Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Identity Shifts

My decision to get married a few years ago brought with it a whole kit and caboodle of new identities. I became not just a wife, but a seminary student wife, fire department wife, and guy-with-a-host-of-health-issues wife, as well as a parent. And not just a parent but a swim team, water polo, band, and Boy Scout parent. And as a stepmom, I lurked somewhat in the shadows on those parenting roles, unable to confidently take a place among the moms because the kids already had a mom and she was probably there too. A relief in some ways; a tension in others.

All these new roles might have helped me make friends. That sort of happened. But the circumstances were stacked against me; my background and interests were generally quite different from those of the people in the circles where this new life has taken me, so it was hard to find  common ground. I often felt I didn't have time for friends and/or I couldn't be a good friend because I had all these things I had to do with or for my new family, including getting dinner on the table every night and trying to put in a full week of work (not always successfully).

Now Chris is done with seminary. This week he leaves the job that has sucked so much life out of him, and he'll be leaving the fire department soon, too. And his health is pretty good now. Neither of the kids will be living with us. Swim team and water polo are behind us. Our son will still have band concerts (he'll keep playing through college) and maybe some Boy Scout events (Eagle Scouts are apparently expected to make a lifetime commitment). But we'll be 3,000 miles away from those... and from the regular round of Wade family birthday and holiday gatherings too.

Just over three years into parenting, I'm an empty-nester. Sometimes I joke about that because I know how funny it sounds. But it's weird funny as well as ha-ha funny. I feel some of the same mix of grief and relief, pride and concern, that "real" parents feel about having the kids out of the house.

What will the next year or so mean for me in terms of identity? I'll still be a wife and parent, of course, but the job descriptions are quickly changing and the emotional price has just been drastically reduced. My social calendar is practically empty. I can have friends again, right? At least theoretically? I know, it's not automatic, and I'll still be working full-time and going to school. But I'm praying for a good friend or several. A supportive small group. A church where I can serve and connect with people in more meaningful ways than of late, and yes, maybe even a book club...

Thursday, June 11, 2015

People don't need good advice.

"People don't need good advice, they need good news," one of my Twitter feeds tells me. "My friends appreciate my advice most if it’s brief and wrapped in encouragement. Advice is a seasoning, not a meal," says another.

"Few people like to be told what to do or how they should do it,"  says a leadership guru I also follow. "Leaders often inadvertently discourage their staff by being overly directive."

Many of us get defensive when someone tries to tell us, to our face, what to do. Like little kids are wont to tell their older siblings: "You're not the boss of me!" Just listening to another offer unsolicited advice is tough for me... I find it hard not to leap to the advisee's defense and defend their right to reach conclusions and make decisions on their own.

Despite this resistance to being told what to do, why do we we embrace advice so readily when it comes from a more impersonal source? Few can resist seeing what someone else has to stay in a those ten-steps-to-success, eight-mistakes-you-might-be-making, or five-things-you-need-to-do-right-now sort of list-icles.

Maybe it's like reading your horoscope or a fortune cookie. You know you can take it or leave it. Whereas when a friend, colleague, or family member puts a finger in your face or starts laying out a case, whether harshly or lovingly, about what you (yes you, personally) need to do, emotions are provoked. You know that a response is required.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Odd jobs, new ones, and those soon to be obsolete

About a year ago I wrote about a woman I met who had one of those jobs I didn't know people had... as a pretend patient to train medical students. New jobs crop up all the time these days. Back in the late 50's when my mother's parents urged her to become a teacher (a suggestion that didn't stick) they probably had no idea that the career as a software tester she'd eventually pursue was even an option. Who'd imagine it? As Douglas Adams once said,

“Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're 35 is against the natural order of things.”

One of my favorite movies, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy's Desk Set, explores the tensions of a group of information specialists afraid of being made obsolete by a computer, one that probably had less power than the phone you carry in your pocket.

Such tensions haven't gone away, but gotten "worse." Today I came across an article from a 2014 edition of The Economist assessing the likelihood that various livelihoods will disappear as people are replaced by machines. The article is behind a pay wall, but here's a chart summarizing their predictions along with a caption:

"Which jobs will be obsolete in 20 years and which are likely to survive? We looked at the impact of automation in an article last year. Telemarketers and accountants beware. Personal trainers, dentists and the clergy are unlikely to disappear any time soon." http://econ.st/1KKj91U










Monday, May 18, 2015

Transitions

It's about time for another email update, but meanwhile, here's the inside scoop on our plans!

