action · clarity · fear

What’s the Hurdle?

run 2.20

As a Middle School teacher, I get the vast privilege of leading a cohort of students to see things differently, try on new ideas, and form new (hopefully positive) habits.

A few weeks back for their journal prompt, I instructed each class to draw 3 columns, the last of which to remain blank that day.  In the first column, they were to write any tasks or accomplishments that they’d been procrastinating on but that they wanted (or needed) to do.  In the second column, they were to write allll the reasons (real or imagined) why they could not complete these tasks.  The next day, they’d brainstorm with their classmates on how to get over the hurdle.

I gave them my own present example at the time:  Not completing my “Synonym Wall.”  In the classroom, I have taped colored slips of paper with “Bad” or “Said” or “A Lot” inside a “No” symbol, and then surrounded each with a plethora of alternatives for students to use.

But I stalled out.  I began this project in August(!) before the students arrived, and I still had “Nice” and “Good” to go.  Okay, so that’s column 1: Finish the Synonym Wall.  What’s column 2?  What are my hurdles?  Well…:  I was using these fancy scallop-edged scissors to cut out the synonyms, and the scissors are ill-effective and hurt my hand when cutting the strips.  I had been using a system of color coding each word group, and I wanted blue paper for “Good,” but I didn’t have any blue.  I was also using a colored-marker pattern I wanted to repeat, but that was feeling cumbersome and complicated.  Finally, now that it’s been so long, who cares whether it gets done; are the students even using it?

Hurdles for me can be MINOR(!!) inconveniences, like “the scissors hurt my hand,” or larger fears like, “My work makes no difference.”  Yet, whatever the hurdle is, I cannot overcome it if I do not identify it.  So, even though writing all these hurdles down made me feel a little silly and immature to see that I can be stymied by such gossamer blockades, I knew it would lead me to column 3.

“What the hell are you gonna do about it?”

In fact, that very afternoon, after having modeling this process to all 4 of my class sections—pointing to the Synonym Wall, reading the hurdles aloud, and considering again and again the hilarity of such stalled action—I went downstairs to a coworker’s materials closet and fetched whatever colored paper was available, grabbed any freaking Sharpie I had and a pair of OMG-so-non-hurty normal, straight-cut scissors, and COMPLETED the Synonym Wall!

The next morning when I modeled column 3 for my students, I was able to write down each of the above in “Overcoming the Hurdle.”  One Overcome I also got to write was, “I think the Synonym Wall is important, whether the students use it or not.”  And: “The perfect is the enemy of the done.”

I rewrote this last one on a sign that now hangs above the whiteboard. (In whatever color and on whatever color I had available!)

Every day, I could write a list of Tasks I Procrastinate, Hurdles, and Overcomings.  And maybe I should.  Because each of the remaining hurdles on that list 4 weeks ago have now too been vaulted.

 

 

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career · clarity · exhaustion · fear · health · work

Numbers, Indignation, Holding Patterns: i.e. the Usual.

