Friday, July 31, 2009

Leap, and the net will appear...or not.

I just watched Doubt (with Philip Seymour-Hoffman and Meryl Streep), and the motto of the story seems to be existential: the choices (or accusations, in this case) we make are our own, and we must own them; there is no one who can make the hard choices for us. If one is going to accuse a priest of inpropriety, one must accept the consequences of being the one pointing the finger and supplying testimony. In the end, we are alone with our choice, and it is our choices that determine the shape of our lives. What we do now determines who we become; we reap what we sow. Doubt is the by-product of unmitigated choice, much in the same way as lactic-acid is the by product of working muscles.

I have not always made the best choices in life, and there are plenty of times where I have not wanted to own up to those choices. Maybe I blamed someone else, or chalked them up to the result of a mental illness, or just plain refused to take responsibility. I am realizing now that my lack of discipline, lax work ethic, and absence of career planning is catching up with me.

Then again, as Debbie pointed out, less than a year ago I was preparing to join a monastery. I had given away much of what I owned, moved out of my apartment, quit my job, and was ready to take a leap of faith....until I was turned down. It seemed God did not want me hiding away in the desert praying 24/7. I had planned for this kind of life since I was 19, and many of the choices I made were with the intent that I would become a monk. Now it was not to be. I put my money on double sixes and rolled a pair of snake eyes. It's kind of like surviving a breakup, and now it's time to rebuild.

So much is habit. If you get in the habit of working hard, you will naturally become a hard worker. If you get in the habit of napping all the time and avoiding work and hard choices, you will become a lazy piece of shit. Which is what I kind of feel like these days. I feel like I should have worked harder, planned better, saved more, prepared more. Not that such regrets do any good, except if they motivate me to change the trajectory of my life NOW. I have a feeling marriage is going to teach me a thing or two about hard work and commitment; children, quite a bit more. Paul prayed that the Lord would take away his pride; I pray that God unyokes me of my sloth without me having to do anything. In the end, the answer is the same: "My grace is sufficient for thee." "Be strong and courageous, and do the work." (1 Chronicles 28:20) God's men are strong and committed. I have a thing or two to learn from them.
Worry replaced with prayer equals trust.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

More Thought Clips

As my last day of work approaches, I am filled with a sense of relief mingled with apprehension. Many people have their careers in order, but not their relationships. I have the opposite problem right now; I have the best, most supportive girlfriend, but have no idea what I'm doing to make bank. I want out of the field I am in but don't know what to go into. Even if I knew, it is not an easy job market to find work in. In all honesty, I am scared.

* * *

I've been spending my lunch break in Borders reading random self-help books. I read one called 'Faith and Will' by Julia Cameron. It was a somewhat fluffy book about the fact that God is in charge of our lives, that we need to trust God, etc. In one part she is talking about when her father died, she prayed, "I miss my dad. I miss my dad. I miss my dad." I started to cry in the middle of the bookstore. I don't want my dad to die. I would miss him too much. I reached out my right hand, as I have done in the past, and placed it in the Lord's, who sat next to me. Taking refuge in Love.

* * *

The demons of worry and laziness continue to plague me. I want to lie in bed a lot, and have to fight the temptation to sleep in. The uncertainty of how I'm going to make money haunts me. I have the unsettling feeling of being a little boy in a big, bad grownup world. I am excited about getting married, but worried about how to pay for the wedding, if I would make a good husband, father, etc. I smoke cigarettes and wish the world would go away, and let me sleep, sometimes.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Very Special Fob

It's not every day you take a concrete, tangible step towards committing your life to something (or someone). In taking things 'one day at a time,' the prospect of forever seems like such an unimaginable concept. Nevertheless, sometimes we have to move towards 'to death to us part' with that kind of step, supported by trust, love, a healthy serving of trepidation...and a nice shiny rock.

