04 April 2007

Flipping out...

Looking for a new job can be exhausting.

I send out at least a couple of resumes a day. I call friends/editors/more friends/people I don't really like/network with people I don't even know but pretend as if I do and they're generally so confused they grow to believe they know me.

I am working with a couple of recruiters. I talked to my PC Magazine editor yesterday and he had some promising leads and a few possibilities and he even promised to search hard in his budget and see if he could find a little wriggle room and pass the word.

And when I'm not sending out my resume, I spend the rest of my time worrying. Obsessing. Imagining mysterious illnesses which can only be the most horrific and untreatable because I'm now without health insurance coverage. The stress of stressing about no health insurance could literally make me sick and I can't get sick because I don't currently have health insurance!

It's an ugly and vicious cycle.

Last night, my Dad forwarded an e-mail to me that someone had sent him. My Dad is a wonderful man and he thought he was doing me a huge favor. This e-mail he forwarded explained the different symptoms observed between men and women which might signal a heart attack.

I started reading about jaw pain, indigestion, pressure, pain shooting down the left arm, and that's about the time I hit DELETE! OH MY GOSH! This was the LAST thing I needed to read! Right now, I am so wide-open to the power of suggestion and in such a hypochondrical state, that if I were to get a simple, benign rash, I would immediately decide that it was petechia which could only mean my platelets are low which, one could easily surmise, would mean I have acute lymphocytic leukemia and should immediately schedule a bone-marrow biopsy and settle on whether to seek treatment at Duke or Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and then, THEN, realize that I don't have health insurance and will get the worst possible care at a county hospital which sees maybe 3 cases of leukemia every 18 years.

I'm only marginally exaggerating.

Ahem. I'm driving myself, my cats, my dog and a few close friends positively crazy. They do, however, say that I'm the healthiest looking non-terminally ill patient they've ever seen. I'm sure they're probably just saying that to make me feel a little better. In fact, the doctor I've not been in contact with and who hasn't examined me, has probably called them and told them just how bleak things look from where he doesn't stand. They're all putting up such a brave front. What amazing actors they are...every last one of them.

So today, well, I could see this dawning as another day to drive myself crazy but, rather than head for crazy, I decided to head for the beach. It was one of the best ideas I've had in years. In addition to giving me a much-needed change of scenery, it got me out of a very dangerous neighborhood - my head. I really needed to get out of my head before I went out of my mind.

It worked. The sun. The water. My iPod. A 2 mile walk with James Taylor and John Mayer and the sun, the water, the waves, more water, stopping and just sprinkling water all over myself, celebrating the sun, the spring, the promise of summer...glorious summer. Everything I'd obsessed, worried about, focused and feared and panicked over, magically seemed to wash out to sea. I think the tide took my troubles away. At least for awhile.

I looked out at the horizon and saw a dolphin breach. A good sign, yes, dolphins do that. They just splash and jump in the air turning arcs even without someone in a wetsuit blazened with the "Sea World" logo, dangling a bucket of fish before them in the promise that, if they do their tricks, go through the paces and hit their marks, they'll get a frozen fish dinner. It's true that dolphins frolic as an expression of joy, exhilaration, emblematic of how much they love life, even outside the confines of a marine park. Especially outside of the confines of a marine park.

Today, I felt just like a dolphin and if I was, today, this day after I felt so much fear and trepidation and worry over things, to impossibly feel so much hope, so alive, giddy and finding myself breaking into an irrepressible smile, well, that can only be God. Today, I was that dolphin, flipping in the air for the sheer thrill of it all, splashing in a sun-drenched, multi-faceted diamond-studded sea. I wasn't offered a job today nor was I handed a prepaid one-year health insurance card and it was OK. It was all just fine. Hours after those magic moments on the beach, the effects linger still. I can close my eyes and hear those waves, feel the sun, look out toward an endless horizon and when I do, I feel that joy. And it is real.

You were right Bill Leftwich - God will see us both through, even when we're not looking.

And you know, I'm almost happy that I was so wound up and in knots yesterday because if things had just been coasting along in some expected way, today wouldn't have held the same brand of magic for me. Today was positively delicious.

I find it's sort of like that with driving as well. I still forget sometimes and I'll think, hey, I need to go pick up this or that or whatever, and then it dawns on me that I can go get in my car and I can take myself here and there or anywhere and at anytime, and as wonderful as that is, after almost 3 1/2 years of not driving, it's an adjustment! There have been a few times I've felt panicked like maybe it's not such a good idea I'm on the road after all! What if I can't do this? I get scared and my heart will race and my breathing will accelerate and I'll start to feel as if I can't breathe, much less drive. But of course, the only antidote to that is to do the thing that scares you. To march straight into that fear, just go there and grit your teeth if you must, even clench your fists, but don't turn back. You can't allow it to win.

A couple of years ago, my daughter gave me the greatest card. It was so perfect for me, so very "Katie" in sentiment. It is black and on the front, in typewriter-style font in lower-case letters, it says, "do one thing every day that scares you." which is, of course, a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. And you know, I keep that card tacked right above my computer monitor and I glance at it only about a dozen or so times a day. I have come to believe it's such wise advice.

"Do one thing every day that scares you.". Lately, I do ten things every hour that scare me!

The truth is, I don't want to cross that bridge when I come to it. I really don't. Couldn't I just "blink" and get to the other side?

When I am driving or about to cross a bridge, and gosh I hate driving across bridges - I would almost rather clean my house and steam all of my carpets than drive across a bridge and if it's a bridge with any height, well, my palms get sweaty just typing it, but when I see one on my horizon and I know that to get to where I need to be, I have to cross that looming bridge - I instantly remember that quote and I see that card in my mind and I think of Katie and how she would say something tender and inspirational like, "Stop being a freak! Just do it, woman!".

