Wednesday, December 18, 2013

merry effing christmas

I've been doing a lot of things wrong this holiday season.

My brilliant husband, in an effort to maintain a positive image of me in the face of what can only be described as a three-week-long temper tantrum, has posited the idea that my problems are mostly hormonal -- the fallout of the reality that my son is now a little person and has entirely lost interested in boobs for at least a decade or so. Which is jarring, because the hormones that turn on the milk also turn off my personal crazy, apparently. And I've become, not just sort of crazy, but actively resentful of every single person walking the planet.

Found a nursing job? I hate your face. Employing and paying me at my current, non-nursing, job? I hate. your face. Employed in any number of non-nursing pursuits, and a holder of the opinion that you have value as a person and your life is worth living? Your face! I can't even, because of the hate I have for it. 

I am angry in a way that I have no right, or reason, to be, except that life just didn't work out for me the way I thought it would at nine or nineteen or even twenty-nine, and that I have long maintained the belief that if a thing hasn't happened yet, it never will, and it's all my fault, and also, that Facebook has further blurred the line between "cultural products" and "actual human beings walking around the planet" to the point where an entire generation of people still believe that it's useful to talk about ourselves as a generation rather than to simply be adults, and that no one, anywhere on the planet, is over the age of thirty-five.

In other words: there's absolutely no legitimacy to the angry I feel right now. Life, actually, doesn't have to give you what you want, no matter how high your SAT scores were.

For most of my life, faith has been my corrective to this tendency to see my life in terms of obtaining things I want and believe I should have: jobs, children, more jobs. It's given me a context that allowed me to believe that even if I spend the next decade paying off a degree I cannot use (or, you know, take more than five weeks to find said job, and have to keep directing after school programs into 2014), my life can still have meaning. That even if my individual life is devoid of any meaning beyond "I AM A FAILURE," the universe is still a place I can life in. The fact that my faith has kind of bounced this yuletide season -- like, I woke up and was like, God? What? -- would be another not-a-reason to be angry, if I wasn't just grimly Over It All by this point. 

I understand that some people continue to live comfortably in the world without this particular corrective. I don't understand how that works, because underneath every single thing I have experienced or believe, there is the awareness of how insignificant I actually am. On my godfearing days, I see this smallness as part of the human condition, and my inability to accomplish a single thing that I have set out to do every oh my God -- well, that's really more a statement about how people are than the acutely humiliating personal failure I suspect it actually is.

On my less spiritual days, the things I should have done with my life, and didn't, create a sort of existential relativism in which I've failed at everything else, so going to my stupid job that I'm too old to still be at is essentially the same thing as wearing tiger pants and eating pop-tarts out of the box and reading online recaps of Mad Men because I still don't understand how to operate my husband's PS3.

Once upon a time, when I was an adult, I actively resisted a life that is all about me, not so much because I think such a life is inherently lame (though I may, at such time as I once again think and feel things about people other than myself), but because I do not like the person I am and do not believe that person is worth liking. The degree to which this dislike interferes with my ability to enjoy life depends on whether or not I believe I matter in the first place. For me, this is a key selling point of faith, and particularly of the brand of Christian faith with which I grew up.

Anyway, I've been in dire need of some sort of spirit this advent. Call religion a crutch; it's been a long time since I've operated under a belief that I can get through my life without some kind of adaptive device.

It's this sense of my own brokenness that finally lends some sort of meaning to my life, however ambivalent my commitment to that meaning is: maybe, if this program I'm running does a little bit of what it's meant to, it can leave some of these kids valuing themselves  more and coping better than I grew up to do. Because while I know this throwing up of hands of whatever character and maturity I once possessed will eventually pass, I had thought it already had, and on the Continuum of Failure currently dominating my schema, "recurrent inability to cope" ranks even more highly than "can't find a nursing job". 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The blog is back!

This latest lull here on my blog was intentional, part of my "no blog til NCLEX" resolution designed to ensure that I actually attained the nursing license without which my new degree is really just an elaborate, twenty-grand-costing piece of paper. 

Things keep happening through the months of October and November, amount them: a total crisis brought on by my return to the admittedly thankless world of directing free enrichment programs for urban youth who may or may not want to be enriched, and who mostly don't agree with the largely middle-class, non-urban, unconsciously political vision for how this enrichment should work. Basically: your average eleven year old of background probably would rather go home and play video games or hang out on the street than have "study snack" or mandatory homework time or "reading club" or even most other kinds of clubs.