I have the delightful learned ability to read a health insurance coverage summary with a hawk’s eye. 
Post-cancer, I have become acutely aware of watch-words like “after deductible,” “co-insurance,” and particularly, “lab fees.”
Last week, I met with two of the 3 HR ladies I have worked with at the retail company I now work for. The first, Heidi, I met on the day I waltzed into the HR department with no plan and asked if they were hiring. I then had a wonderful impromptu interview and was subsequently hired. She’s great, personable, real. And someone with whom I can be honest. 
To finish up the health insurance thought, I met with another of the HR ladies last week to sign the “permanent hire” paperwork, and to get the particular HR documents I’ll need, and information on eventual benefits. 
I’d assumed, working for a large conglomerate corporation, that my health benefit coverage would be fantastic. More people = less $ from me, right? Wrong. 
This morning, I logged in to see what my options are, as I have to stay with the Kaiser health insurance, since that’s where all my cancer records and doctors are, plus it’s in walking distance of my house. 
I looked at the plan they offered. I saw many watch-words, including all those above. And then I brought out the plan that I’m currently under via COBRA through my old synagogue employer. 
My lord. What a better plan. 
As someone who needs to get lab tests done fairly regularly, I know that I now pay $10 for them to look and see if my blood is still blood, or if some of it has reverted to cancer. 
With the new plan I saw this morning, I’d have to meet a $4,000 deductible… and then I’ll still pay a 20% copay. Besides the hundred or so they’ll take out of my paycheck each month, just to have the plan. 
Now, this may all be boring to you. But, number-cruncher that I now am, COBRA costs me $400 a month = $4800 a year. 
So they’re kinda similar, now, ain’t they? 
How much is a lab test before deductible? I don’t know. A hundred, maybe? How ‘bout the other things I get checked through-out the year that the new plan says, “After deductible” next to. 
Knowing that the plan I currently have is a phenomenal one (having done the health exchange comparison, too), I asked the HR woman last week if they could do something about my pay if I keep my own health insurance. 
She’d never heard of such a thing. ??! 
It is common that if someone is covered by outside insurance, if the company is not paying for it, the employee can get a boost in salary, since the company would be paying insurance, but now can pay the employee instead. 
Again, she’d never heard of such a thing. And said, no, that would not be the case here. 
Enter the second HR conversation I had last week. It was post-holidays, post-working on New Year’s Day, and I was exhausted, upset, not happy. 
This retail, commission, fighting for customers with the other girls on the sales floor thing is not for me. 
I walked upstairs to see Heidi. I told her as much, in quite cushioned, complimentary, grateful words. 
And she said: I figured that wouldn’t be for you. 
But, we love you, you’re one of 2 of 70 employees kept on past the seasonal period. “Give me a week,” she said. 
Give me a week to think of another role for you here. We want to keep you, and let me think about where we can utilize you. I have some ideas already, but I have to check them out.
She knows me, sort of. She got one of those hand-made collage holiday cards. I’d gone in to talk to her previously about expectations for the sales positions, and how much hustle one has to do in that role in order to make a living. A living which would equal the paycheck I left at my non-profit desk job. 
She said last week that she could see I was someone who thought about the good of the whole, that one’s success is all’s success, and that cut-throat retail floors don’t allow for that. 
I later said to a friend, it’s like she called me a communist! But, funnily and astute observed, she’s right. For the good of all! And other Marxist ideologies!
It’s coming to the end of the week she’d asked me for. She was nearly plaintive in her asking me to give her the time to think of something.  — They really like me. 
In addition, I wrote her an email early this week saying that she needed to have all the information: I do theater. And that means nights and weekends. And if we can keep that in mind as we seek out a new role for me there, that’d be great
We’ll see what she comes up with. If anything. 
If I land back in front of a desk so I can get to theater rehearsals, so be it. As long as I’m earning more than I was at the non-profit. 
I mean, come on people. You’re an international corporation. I’m not 23 anymore. I have skills. 
Again, we’ll see. Before I go charging off to look for alternative companies, I’ve invested a lot in them already, as they’ve invested in me. 
But, should it look like I’ll be a salaried lady again — I’m asking for the health insurance off-set increase. 
Because screw that noise. 
career · clarity · inspiration · love · spirituality · writing

I’ve started hearing voices again.

