Sunday Afternoon: Stressed Out, I Guess

Just went up and took a shower. Two o'clock in the humid afternoon. Spent the morning doing chores around the house. Washed both cars inside and out. Cleaned up my basement workbench. Threw in two loads of laundry. Cleaned out the Shop Vac and regular vacuum cleaner. Helped clear up after my brother helped my daughter build a wooden prop for one of her photo shoots. Lots of sawdust. While I was at it, I swept out the garage. Busy morning. Good to get things done.

The humidity is knocking me around. Woof, it's like being on some science fiction planet where gravity is twice as strong. It should make me stronger when I come back to Earth, but I just want to lie down and give up.

I've had symptoms of something. An odd, underwater kind of headache. Feels like my spring has wound down. Aches all over my body. Fatigue. Trouble sleeping and night sweats. I'm moodier than usual and filled with the desire to be alone. Even when I get a writing idea, it feels like too much work to pick up the pen or computer. It all feels like too much under this gravity.

The next door neighbor is shunning me. Maybe she's embarrassed. A couple weeks ago I told her she had to do something about her barking dog. For hours early in the morning and late at night she left him out, his bark like cannon fire. I told her, we can't take it. I said, this is no way to be a neighbor. Okay, she said, her head down. The dog has been more quiet. That moment of conflict keeps barking in me. She walked by this morning while I washed the car. I said, good morning and asked, how's it going? She and that dog walked on as if I hadn't spoken.

The neighbor across the street was having his house painted but the work stopped while the cladding above his garage was removed and a guy is now rebuilding it. Things rotted out. I bet the whole thing was a shock, an unplanned expense, and though it's not my garage or bills to pay, it makes me anxious. The circular saw cuts my nerves. I feel like my world could rot out any moment.

The window sills on one side of our house are rotten. I need to call for quotes to replace them. My wife has been calling for roofing quotes. It rained hard yesterday and again it rained in the dining room. Four ceiling tiles are bowed, browned, and disintegrating. The drips fell into a bucket placed next to the pile of things my daughter will bring to her first year at college.

We take her to college Thursday and this is exactly how things are supposed to work, but, well, you know. She's our girl. Our first. And she's so good. Not having her home on a daily basis, it's going to be a tough adjustment. I know she's ready, but I wonder if the rest of us are even close.

Speaking of ready, my mind keeps thinking that I have to get ready for school. An old colleague told me there's an ice cream social for the teachers tomorrow. I won't be at the social or back to school this year, but my mind and body don't yet understand. I've had school nightmares for weeks, sometimes more than one a night and they dog me into morning. In the dreams I'm unprepared and things go desperately wrong. I wake thinking I've got to start planning lessons, though I also know I'm no longer a teacher. That logic has little weight even on my higher gravity world. It floats away like smoke.

My new job is fascinating and partially undefined. I'm being trusted to shape it, to create a position at which I can excel. Lovely, really. There are parts of it for which I have buckets of talent. There are other parts I don't feel I'm learning fast enough. No one else fusses over the speed at which I'm learning, but it reminds me of another set of nightmares in which I need to run or walk somewhere but my legs hurt too much and lack the strength to support my weight. I'm pulled down far from where I need to go.

This week I have meetings in which I need to be both learner and leader. At one meeting, tens of thousands of dollars rest partially on my performance. I wonder if the people who hired me made a dreadful mistake. Logic says they haven't, but at about now I feel like lying on the ground, sore of leg, and overcome by gravity as I look up the slight incline which transforms into something mountainous.

I've put on a record. Supertramp's Crime Of The Century. I'm sitting still as I type this. The headache is held at bay. There are drops of rain beginning to fall. The air is still heavy with humidity, but I know it's about to become filled with a storm of rain. Likely some of it will trickle into the bucket through the dining room ceiling, next to the things my daughter will take so school, each drip feeling like more and more weight, things for which I am or should be responsible.

That or the sound will be a rhythm that carries me off to sleep, for a while, a quietus in which my body will be held up by the soft couch cushions as if it were weightless and gravity, anxiety, depression, all three were the stuff of make believe and pain is less than a fiction and dissipates like the humidity on the breeze signaling changes in our world.

Two Monks, One Person

This Zen parable keeps talking to me:

Two traveling monks reach a town where a young woman waits to step out of her sedan chair. The rains have made deep puddles she can’t step across without spoiling her silken robes. She is very cross and impatient, scolding her attendants who had nowhere to place the packages they hold for her, so they can’t help her across the puddle.

The younger monk notices the woman, says nothing, and walks by. The older monk puts her on his back, transports her across the water, and sets her down on the other side. She doesn’t thank him; just shoves him out of the way and departs.