In another context, the fact that our dance teacher and basketball coach can get two hundred sixth graders excited to go do something safe and healthy instead of the asinine, hormonally charged timesucks that I recall occupying my junior high school years would be cause for celebration. Because of the nature of this particular partnership and the expectations of the school in which we're operating, though, the real purpose of what we're doing is to faciliate a Harvard-Ed-Lab-piloted tutoring program which 1. serves only some of our kids, 2. serves them, not according to expressed need, or with consideration for which kids could handle an additional hour of intensive academic support from people whose training is mostly limited to a pep talk on the No Excuses pedagogical model currently embraced at Harvard, but according to their policy person's analysis of a reading assessment thrown together and administered without explanation or ceremony in the second week of school, and 3. forces kids and parents to choose between "unimportant" activities like dance, art, and creative writing on the one hand, and working on their homework in our program on the other.

Basically, the end result is a lot of people patronizing, criticizing, and registering complaints with me -- my favorite of which feature the fact that only 70% of the 6th graders in our school participate, the result, first, of the fact that although the school day "ends at 4:45", after our program ends, in point of fact, the school buses take students home at 2:20. Which, to me, suggests that the school day actually ends at 2:20, when the yellow bus that took the children to the school, arrives to take them home. It also stems from the fact that on the first day of school, faced with angry kids stating that their parents didn't want them to stay in the program, the principal shifted her message from "our school day ends at 4:45" to "if you want out of the after school program, your parents need to send a note".

As you may have surmised, my real problem is that, while my own sense of efficacy is tied to becoming a nurse, because I've invested so much in that project for the past few years, I actually care really deeply about my job. The general sense of iritation and indifference I feel on the daily relates more to my hate of being unsucessful -- and to me, left brained to a fault, aiming for every kid to attend and getting seven out of ten kids there is failure. I wanted X and ended up with, say, Y, or, I guess, with 0.7X. I don't prefer it.

And yet. As I tell my staff -- when I'm not saying things like, Thank you in advance for attending to this element of your job, and, Please see me regarding your attendance -- what we do, when it works (and sometimes it does!), changes lives. Overwhelmingly, the kids we are serving don't have the skills to manage what's being asked of them now, at eleven, or the motivation to develop them or believe us when we say, You are valuable, and You can do better, and You can be more. The odds that they'll just become the kind of people who can handle life, who have the power to make their lives what they want, are small. All of my own privilege as a middle class white girl with two English-speaking parents and standout test scores, and I've got to be honest, I still feel grateful I was able to do much with my life, because we live in a culture that would rather focus on the same ten famous people's lives and careers than empower individuals to construct meaning out of their own.

Critics of social programs and therapy and youth development models tend to overlook that, when we didn't have those things, people did without them -- but the "fine" they did without them tended to involve beating the shit out of their kids, drinking to excess, ignoring the needs of others, or telling their kids/students/spouses/employees they were stupid or worthless."Look at me! I didn't get any dance/creative writing/basketball/emotional support as kid!" "Yes, and you're kind of a dick."

I want my kids not to grow up to be dicks. I want them to grow up literate and thoughtful, to have their talents recognized, to see that there is an actual difference in the quality of life generated when one wins a basketball game or writes a short story or aces an exam, versus when one plays Grand Theft Auto or sleeps with their whiny, mean boyfriend because he "needs them/it." But mostly, the feedback I get is neither positive nor focused on that -- it's about these numbers, over which I feel relatively little control (I can't force kids or their parents into this program) or over the aspects of the program that the person complaining finds personally inconvenient (doesn't replace the city-mandated test prep the school's expected to provide; we don't have staff to take out the trash so the cafeteria and custodial staff don't have to do it; we're no more successful than a given kid's parents at determine what homework he actually has or how he can do it when his teacher told the class to leave their textbooks at home).

So here's where I am, and what I'm doing, and it's a distraction from the nursing job application process to which most of my classmates seem to be devoting their time, so they're getting jobs and I'm not. And it's a drag, on the one and, and then on the other, this thing that consumes a big chunk of my life fails to provide me much in the way of identity or pride in how I'm spending my time, because the feeling when no one seems to approve of or appreciate what your doing is generally a feeling of failure. And, true to form, I respond to feelings of inadequacy with the quiet, blind rage that makes the ideal fuel for addictions and eating disorders, et. cetera.

It's been a long autumn, and there's no real answer that wraps up the seemingly endless, messy doubts and feels I have about my life right now. Change is hard? Managing social service programs is thankless? I can't actually evaluate my success based on who bitches about what, because people like to complain?

Yes, I guess, and also: nurse or underappreciated /possibly mediocre non-profit manager, I just need to keep eating and caring for myself and not being abusive, because I cannot count on my feelings about myself to determine whether or not I eat food or need to go running at ten pm in December. Whatever self-doubts I'm experiencing don't get to determine whether I take care of my body or not, because a mind that sees "No food for you" as a reasonable response to "Parents don't want to sign their kids up for the after-school program" is not a mind that gets to make those decisions. If I'm able to fully, or mostly, internalize that before I move on, than at least one person at my school will have benefited from our mostly-unpopular efforts at Social-Emotional Learning.