How To Get A Life Out In The Sticks

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One of the many reasons why I had two jobs for 20 years was that if there was drama or problems at one job, usually the other job was fine, so I still had something to look forward to. It was a kind of balancing act. Since having one job, I have learned to achieve that balance with work and home instead of between two jobs.

Last year, when Kitty passed away and my world shattered, home pretty much sucked. Luckily, I absolutely loved my job and was able to draw strength from that. I have learned that the opposite holds true as well, when you don’t like your job, home life better be stellar to counteract that.

I am very fortunate right now in that my home life is amazing. My home life is definitely the most positive aspect of my life right now and I am very grateful. At the same time, I am missing the support of having a job I loved, and am looking to recreate that somehow by trying to “get a life” out in the community.

Trying to get a life in a small town is hard. First, there aren’t very many opportunities. Second, small towns tend to be quite clique-y, so trying to infiltrate the ranks can be challenging. Honestly, I miss the city. I also miss freedom to move around. My medical issues have been clipping my wings quite a bit for the past year or so. Since I no longer have the ability to take off to who knows where on a whim, I need to make do with this small town I’m in.

Trying to get a life out in the sticks is partially contingent on age. This is what I’ve learned so far:

Bonfire

This strategy works well in your teens. When I was young in a small town and you wanted to find people, look for a bonfire. That’s where everyone hangs out to talk, listen to music, and roast marshmellows.

Bonfires typically follow other events like the Friday night high school football game, which was the hottest ticket in town. Ok, it was the only thing to do on a Friday night when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. If you are a teenager who wants to get a life out in the sticks, find a bonfire. Or, make your own. If you start a bonfire, they will come.

Alcohol

Bonfire experiences in your teens typically evolve to include alcohol in your 20s. Actually, in your 20s, you don’t even necessarily need the bonfire anymore. You show up somewhere with a 6-pack or a bottle of vodka and Boom! Instant party.

If you want to get a life out in the sticks in your 20s, all you need to do is add alcohol. It’s very simple.

30s & 40s

This is where I am at a complete loss. For most of my 30s, I was in school working on my degrees. Meeting people is easy when you are a college student. At 39, I’m stuck in a small town and no longer in school.

People my age don’t seem to exist. I’m sure that they do, but I don’t see them. I imagine that everyone my age is happily coupled and spends their evenings at home cooking fresh, organic, vegetarian dinners followed by family board games with their 2.5 kids while the dog snores in front of the fireplace. They are just so blissfully happy, they have no need to go out and meet people.

More likely, everyone my age was smart enough to get out of rural USA while they could and are off living in the cities. I’m not sure where I missed the boat on social and geographic mobility in America, but that ship has defininitely sailed, and I was not on it. I didn’t even hear the boarding call.

Bars

Let’s not go there. If you’re still on the “bottle of vodka creates a party” kick past your 20s, you have a problem, and I am NOT your therapist. In my small town, bars are filled with young college students and meth heads. I do, after all, live in the county that is considered the meth capitol of NYS.

This is not a scene that I am in or want to enter. So we will just leave the bars alone in this little experiment, mm’kay?

How To Get A Life

Well, this sounds dismal. You thought I was going to have some great ideas on how to solve this little problem, didn’t you? Well, I do have some ideas. They are still in progress. Some have pros and cons. We’ll go through them.

Volunteer

So far, I have found this strategy to be helpful, but it is a little early yet for definitive data. My strategy for volunteering is to choose only one or two organizations. This way, I am able to participate fully without overwhelming myself. It gets me out in the community networking and meeting people. A con to this strategy so far is that I have not met any people my age. Although the people I have met so far are fascinating. I am also learning new things and I like that.

When choosing volunteer work, it is helpful to choose an area in which you are passionate. Passion will get you through the rough times. For example, everyone around me seems to find fault with me right now, so I am starting to think that animals are better than people. But since the point is to try to meet people my own age, I guess I need to put up with the jerks. And come home to cuddle with my cats. A lot.

Events

What’s the hottest gig in town? As a teen, it was the aforementioned high school football game. In this small town, it is the public library. Our library posts a calendar of events each month offering a wide range of activities. I’m trying them. Some I like better than others. The good thing with events is that there is no commitment. If you don’t like something, then you just don’t go when it is offered again.