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I’ve started hearing voices again.
Now, before you call the padded-room brigade, this is a good thing.
In the time and space I’ve had since quitting my full-time
job at the end of October (despite the roar of negative thoughts and virulent
self-questioning), I have begun to find space behind the thinking. And it is
within this space that I’ve always germinated the seeds of my writing.
When I explain it in person, I raise my arm behind my
head, and wave my hand in the general direction of “back here.” I tell them
that it’s like there’s a room back behind my head, where the ideas start to
percolate. They marinate, germinate, ruminate, and when they’re ready — the indicator popping up like the thermometer in a slab of roasting turkey — I open
the door and chase them onto a page.
By the time the door opens, they’re pretty fully-formed. But
they need the time and space and freedom to sit back there, talking amongst
themselves, these ideas. I can hear them back there, murmuring. I begin to hear bits of
phrases. The sense of a topic, a genre.
My waking thoughts start to curve in that direction; they
start to gather information that all funnels to the same place. I collect these bits and feed them like coal into a furnace.
It’s partly, I know, the time and space that I have to
think, not crowded with the demands of a 40-hour job. But it’s also working on
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” reading the book at night, becoming immersed the language. (I used the word “rightly” twice in a recent blog; I become a sponge and a
regurgitant of what I feed my brain.) It’s also watching Netflix’s “Peaky Blinders,” and
being stunned by the cinematography, the bold and sweeping camera work
inspiring me, reminding me of the nuance and exaltation of art.
It’s listening to NPR, and a man’s purple report of bison grazing in Canada, when the song of birds “split the
silence like a candle,” and it became “the end of a day that started as a
morning.”
I begin to collect these images, words, sensations like a
magpie, not knowing what will be useful, but shoveling it all in anyway,
trusting my process of alchemy.
I’ve begun hearing voices again. And this brings me hope.

career · clarity · courage · perseverance · self-abandonment · self-support · work

Ooh, Shiny!

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“Don’t forget your dreams, why you’re doing this,” she told
me on the phone.
Easy to say when you have income, I replied silently.
I’d told my friend I was on my way to an interview for a sales
position. And she reminded me where my North Star was.
But sometimes you have to steer out of the storm in order to
get back on course, right?
That said, this is the usual “Molly looking for work
pattern”: Spend a few weeks seeking the thing I actually want, see that it’s
harder than I thought, or notice that I don’t know how to go about it and give
up on it, and then go toward the easy but unfulfilling role.
This search result looks like a different sheep’s clothing, but it’s
still a wolf.
I’m trying to interrupt the usual flow of events at the point of acknowledging that “It’s too hard” really translates as “I don’t know how.”
Because from there, I can ask for more help.
That is hard, too. To ask for help when you’re not really sure
what you’re asking or who to turn to.
I feel like the simple son of the Passover Four Questions,
The one who doesn’t even know how to ask.
For the one who didn’t know how to ask, the questions and
answers were provided to him. He just had to show up, in his ignorance, and
learn.
I have been able to interrupt other patterns of behavior
mid-way, once I saw them. The flirting with the married men. Waiting until my
fridge was empty to buy groceries, and eating tuna from the can. Following
thoughts down a dark path toward isolation and despair.
This is no different. But changing, modifying all of the
above took (and takes) effort. Concerted
consciousness. Awareness of my feelings, of my triggers. All borne of scarcity
mind. There’s not enough. I can’t have any. I don’t know how to advocate
for myself.
And this — advocating for myself — was part of a very long conversation I got to have
with my mom yesterday (as I chopped and roasted vegetables, making that conscious move to feed myself well and stop eating out all the time or going slightly hungry).
The other day, after I’d boldly walked into Neiman Marcus
with no resume and no plan and ended up in an impromptu interview with the HR
director, I spent dinner with a friend. I was asking her about sales, since
that’s her vocation. I was talking about the statistic I’d heard that women
rarely negotiate their salary, and men nearly always do.
She handed me a book titled, Women Don’t Ask. And I’m devouring it. Studies that show men see
opportunities to ask where women assume circumstances are fixed. Indeed, the
cultural pressures and reinforced gendered stereotypes that keep women in
positions of not advocating for themselves are plenty virulent, too.
I said to my friend that if I got this position in sales
with Neiman Marcus, I’d hope that I don’t go all mousy-girl. That I don’t begin
to feel like an impostor, feeling I don’t belong helping women with gobs of
disposable income.
And she said something interesting: Since cancer, you haven’t been mousy-girl.
She said before then, it’s true, I can turn (in my own
interpretation) not mousy, but quiet observer. I will stand back, get the lay
of the land, and then maybe add some ideas. But for the most part, I’ll remain
fringe.
In fact, in high school, a boy once asked, “Do you ever
talk?”
You’d hardly know me by that attribute anymore! But that
part of myself exists.
Although, less so these days.
I recounted all this to my mom, my friend’s comment about my
new assertiveness, and how I’d lost that subdued, passive nature since
surviving Leukemia. I gave my mom a simple example:
That same afternoon, I’d gone to pick up some lunch at this
organic yummy place. There were two platters of smothered polenta: one had two
slices left, and looked like it had been on the warmer for a few hours. Next to
it was another that was obviously just pulled from the oven, piping hot and
bright colored.
The older woman ahead of me ordered polenta, and got a slice from that bedraggled lot. I ordered polenta after her, and I asked if I could
have a slice from the new batch.
“Sure, of course.”
The older woman waiting for her change looked at me, with a
look of, “That’s not quite fair.” But, it was. I’d asked. She hadn’t.
I am not the mousy girl I was. I am a self-advocate. Some of
it was borne of cancer and my time bargaining with nurses and doctors on what I needed (“I guess that’s okay –
no one’s ever asked before.”). I completely changed my experience to suit my desires in what one usually sees as an immovable situation.
In the present, not knowing how to proceed – how do I market myself as an
essay tutor, how can I market myself as a home organizer, all in service of the fulcrum, all to leave time available for creative and intellectual pursuits – doesn’t mean I can’t
proceed. It means I have to ask for help. I have to ask for help on how to even
form my questions.
And I have to remember that I’m no longer the woman who gets handed
old polenta. 