Writing about getting engaged is such an awkward task, especially for a guy. Debbie and I had been talking about it for the past few months, but really the actual day started like any other Saturday. We got up lazily and played tennis. I lost 1-6, I think. We went out to breakfast at the Kozy Korner. Debbie ordered eggs and I ordered pancakes; the waitress gave me a free coffee. We came back and did some weeding, and watched 'A Beautiful Mind,' and both cried because of how close it touched home...marriage and mental illness, the topics of conversation lately. I paced back and forth in the kitchen as Debbie got dressed.

Since it was five months to the day since we first met, I suggested we go to Presto, the coffee shop where we had our first date. We shared a mozarella and tomato salad, and a strawberry smoothie. The place was pretty much empty on a nice Saturday afternoon. It was a nice day for a picnic, so we had packed a bottle of wine and Coke, a baguette and cheese and olives, and headed to Rockford State Park. I surprised Debbie with a dozen roses, and we laid in the grass on a blanket overlooking the field where we usually bring Suzy, her dog, to run around in. After we finished eating, I got down on my knee, and asked her to marry me. Debbie said she knew after the first date that things were leading to this. It took me a few dates, but I had a feeling as well that I had met my future partner for life.

When I told my friend Michael that I was going to ask Debbie to marry me, he said, "that ring is burning a hole in your pocket, isn't it?" Yes! We laughed. He was right...I had been afraid for the past few weeks that someone was going to break in and steal it from under my bed, or I would lose it, and flub up the whole thing, or lose my nerve. An engagement ring is not something you want to hang on to for too long, and besides, I don't keep secrets well. I had to ask her father's permission the weekend before, and we did it together, so it wasn't a huge surprise when the day came.

I don't have any illusions about getting married. Life is hard, and marriage, I think, tends to follow suite. It doesn't come with an instruction book, though we are trying to build our relationship on the foundation of Gospel values, and the wisdom of those who have gone before us. It doesn't come with any guarantees it is going to work; God is taking off the training wheels. But we are both excited, and hopeful about the future...despite my recent unemployment, despite my mental illness...and are doing our best to love and respect one another for who they are, and for who they have the potential to be. Debbie believes in me, and I believe in her. And we both believe in Love. Big Fat Filipino Wedding, here we come!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Two Weeks Notice

I quit my job. Without having another one lined up. In one of the worst economies since the Great Depression. Scary!

It was not a rash decision to quit; rather, things had been steadily moving in this direction for the past couple months. Besides not being a right 'fit,' having a supervisor from hell, and being generally unhappy and stressed, the job was not too bad. I was just at a breaking point, and was feeling like I could not perform at the job at the level I needed to stay employed there. People at work have been supportive, and one girl actually followed suite today after hearing that I had resigned. People are fed up with the management, and if something doesn't change they're going to lose a lot more case managers.

I know a few things in my life right now, but there's a hell of a lot I am not sure about. Will I get another job? What does God have in store? Will I be broke? Will I be a good father, a good husband? What do I do if I get in a car accident? What about medical insurance?

Deep breath. Actually, I have been trying to use this technique, a la Jon Kabat-Zinn...focusing on the breath as stress-management. I heard once that looking at life in the way I have been looking at it--as one giant insurmountable obstacle--is like looking at all the food you have to consume in your lifetime in order to live and thinking you have to eat it all at once. If you saw this mountain of food and thought you had to eat it in one sitting, it would probably make you nauseaus. But "give us this day our DAILY bread." We eat one meal at a time, one bite at a time, and eventually, we get through all that food by the time we die, and even enjoy it along the way. I guess life is similar. It doesn't have to be figured out once and for all all at once in order to proceed. Uncertainty doesn't have to be strained out before one can be happy and content. And I know I am loved, by God, and by many people who care about me, and that goes a long way.

Sometimes sins are like those gophers at Chuck-E-Cheese you bop on the head, and they disappear into a hole and then pop up from another one. The sins of the flesh have not been much of an issue lately. My chief sins these days are laziness and lack of trust. Fear is not of God, and I have been consumed by it. I have been facing some pretty big decisions lately, and have been fighting my share of spiritual battles, many of which I am losing. I pray to St. Michael the Archangel for help. I meditate on the story of Peter walking on the water and then losing his nerve and having to be rescued.