The event I attended that I liked the most was an educational workshop put on by the NYS Bluebird Society. It was awesome. This was one of the best lectures I have attended since grad school. (I told you small town – so yes, that makes bluebirds wicked exciting.) I haven’t really met any new people as the result of the workshop, but the NYS Bluebird Society gives me a whole new field of interesting information to learn when I’m bored or can’t find people to hang out. I have plenty of things I like to do on my own, but finding friends is kind of hard.

Organize! Or, “old habits die hard”

If you can’t find something to join that interests you or fuels your passion, start it. Organize. I’m doing that now with one of my volunteer opportunities. I want something that is not there, so I am helping to organize things to make it happen.

For me, this situation also falls under “old habits die hard.” The activity I am helping to organize is an event I miss attending when I was in Boston. If you want to do something and it does not exist, make it happen. I physically can’t go back to the city right now, so I’m making the city come to me. You can do it.

Forward & Onward

Trying to get a life out in the sticks is wicked hard. I’m not going to lie. Even when you try to do something positive, people are going to judge you. Well, they’re going to judge you whether you just sit there and do nothing or if you act and organize, so you might as well do something.

Life was a lot easier last year when I had a job I loved and all this friendship and fulfillment was automatically built into my work experience. It’s harder when you have to search for those things outside of work. My job already exhausts me; it makes getting a life outside of work just that much more difficult.

This year I am starting the slow process of getting a life out in the sticks. Of course, the ultimate goal, which has been the goal for over 20 years now, is to return to Boston. I don’t see that happening, as Boston housing is way out of my price league, and I can’t logistically figure out how to make it work. Also, my home life is the most positive thing in my life right now, so I am not about to rock that boat.

This spring and summer is going to be about getting a life. It is also going to be about recreating equilibrium. The stability I worked so hard to create in life fell apart last year when the place I was working for closed. Hopefully by getting a life, I can regain my footing and get some of that stability back.

I am fortunate in that I have spent years slowing down my life so that when this tragedy happened last year, I did not completely fall apart. I was knocked down a little, but not completely demolished. I am able to stand up again, brush myself off, and move forward.

How do you go about getting a life out in the sticks?

 

 

 

 

How do you go about getting a life out in the sticks?

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Lost & Found

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I’ve thought about calling this year the Lost Year. In the now 10 months that I have been retired/out of school, I have felt completely lost. A huge chunk of my identity (student) is no longer there. I don’t know what to do with myself. On top of that, this is the first year that I am not running a major race or getting a medal. That has never happened before. I have run through pretty much everything. This year, I have been waylaid by my autoimmune disorder, my work schedule, and now the flu that has simply rendered the requisite 5-month training schedule an impossibility.

I’m seriously starting to wonder if NOT being a student is making me depressed. In what seems to be a bottomless pit of despair, there have been some pinpricks of hope this year. These are the three top aspects of “found.”

One of the major things on the list given to me by the doctors for how to manage my autoimmune disorder is to reduce my stress levels. It has now been over 6-months since I completely deleted my facebook account and canceled my home Internet service. Getting off of facebook is the #1 thing that I have done to decrease my stress levels. Words cannot express how much happier I am now that I am not online. To be honest, people talk to me a lot less, yet I do not feel lonely. When I was on facebook, a lot of people talked to me, but I always felt lonely. So now, I’m lucky if someone sends me a text message once a month, I am actually less lonely than I was before. Strange, but true.

Out of all the things I have done to decrease my stress levels, going offline has taken the most burden off my shoulders. I drink green tea and meditate, and I still want to slap someone. Going off facebook is better than yoga and jazz and all the new age relaxation techniques combined.

Second, when I had the flu last week, there was one day when I was trying to watch football, and just physically couldn’t. That’s when I said, you know what? I can’t do this, I don’t have to do this, and then I shut off the TV set and went to sleep. Having the flu last week was the first time in my life that I have been sick and was able to listen to my body 100%. If I had been in school, there was always something to read or something to write, and I would have fought through the flu because I had schoolwork to do. Last week, I did not have schoolwork, so I was able to say “no” to everything around me, and give my body what it needed to heal, which was pretty much sleep.