alcoholism · change · clarity · trauma · travel

Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

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October marks 10 years since I left New Jersey to teach
English in South Korea for 18 months. Having barely finished the icing on my 23rd birthday
cake, I rolled my newly purchased suitcases onto a JFK flight and was off to I
didn’t know where.
The process felt almost instantaneous – register with an ESL
teaching recruitment site; have an informational call with them (when they told
me you’d make more money in Korea than, say, Thailand or Taiwan); have an
evening interview call with a pre-school in a town on the outskirts of Seoul on
Tuesday; board a plane on Friday.
I didn’t know what I was getting into, and despite all the
good parts, the landing was a difficult one. If I did have it all to do again,
my life to live over again, I wouldn’t have gone.
I know people say not to regret things, and that each
experience was for learning, and certainly this one was: I met great people,
had unusual experiences, got to travel to places I’d likely never have been and
endear myself to a classroom of wide expectant faces.
But. It was not easy. And, yes, if I could do it again, I
wouldn’t go. I was too fragile when I went. I was too lost to be uprooted. Yet, I
don’t know what would have happened if I’d stayed. Korea was where I eeked
along the bottom of an alcoholic lifestyle, and I’ve often said that if I
hadn’t been in Korea, where there was little access to drugs, and mainly only
to booze… that if I’d still been in the States and on the trajectory I was on,
things could have gone a much different way.
As bad as alcoholism is, add drugs into the mix, and it
quickly becomes a 4-alarm fire.
That said. It was rough. There was a half-hearted suicide
attempt, gang rape, alcoholic stupors. There was racism and sexism and a
feeling of alienation from everything you recognize.
There were antidotes, or places of brightness, for sure. I
met some of my best friends there, ones who I’m still in regular touch with. I
dated a very charismatic Canadian who went on to work for the U.N., who’d put me
and my coworker up at his great aunt’s place in the orangutan paddock in a zoo
in Jakarta, Indonesia. I hiked up ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples; ate dog
stew, which was actually very good; planted my feet in the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
I traveled to Osaka, Japan to renew my work visa and still
remember the glint of the flat rooftops outside the city as the train barreled us
from the airport to the city center. I spent a New Years in a cabin on a dock
in the warm waters of Malaysia and partied in a sprawling, palm-encased home in Singapore the following one.
I went to Korea because I didn’t really know what else to
do. And to quote Carroll’s Cheshire cat:
“Would you tell me, please,
which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on
where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where
–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which
way you go,” said the Cat.
“– so long as I get
somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do
that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
I’d walked long enough, and I’d found something. I didn’t know
where I wanted to go, just somewhere else. Yet, despite the intervening years and nearly a decade of sobriety, as I begin now to set out
again to simply go “somewhere else,” I’m tempted to recall what happened
last time I didn’t know where that was.

action · clarity · faith · purpose · recovery · vision

“Just What I Needed.”