SCHOOL: School is wrapping up for the Wade family...
  • Chris graduated with his M.Div. a week ago (and there was much rejoicing!)
  • I wrapped up my grad school semester May 15 and am off until the end of August.
  • Our daughter Haley is in finals week, though as she hopes to stay in California for a summer job, we may not get to see her again. Glad we flew her in for her dad's commencement. She starts her senior year at Biola in the fall.
  • Daniel is coasting through the last couple of weeks of high school and will graduate on June 6, just under three weeks from now. He will stick around Eugene for the time being, continue to work as a life guard/ swim instructor, and start community college in the fall.
MOVING: Yep, this is our summer of transitions!
  • May 23: Garage sale #1
  • June 6: Daniel's graduation
  • June 13: Garage sale #2 - furniture must go
  • June 14-28+: Stay with C's parents while he continues to work
  • June 20: Finish cleaning rental house and turn in keys
  • Late June/early July: Final trip to WA
  • Date TBD: Load up our two cars and head to Colorado
  • July: Vacation and visit friends in CO, then continue driving East
  • Aug 1: Move into (furnished) apartment in Columbia, South Carolina.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"I can't believe Gilbert is dead!"

I grew up spending as much time with my nose in a book as with my friends; probably more. As an addiction, reading had some good side effects but some downsides too. My ability to make real-life friends was sometimes enhanced by the insights I gained from my imaginary friendships but also hampered by the limited amount of practice I gave myself with real people. It was often easier to retreat to re-reading a favorite book (where I could be sure that everyone would behave just as they had last time) than to get out there and learn the lessons of the playground. Even now, I sometimes struggle with frustration when others don't say the lines I've written for them and when scenes don't unfold according to script. Though I think that happens to non-readers, too.

These days many seem to find television and movies the more satisfying, engrossing medium. "Today, the TV set is a key member of the household, with virtually unlimited access to every person in the family," says the sociologist George Gerbner, who compares the power of television to the power of religion. "The more time people spend 'living' in the television world, the more likely they are to believe social reality portrayed on television."

I am not surprised to know people who feel more connected to characters on the screen than to neighbors, classmates, or coworkers, and maybe even family members. But when you add on the continued growth of celebrity culture, it has some funny effects, doesn't it? We start to feel as if musicians, athletes, and other celebrities are our real friends. And you can actually meet them. Follow them on Facebook. Write to them on Twitter. They are real people, even if their "brands" are carefully managed.

But what about actors? The job of these men and women, explicitly, is to present themselves as something other than they are... to portray the characters that, in a novel, would live only in one's imagination: Now they have flesh and blood.

A number of people I know were recently upset and saddened by the death of Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie. He's best known for portraying the young love interest in the much-beloved 1985 movie Anne of Green Gables. He was still in his forties and died rather suddenly of a brain hemorrhage, so that ups the tragedy factor.

Yet why were the fans sad? Few, I suspect knew much about the actor or had followed his modest career these last 30 years, much less his health, family, or inner life. They were sad because Gilbert was dead. Of course Gilbert was a fictional character and had never been alive in the first place.

What do we make of this? A healthy sign that one's imagination, empathy, and sense of play are still working, or something more ominous and distorted? Is it different from children playing with dolls, animal-lovers attributing human motivations to their pets.... or me crying over a book? (which seems perfectly justified! Or.... okay, maybe it's the same thing.) Is it a matter of degree or effect, a question of whether they express a healthy creativity versus an obsessive, corrupting, or idolatrous one?

We live in a post-modern day and age where it's hopelessly old fashioned to defend the notion of a common "reality" or the importance of being connected to the "real world." Under such conditions, it would seem like nonsense to evaluate these behaviors in terms of how they reinforce or distort our sense of and taste for what is true, real, good, or best. Wouldn't it?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Free ice cream other fringe benefits

"Crying because 'free cone day' at Ben and Jerry's is tomorrow while I'm at work!" posted one of my Facebook friends. She's a young woman characterized by a mix of sharpness and silliness I find rather endearing. While other friends bemoaned such bad luck, I briefly considered pointing out the happy fact that activities like going to work are what make treating oneself to an ice cream cone possible on any day, not just once a year. I said nothing, though, not sure that my relationship with her is strong enough to bear the weight of such logic!

Since then I've been thinking about how much I take for granted the intrinsic blessings, big or small, that come with the intrinsic limitations of my own life and maybe those of each one of us.

Friday we stopped by Chris's university in Portland to have lunch there on our way to Seattle, and caught sight of a flier advertising a sunset dinner cruise for seminary students. No price listed, but tickets for that particular experience run $70 a person; no chance it's free? Actually, it is, and we're signed up. One of those little perks that come along with the sacrifice of time and money we've made to get Hubs through school. And a nice way to celebrate graduation. Thank you, Lord.

Today I am working on resource reviews for the weekly, online magazine I manage. I regularly rejoice that I've got a job that allows me to spend so many hours playing with words and putting together articles, almost all of which are published. This morning, that meant spending a couple hours reading a mission-related novel. It's pretty good. I'm going to recommend it. But am trying not to feel guilty about starting my work week with such a pleasure!

None of us love our jobs (or our lives) all the time, but isn't it great to have a job with many moments you can love... and that provide the means of enjoying other things you love? 

Friday, March 27, 2015

South Carolina Food Taste Test

...In which several West Coast people--people like me--sample South Carolina delicacies for the first time. Shrimp and grits, boiled peanuts, or spicy ginger ale might be a little uncommon. At least I've never tried them before. But where did they find Californians who haven't had sweet tea?