Third, I had less beach days in 2016 (in retirement) than I did in 2015 (in school). When I first realized this, I was dismayed. Why would I have less beach days when I have taken great pains to slow down my life and my schedule to have more time to do what I want? And that’s when I realized that life cannot be measured by beach days. When I was in school, I made a point of scheduling beach days so that I could relax. Scheduling a day to relax is about as much fun as making a schedule to have sex. It’s not. Fun. It’s more fun when it’s spontaneous. Looking back at summer 2016, I may have had less beach days, but here is what I had more of: baseball, live theatre, movies, time with family, time with friends, picnics, hiking, camping, sunsets, swimming, reading, and sleep. I did so many things this summer other than going to the beach.

Days before I was completely flattened by the flu, I had made plans to return to school. Yup. That’s right. I have talked about teaching, but I actually have that opportunity at work. I am enjoying the “teaching” I do at work so much, that I do not feel the need (at the moment) to teach in academia. I am truly blessed in that I have a job doing what I love.

But I’m a person who likes to finish what I start, and I was thinking I have some unfinished business. I would like a PhD, but my student loans are maxed. I know I cannot get financial aid, so the PhD is off the table. There is, however, the question of the physics degree I started and never finished. Three years into that, I switched to psychology, and stuck with that field. Plus, there is the fact that I actually looked through my high school yearbook this summer given that it was technically my 20-year class reunion. One of my future plans under the Senior Directory was to “get my PhD in Chemistry.” I’m thinking of going back and finishing a degree in either chemistry or physics. Of course, I would have to pay for classes out of pocket, but I could take one at a time.

I could, theoretically, complete my 5th degree by the time I turn 40.

That was the plan before the flu. Now post-flu, I am thinking “hell no.” Going back to school must have been part of my flu-induced delirium. There is no way I want to go back to school and be stuck in that schedule again. Especially now that my time is my own, I enjoy being homework free.

However, it is only October. The spring semester does not start until January. We will see what happens and what I think over the next three months. Apparently, I had a lot more wisdom at 17 than I do at 37. At 37, I feel like this past year has been lost and found. At 17, my quote in the yearbook came from Luke Skywalker: “I’m ready for anything.”

If I can hang onto that, maybe this year can turn around from lost to Found.

The Price of Convenience

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I had an errand to run on my day off yesterday in a city about 40 miles away from my house. It was a good drive with little traffic. I had no frustration in my travels. I realized that it took me the same amount of time to reach this city 40 miles away as it does to drive the 10 miles to work every day. That’s how bad the traffic and parking situation is in the city where I work.

In my efforts to slow down my life, I have been trying to cut out all of the unnecessary fluff so that I have more time, money, and resources to devote to things truly important to me. The fact that I spend 2 hours commuting every day to a place 10 miles from my home is ridiculous to me, but I really like my job.

While I was trying to save money by giving up my parking pass for my work location, doing so added an hour to my commute every day. Not only was I fighting traffic, but it typically took me an additional 60 minutes to not only find a parking space but also to walk the 1-3 miles from the parking space to work. That was one hour out of my day that could be spent doing something else that I want to do – like spending time with my sick family member.

So, I bit the bullet and decided to pay for a parking pass for work again. I decided that spending $80 a month for parking is worth 5 hours a week of my time. I now have 5 hours per week more to be at home that I am not fighting to find parking and then having to walk from a parking spot to work.

This is the price of convenience.

Life seems like an endless series of opportunity costs. Which do we value more – time or money?

It depends.

Mostly, I value my time.

Another cost of convenience that I have been evaluating recently is car repair. I have my vehicle maintained and repaired in the city in which I work. I have been doing so for at least the past 15 years. The logic is that if I have to leave the car to have work done, that I can walk to work, and then walk back to pick up the car later in the day when it is done. What has been happening lately is that I get an appointment, and end up having a few hours to kill in between the appointment and when I go into work.

There is not enough time to go home; I end up stuck in the city in which I work with some down time. Again, this is down time that I could be using to do other things that mean something to me.

Starting next week, I will be having my vehicle repaired some place close to my home instead of my work. Of course, that means if I need a significant amount of work done, that I may have to take a day off from work and stay home. To me, that situation is a better scenario than being stuck in the city where I work. At least if my car is repaired closer to home, I can be home, and it alleviates the stress of trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B (mainly from work to home).

These simple changes in life will hopefully free up more of my time to be home and to do the things that I want to spend my time doing. I want to be more in control of situations, not simply responding to whatever crisis presents itself at the time.