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I was just telling my co-worker that nearly every item in my
apartment came off the street or handed down. What typically happens for me is
I notice a need in the apartment, say, I want a new waste-paper basket for my
bathroom. And, more often than not, within a week or so, I’ll pass the perfect
one on the street.
Most of the items in my house happened this way. Including
the new kitchen table I just acquired and am typing on today. Because as point
of fact, I’d just been saying and thinking how I want a new, less rickety
kitchen table. And lo, yesterday, I ran into an upstairs neighbor who is moving
and getting rid of things, and I asked to see what she had left, and there’s
that Ikea table I’d admired but didn’t want to buy. And now, it’s here, in my
home.
The reason I bring it up today is that I have recognized
that when I have clarity of vision, I tend to get what it is I want. The
perfect semi-matching bedside table, the pull-out couch that nestles perfectly
in the alcove, a set of new colorful bowls and plates to replace the staid gray
ones I’d bought at Goodwill.
Each of these I envisioned before they appeared. And so, I
feel, will the job.
I do know how I want to structure and spend my day. I do
know the kind of routine I want and the kind of impact I want to have.
And yet. It’s the waiting, the focusing, the action, the
getting there, the pause.
With each newly acquired piece in my home, I am reinforcing
the belief and faith and trust that if I dream it, it will come. If I am
particular and specific, it will come.
It’s time once again to write a job ideal, and perhaps a
relationship ideal while I’m at it, as I continue to release relationships that
don’t serve me.
In fact, I’ve noticed as I look at my list of relationships
to amend (people I’ve fallen out of touch with for self-preservation [but feel guilty about it], men I
intrigue with even though there’s no possibility or desire for more, and the
third category, my job that I haven’t wanted that’s been the same one dressed
in different clothes for decades), each of these categories can be boiled down
to: Molly staying in relationships she doesn’t want to be in.
Molly staying for the crumbs, the guilt, the fear of
emptiness. Molly staying because it’s the “right” and “good” thing to do. Molly
staying because she believes she can’t have what she really wants.
Each of these amends boils down to believing I’m worth
attaining what I really want.
It’s so easy to believe and reinforce this when it comes to
kitchen furniture! it’s harder to believe I can have what I want when it comes
to people.
It is a sad and lonely habit to continue to hang on to
relationships that don’t work, that aren’t fulfilling, that aren’t meeting my
needs because of a belief that something is better than nothing.
It’s funny. My voice teacher had me practice “As long as he
needs me” from Oliver the other week.
Did I know the song, he asked? Yes. Yes, I know the song. I live the song.
I will stay on as long as he, she, they, it needs me. No
matter how it’s hurting because “if you’ve been lonely, then you will know,
when someone needs you, you love them so.”
So, I guess I should correct it to say I have lived the song. But I don’t really anymore, or I don’t
want to anymore. I don’t want to settle, I don’t want to stay small, I don’t
want to be scared of what may or may not come to me.
I want to believe, that just as I knew my kitchen table
would arrive when it was supposed to, that my job and my healthy relationship
will as well.
With a little visioning, of course. And perhaps a new theme song.

career · clarity · health · progress · self-care · theater

Round and Round She Goes!

Waking at 5 am to do work-trade at my workout studio doesn’t make for a lyrical blog, so I figure I’ll just give you a “state of the union” update on a few things I’ve been writing about here recently.

Yesterday, I had my first vocal rehearsal for The Addams Family. It’s sooo low, this range, so I’ll do the best I can! Which, I think will be alright! I also took my first voice lesson last week in over a year, and I really like the woman I met with. She’s in SF, but I think, for now, at least through the play (Opening Sept 19), I’m not in a position to shop around at the moment.