The devil knows where we are weak, and attacks us there. He works on my fears--of uncertainty, of catastrophe, of lack of security--and churns them up in my head. It ebbs and flows, but when it flows it is like a tidal wave of fear that grips and refuses to be shaken off, like a dog clamped on the leg. Eventually it settles down. Being fearful is kind of embarassing. I look at myself in the past and all the stupid shit I have done and not even thought twice about it, and all the things I am fearful of now, and I wonder, is it just getting older? Have I lost a lot of nerve? Where did it go? But Rob is very excited for tomorrow...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thought clips

In talking with my dad the other day he (lovingly) made the allusion that I had somehow 'missed the boat,' when it came to preparing for my future career-wise. I didn't disagree, but it was hard to hear all the same. I had spent my summers traveling and having adventures while my brothers got internships; I picked a major that required the least amount of credits to graduate while my brothers took majors that would actually lead to jobs. I spent time falling apart while they held it all together. It's hard not to feel like the black sheep in a way.

* * *

And now I am 29 working a dead-end job I don't like, one which makes me think about quitting every day, and wondering what doors my masters degree has really opened up for me. I'm tired of the city. Let me say right now that I am complaining, and I realize full well that many others have it much worse and that as usual I am looking at the glass half empty. Not being where I want to be in my life, feeling like my best days are over, I think, is not such a unique thing. It is the plague of many twenty-somethings. I do try to work on being grateful for what I do have, and hoping that it is all a matter of perspective. Which I think it is.

* * *

I realize I have not been writing as much. It feels like 'life has gotten in the way' of creativity, has pushed out dreaming for lack of room, has stymied pie-in-the-sky faith and coated it in the nitty-gritty gravel of real world problems and difficulty. "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Lack of time is no excuse for not writing. Lack of inspiration....maybe. I walk by the homeless with nary a look these days. Faith is proven under pressure.

* * *

I got a card from my mom today in the mail. It was the only piece of mail in my mailbox. It was just a note saying that her and my dad were proud of me, and that everything will work out. I got choked up. Having such supportive parents...that is definitely something not to be taken for granted. Thank you God.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"There's Nothing Worse Than Being Ordinary..."

I was thinking back to the bus project tonight as I gathered with some friends in South Philly to eat grilled steak and peppers and corn on a nice summer night, and how underlying this fanciful project to be an "Urban Hermit," I think, was a real desire to be "special," different, unique--to show how 'un-ordinary' my life could be, wrapped and framed nicely in the guise of a calling. It is the classic Enneagram Type 4 approach to living--ie, the "creation of an identity" being the primary desire. Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari) summed it up in American Beauty: "There's nothing worse [for a 4] than being ordinary."

In many ways, though, it is no different than those types who identify their worth with their performance, or their acceptance by others, or their success. The point being--It is not that I am not special, but I should not spurn the ordinary out of fear (the basic fear of a four being 'not having significance'), nor attempt to define my worth by my 'otherness.' Living in a rather 'mainstreamed' fashion (working an unextraordinary job, volunteering, riding the bus, living in an apartment, etc.) after this extreme project has admittedly been humbling and has forced me to re-evaluate my worth not in terms of how different or unique I am, but in how much I am willing to accept and love my inability, my ordinariness, and my fear of it all; in sum, my imperfect humanity. I don't have to be different. My life doesn't have to be extra-ordinary. Maybe it will be and maybe it won't, but right now it is quite ordinary, and I am coming to terms with that. Recognizing also that this fear of living an ordinary life is just that--a fear, a cognition; i.e., not reality. I am not my thoughts; I am not my fear.

On a side note: I am currently reading two good-for-mental-health books: Feeling Good by David Burns, MD, and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. David Burns is a a cognitive behavioral psychologist who studied under Aaron Beck at U Penn; Kabat-Zinn teaches mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. I have been attempting to use the body scan and meditation techniques by Kabat-Zinn to control occasional bouts of anxiety...I think it has potential. Burns' book has been helpful in the nitty-gritty work of identifying and exposing cognitive distortions. Both, however, require that you do the work. If you don't...well, I guess you are putting your health on hold. Both books are highly recommended.