What “conveniences” in your life take time away from what matters most? Evaluating the simple things we do each day and why we do them can help to figure out solutions to challenges that may not have been available before. By changing my perspective on how I look at things that need to be done, I am freeing up more time for people and things I love to do.

Life Lesson #493: Do Not Wine & Adele

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Above: Recent art project in process. It will be much shinier and prettier after it is fired in the kiln. You can see some of my Deadpool skin courtesy of my autoimmune disorder.

They say that no man is worth crying over, and the one who is won’t make you cry. This is true for both men and women. While I have heard this adage many times, it has literally taken me years to develop a sense of self worth adequate enough to truly embrace it. When we are emotionally distraught, we tend to engage in negative coping skills in an attempt to deal with the pain. Part of growing up is developing and maintaining positive coping skills to be able to deal with life’s challenges so that we can become resilient and bounce back to full functioning in shorter periods of time.

When we are emotionally distraught, we are more susceptible to becoming overwhelmed by even the slightest thing. The smallest addition to the pile could be the tipping point at which distraught tumbles into full-blown despair or meltdown. About 5 years or so ago, I could very easily tell you what my most negative coping skill was for dealing with stress. It was then I learned to not wine and Adele.

We all have negative coping skills, from smoking to drinking, to binge-watching Bridget Jones’ Diary on repeat while inhaling tubs of Ben & Jerry’s to taking out our emotions on the people closest to us whether they deserve it or not. For me, it was wine & Adele. I could drink wine and listen to anything else from the Grateful Dead to The Doors to Florence & The Machine, but if I put on Adele, well, then, “rolling in the deep,” indeed.

Over the past few years, I have been successful in replacing some of my most negative coping skills with more positive ones. The fact that I have been able to minimize and simplify my life these past few years has greatly helped in this transition process of shedding negative habits for more positive ones.

Simplifying my life, slowing down my schedule, and reducing the amount of clutter around me has empowered me to more competently face and process my emotions better without being overwhelmed by anything around me. I have the time and space to process all my emotions, both positive and negative, without having anything in my environment be a tipping point to a negative place. I have been able to develop positive coping skills for processing negative emotions so that I can more quickly and successfully come through the other end.

March was a particularly challenging month for some reason I have not been able to identify. In March, I used my positive coping skills a lot. I did quite a bit of painting, I have been more active in community events, and have had more meaningful conversations with those whom I interact.

I did not wine, but I did Adele. With my autoimmune disorder, my wine consumption has gone from about 4-5 bottles per year to maybe 4-6 glasses per year, so wine is no longer a coping skill. I did, however, pop in the new Adele CD and have a nice, tear-free soak in the bathtub.

Sometimes when we are distraught, identifying our positive coping skills can by extremely difficult, even if it seems that they should be evident. For those moments when life is overwhelming, I have made a list of positive coping skills that I can look at to remind myself that there are ways other than smoking (I quit like 9 years ago), wine & Adele, or endless tears to be able to cope with stress and pain.

Some of my positive coping skills include:

  • Running
  • Painting
  • Baseball
  • Hockey
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Church

It is especially important to try to identify coping skills that are not dependent on other people, in case those people are not available, or maybe we just don’t have people in our lives on whom we can rely. Unfortunately, that is the situation in which I live. There is not a single person in my life that I could pick up the phone and call when I am having a hard time. I have tried it before and the usual response is “I’m busy.” I don’t even bother reaching out for human contact anymore. People know where I am. If they want to talk to me, they can reach out to me.

One of the reasons why learning to not wine & Adele is so significant is that wine & Adele was trapping me in a cycle of negativity. I was not processing my emotions and moving on from them; I was dwelling in them. Pickling myself in negative feelings is not what I have in mind for my life. In the process of slowing down, I now have the luxury of being able to unpack and address each emotion and move on from the situation that much stronger for having addressed the initial cause of despair.

Diversifying our coping skills is important in case our “go-to” is unavailable. For example, when I was injured last fall after my marathon, I had to rely on my other coping skills to deal with my running injury, because it was definitely not something I could just “run through.” If I ran with that injury, I would have done permanent damage that would have inhibited my running for the foreseeable future.

Do you have your own version of wine & Adele? What positive coping skills can you use to replace the negative ones? How can we be kind to ourselves and best allow ourselves the time and space to process our emotions in healthy ways? When we slow down our lives, we then have the opportunity to deal with our emotions instead of just dwelling in them. We are here to live, not to dwell.