I also wonder if I should begin auditioning again, too. As I once heard, “You’re only as good as your next play”! Which is a great discouraging mantra!! But, perhaps instead, I’ll look at audition lessons or acting lessons, too. It’s not that I have the finances for that at the moment, since

I’ve begun acupuncture again, following all the medical upswing of the last few months with my liver, et al. But things have calmed down. Medically and emotionally. I had an ultrasound of my liver about a week or more ago. They found that, indeed, there were fatty or scarred areas on my liver which were likely causing the elevated liver enzymes that incited the doctors to panic in the first place. They can’t tell from the ultrasound if it’s fat or scarring, but in either case, the dr. said that we don’t have to do anything except watch it. That there were just small spots on the image. Nothing seriously damaged at all. Or even moderately damaged. Thank god. The irony of a sober person developing cirrhosis was just too galling.

In the meantime, I’ve begun again with the acupuncturist I used to see (who’s also in SF, so I try to stack my time there), and I think she’s been influential in helping my system calm down and regulate. Granted, I see and have been seeing my chiropractor/naturopath, (who, using muscle testing, was able to diagnose liver scarring!) but I wanted some additional support, since things were “showing up” in my ovaries, and I know that the chemo may have knocked those ladies out of alignment. The acupuncturist, I began seeing for fertility/womanly issues about 7 or 8 years ago. She’s known me for a good long while, though I haven’t seen her in a few years. It’s nice to have that long-term relationship, and she remembers things about my life and my progression that I’m surprised she does!

Next in Team Molly accrual, I met with a woman yesterday about a “fulcrum”related topic. I want to find a way to work less and earn more, so that I can actually not live paycheck-to-paycheck and dawn-to-dusk for the rest of my life. I believe it’s possible, and have been reaching out to people to ask for their suggestions on this.

She, this friend of a friend, suggested something that I’ve had suggested twice before: Teach writing to kids.

Bu- But, B, B…. but I don’t know how. But it’ll be hard.

Mainly, I don’t know how, and that means that I throw up all kinds of barriers to mask that vulnerability, like “it’s hard,” it’s competitive, I don’t have experience, etc etc etc.

These are not very true. That I don’t know how to go about it is. But that’s why I reach out for HELP! The same woman I met with yesterday said that she just paid… wait for it… $200 for a 4-hour class for her child.

I’m sorry, what?

In a class of 6.

She said that, in this area, you can charge at least $30 per kid per hour, and have a small class. She said that the teachers also offered help with personal organization for the kids, helping them clean out their backpack, organize their homework schedule, organize their life, because, if you haven’t figured this out — not all parents know how to model this for their kids.

Point is. This is the 3rd time in as many years that the suggestion has been made to me about doing supplemental education for kids. And I would love to do that. I have the passion, and the good intention (despite my practicality about the numbers), and the acumen with kids. I just do. And I don’t want to be a “classroom teacher;” I just have watched and am continuing to watch too many of my friends work really hard for a diminished ROI.

Fulcrum, man.

Good for me for reaching out and being open to ideas. Now, the work will be to create a curriculum, a program. Eek.

And that’s where the help will need to come in. But I know plenty of people who can, and the things that I don’t know, I have the wherewithal to find help for that. She sent me the links to several programs in this area that offer similar services/classes that I could model my work after. It’s exciting, nerve-inducing… and I hope I do it!!

Lastly, for fun, I’ll tell you that my “Great Caffeine Reduction Experiment” is going well! I’ve moved from 4-5 cups of coffee a day to 1-2! Granted, I went to bed at 8, then 9 pm for about 2 weeks, and am still tired by 10pm! But I think a) that’s more normal, and b) might pass. In any case, I think it also helps my body, and my energy, which I’ll need. Not to mention my voice, since coffee is dehydrating.

So, things continue to move. … And the Tarot card I pulled recently is the one about intense rest and reserving of energies. So, I cancelled one of my coffee dates this weekend (with a girlfriend, don’t get excited!) to fulfill that need. But I think there’s more rest to come.

As someone once said, “On most days, I meditate 30 minutes. On days that I’m very busy, I meditate an hour.” (and I say this soooo metaphorically at the moment!!)