As they continue on their way, the young monk broods. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he speaks. “That woman was very selfish and rude, but you carried her on your back! She didn’t even thank you!”

“I set the woman down hours ago,” replies the older monk. “Why are you still carrying her?”

I sent in my resignation letter to my old school and am officially out as of 11:59 PM on August 28.

Yet I'm still carrying it.

I checked the school's vacancies list. Most people running the programs and many teachers have been resigned by upper management and no one received tenure. A friend in the program where I toiled shouldn't return in August — the place does him real harm — but that's his call. None of it is my call anymore. I should set it all down.

I struggle still with not being thanked. My efforts were unnoticed and disregarded, so too will my resignation. I was a body filling a space and a new body will fill the space come August. The machine goes on.

The young monk, brooding, shouts, "they didn't even thank me!"

The old monk writes, "You left June 24 and resigned July 16. Keep walking. The trees and sky overhead, the path at your feet, the length of the day stretching before you, and the people you meet, these are all the thanks you need and there are more ahead. Keep walking."

Still I turn to look back. The old monk walking in my tracks smiles at my foolishness which he calls by a gentle name. He waits until I turn and move forward again.

Frantic Doesn't Help

There's a lot to do and learn, a whole bunch of uncertainty, and more than the usual number of things gnawing on my mind, so how about I get frantic. Yeah, that'll help.

I've had a half-caffeine coffee this morning and trouble sleeping last night. Maybe that has something to do with the worry and panic coming to a boil within me. I'm like a pan of rice. The water in me is boiling, I've added the dry rice of my to-do list, and though I've lower the heat some my anxiety continues to bubble and boil. The boiling water is flushed out from under the lid by the pressure and it hisses in the flames of the burner, maybe blowing them out, poison gas filling my kitchen.

A morning such as this, I've put the top on but things threaten to boil over. I have choices: hold the cover down in hopes the heat slackens or cock the lid to let some heat and pressure escape. There's only one sensible choice, but I push down on the cover wishing trouble away.

Okay, maybe I'm not that dumb. In the midst of this rising panic, I switched from rushing through work, boiling in my anxiety, to writing this. That may leave space between pan and lid, allow steam to quietly escape, and bring down the pressure. Maybe.

I keep running into that word: maybe. I wonder if it comes from feeling doubtful about so many things or being open to possibility. When the pressure is up I'm sure it's the former. When I calm down I know that it's the latter.

Maybe doesn't apply to whether or not I'll be okay, whether or not I'll learn how to do a new job, whether or not I'm able. I've done more difficult things. I've come through troubles and this is decidedly not trouble. It's a good challenge.

There's also no maybe around whether or not I'll feel panic and anxiety from time to time. Of course I will. I'm starting new things, still dealing with old things, and living a life with a family and all the wondrous complications that involves.

The maybe comes from how I will deal with these things. The pan is on the stove. Water and rice have come to a rolling boil. Through the glass lid I see the white bubbles froth. Steam spurts out time to time and rattles the lid. Maybe I'll deal with the situation before it boils over and makes a mess. Maybe I'll make a mess and clean it up later. Either way, I suspect I'll manage. Being frantic, though it feels like my natural inclination, won't help much. Might as well calm down and have some decaf.

Walking To Work

This morning it was raining gently outside. Seems as though everyone is complaining about it. I shrugged. For whatever reason the rain isn't bothering me. Our basement is dry. I had no picnic planned. My umbrella and raincoat keep me dry enough. I pulled the door behind me and walked from home toward my new job, thirteen minutes up the road. Yeah, I've timed it.

Walking to work is a change for me. Until yesterday I drove nearly twenty minutes to school on the highway. It wasn't bad and was an improvement on the hour-long commute I had before that. I'd put on music or podcast or ride in silence, but it wasn't fun. It's no fun to commute to where I was going, but even riding home I felt blah about it.

This morning, though I was tired, I didn't feel blah. Even if I had felt blah, the walk seems to change things. The exertion, slight as it is, feels good. My mind wanders or turns off in a way that would be too dangerous in traffic but is fine on the sidewalk. I feel the commute from toes up to my head and it feels good.

There are books about walking and writing, the connection between the two. Maybe this daily walk will rub off on my writing (as I suppose it has here). I felt almost as if my feet and legs were writing on the short walk this morning. I'm just not sure yet how to read what they've set down.

When the workday ended, I packed my things and pulled the bag over my shoulder. The weather had cleared. I stuffed the rain coat in the bag, pulled the umbrella down from the hook, walked downstairs, and headed out into the world. I found myself smiling as my legs carried me one step at a time back toward home. My mind and heart had already arrived where they need to go.