles and Buddhist paintings displayed in a small nook outside a bar that had cabana-style window service for its outdoor guests. I'm pretty sure I crossed a few barriers and opened a few doors that weren't really meant for me, but when you look like you know what you're doing it's amazing how seldom people question you, even when you're grabbing a beer from the cooler in the back room.

For most of the evening I felt like I'd arrived late to a party that was ending early (which, to some extent, I had). It was alright, but next month I'm definitely going to arrive an hour or two sooner. I may go with friends, I may not. It's far easier to be anonymous when you aren't with someone who knows your name.

An Old Foe

3:00 this morning I was lying in bed fitfully scratching the mosquito bites on my left calf with the toenails of my right foot, wishing I would fall asleep. The day had been...long. I was tired of planning VBS, trying to coordinate four different leaders manuals, desperately attempting to solicit volunteers, planning symbolic snacks and tracking down cheap craft supplies (and getting lost in the process). I was tired of thinking about the future, being asked about my plans, and not having answers - for myself or anyone else. I was tired of starting a dozen little projects, opening five different word documents and eight Internet Explorer windows and not still not managing to accomplish or finish anything. I was tired of dealing with my car - its flat tire, lack of air conditioning, broken tail light and faulty indicator. In short, I was tired.
The hundred trains of thought simultaneously running through my head had nearly all been derailed and were on their way to causing serious damage.
My one solace throughout the day was the sleep I would get when I returned home. No amount of insightful journalling, delicious ice cream, cheap entertainment or social interaction could substitute for the restorative powers of sweet, sweet sleep. I changed into my pajamas, closed my computer windows, turned on the fan and got into bed. I read a few chapters in Eat, Pray, Love (hoping the author's tales of far off places would lure me into dreams of distant travel) and switched off the lamp.
I closed my eyes and waited, but sleep did not come. I drank some water, readjusted my pillow and waited some more. I tried clearing my mind, envisioning a big field of daisies and a blue sky with white puffy clouds (which has been my "peaceful setting" default since I was 10 years old). But even in a bed of lush green grass I couldn't relax.
I started inventing stories in my head, hoping they would turn into dreams, which would mean that lying in bed with my eyes shut had turned into sleeping, but it didn't - not initially and not for the next hour or two.
I attempted to come up with plausible reasons for still being awake hours after getting into bed. The warmth of the room, the irregular rhythms of the oscillating fan, the light from the screen of my cell phone, the heavy seems in my cami, the rustle of the plastic Target sack in the corner. I tried to solve these issues, but that did little more than frustrate me further. It seems backwards to put so much effort into being still.
Around 3:00 (less than four hours before my alarm was to go off) I gave up and went downstairs for a glass of milk and some animal crackers. I stood in the kitchen wanting to blame my sleeplessness on my caffeine intake, knowing the underlying issues were more complicated.
My last semester of college I experienced the loss of a dear and precious gift - sleep. It began sometime in January and didn't really resolve until after graduation, by which time I'd begun taking medication. I can't pinpoint exactly what caused the whole ordeal, but it had something to do with the overwhelming anxiety of an uncertain future. There were too many possibilities and not nearly enough direction. A number of people would have helped me if they could (and believe me many did try), but no one else was able to make up my mind.
Now again I find myself frozen in fear of the unformed path in front of me. I know I need a job, but I don't know how to get one. I don't know where to go or what to do, and my lack of ability to make any kind of decision only makes matters worse. I don't know what I'm looking for, and therefore don't know how to find it. I don't know who to contact. I don't know how to contact. I don't know what I'm capable of or qualified for. I look at the rough draft of my resume and think, "Really? Is that all you've got?"
I feel defeated before I've begun the fight. But does finding a job and forming a future really require fighting? I don't think it should. To be honest, I think I'm more afraid of not finding myself than I am of not finding a job. It's as though my next place of employment is going to dictate who I am, particularly in light of the fact that I don't have a good answer to that question as it is. For the time being I am someone anxious to the point of sleeplessness, and no good can come of that.