Sometimes when I'm intensely scared, she has the uncanny ability to call me right before my fear sets up residence - almost as if she intuitively knows that I need her to talk smack to me; to be firm and to remind me that whatever "bridge" I'm looking to cross, real or metaphorical, that I can do it - that I have done it - and I lived through it and I even went on to have two smart-ass kids who entertain me to no end. It's so astonishing how she knows just when I need to hear from her.

There are times when I wonder if I'm the female equvalent to Tony Shalhoub's "Monk"? I can relate to him probably more than I would care to admit.

It's reminiscent of when my Daddy would tread water in the deep end of the pool, tirelessly trying to get me to jump off that diving board. He would tell me, "Susan, you can do this. You can. You will be fine..." and you know how when people you love and respect and would literally trust with your life, tell you that it's going to be ok, and you want to believe it with every single cell in your body but there's that repressive force, holding you back and implanting the most insidious seed of a doubt.

Of course, at some point, you have to make a decision. You either pull off to the side and watch all of the other cars cross the bridge and you turn around in defeat or you hold on tight, listen to Katie's smart-ass voice "Just do it, woman! My gosh, you're such a crazy nut!" and after a few seconds of terror, and an abundance of faith you didn't even know you had - even though it's shaky now and then, you cross that bridge; you walk to the end of that diving-board and jump so that your poor father can catch his breath after an hour of treading water and exhaustively trying to talk you out of your head and into something that he knows you will grow to love and want to do over and over and over again, if you just get past your "self".

I guess the bottom line is that I'm never going to run out of bridges or diving boards. Well, diving boards don't bother me at all now, but certainly bridges and Raleigh traffic mess with my mind, big-time. And certainly sitting at my desk wondering when I'll get a full-time job with health and dental benefits can drive me to sheer and utter distraction and even I sometimes have to laugh at myself and realize that Katie is right. I'm such a freak!

This afternoon, at the beach, I was sitting back in my chair and I must have been smiling, and I noticed this woman, probably mid-30's, chasing around three kids who all looked to be under the age of six. They were in constant motion and the beach is a really big sandbox with lots of room to roam. I watched her chase after one, get him settled and then take off after another and I sat there remembering when that used to be me and those kids were Katie and Justin. I remembered being buried in sand several times, up to my neck. Sculpting whales and making grand castles out of sand pail molds, one towering over the other just at the water's edge because we needed a moat and a receding tide was great for that.

Eventually, this woman's husband joined her and he became the chief chaser and she looked so very relieved. She was walking back toward her chair which was somewhere behind my stake of sandy real estate, and as she passed me, she stopped and said, "You look so relaxed. I'm jealous." and I smiled and said, "I used to be you." I don't think she quite understood what I meant, but soon enough, she will.

I wanted to tell her to forget about taking her well-earned break and get back to the sand castles and the kinetic kids and to chase and splash and tease the waves with a child in each hand. I wanted to tell her someday, sooner than she will imagine, she will be sitting where I was, and instead of yelling for her daughter to "get back here!", she will be on the cell phone hearing about the pounding rain in Manhattan and being told to "hold on" as her daughter orders a coffee from some shop on 59th Street on the Upper East Side, about 485 miles from just where these waves were lapping at my toes.

Yes, this is me looking so relaxed, trying to forget that yesterday I read an e-mail from my dad cluing me in on the fact that heart attack symptoms manifest themselves differently in women and I should be aware of it and having to get up from my desk because I suddenly felt a rush of blood to my head and wondering if maybe my carotid artery might be occluded because that runs on my mother's side of the family and who knows, I could have an early onset of the condition. Sure lady, I was smiling because the waves and the sun melted my stress, but if only you'd seen me just one day before...you wouldn't have found me looking so serene. You would not have been jealous.

What a difference a day makes. Especially one warmed by the sun and with a clear view of the ocean and dolphins that frolic for no particular reason at all.

So here's to different stages of life. I have high hopes of chasing kids again on a sandy beach and, with any luck, that beach will be just a few hours north somewhere on The Outer Banks and maybe I'll have a modest clapboard beach house with a wraparound porch, wooden screen doors that slam, side-stepping a couple of dogs lazing on the well-worn steps and a cat or two napping in a sunbeam. Of course, those "kids" will be my grandchildren and there will be kites to fly, castles to build, waves to chase and treasures waiting to be discovered, left from a retreating tide.

And I will be some variation of grandma, granny or whatever - maybe even Susie if they like. I want them to have fun and not worry about tracking sand in my house (it's the beach for gosh sakes!), or about getting wet when we promised only to go for a walk and the ocean just happened to rush up on us and we never saw it coming, honest. At some point, I should probably find someone to marry who can handle the cooking, but I promise to juggle the activities and we'll never, ever be bored. We'll lay on the sand in August and count shooting stars when the Perseids perform their stellar show and trace the constellations during night-time beach walks. And with any luck at all, they won't care that I went through a period where I had to regroup, learn to do things differently, that I went for a short while (God-willing) without health insurance or that sometimes I got very scared and had to pull over and screw on my courage and call their mother so she could talk me across a silly bridge or two.

Maybe they'll think that, overall, I didn't turn out too badly and that, for an old lady, I'm still a lot of fun.

And at some point, we'll rush toward the waves, and I'll teach them to do flips in the water and, if they hesitate, I can look at them squarely in the eye and sincerely promise that they will be OK and that's it's safe.

Because my Daddy said so. And he's never been wrong yet. My Mom's got a pretty good track record going, too.

Oh, and to that breaching dolphin just off the coast of Wrightsville Beach at the #6 Beach Access, thank you for expressing your joy in such a beautiful, whimsical way and for reminding me to re-discover and celebrate my own.