Tuesday, September 9, 2008

As my girl Dorothy Parker once wrote:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Rumania.

--Dorothy Parker

I feel sure of the first two lines at least. As I keep reminding myself: whatever happens this year, it is bound to be some sort of adventure!

I feel compelled to post about Dorothy, one of my favorite poets, because I visited New York City for the first time this weekend, and sipped a (very expensive) "Parker" martini in the Algonquin Hotel, where she used to hang out with the 1920's literati. How I wish I could have sat next to her in that lounge! I imagine she would be brilliantly cynical and at times caustic, but a wonderful, entertaining bar buddy. I hope my own life is filled with the sort of adventures worthy of her pithy poems and whimsical stories...although I suppose it's up to me to make it so!

Not to mention the fact that over eighty years ago, Dorothy described better than I ever could exactly how I feel about the billions of poorly-run, mind-numbingly boring meetings I must sit through on a weekly basis:

Resume (Should be called "Death By Meeting!")

Razors pain you
Rivers are damp
Acids stain you
And drugs cause cramp
Guns aren't lawful
Nooses give
Gas smell awful

You might as well live.
-D. Parker, 1926


Who's on Jury Duty Today?

"It has been my experience to put aside a decision for future pondering. Then one day, fencing in a piece of time to face the problem, I have found it already completed, solved, and the verdeict taken. This must happen to everyone, but I have no way of knowing that. It's as though, in the dark and desolate caves of the mind, a faceless jury had met and decided. This secret and sleepless area in me I have always thought of as black, deep, waveless water, a spawning place from wihc only a few forms ever rise to the surface. Or maybe it's a great library where is recorded everything that has ever happened to living matter back to the first moment when it began to live."
- John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

About five years ago, without knowing it, I began to rely upon my own faceless jury to make my decisions for me. I issued them an order: find me an epiphany! Tell me what to do with my life, and do be quick about it! and then I quickly resumed my mundane pattern of tv-watching, gossiping with friends, and surfing the net, pausing only every year or so to check in on them and see what kind of progress they were making on my request. Imagine my displeasure when now, half a decade later, I've discovered that the slackers have abandoned their post and returned to the business of their daily lives. Jerks!

While I appreciate Steinbeck's imagery, I do think that this concept is such a passive approach. To me, it's like absentmindedly wandering the beach, picking up whichever life-altering decision happens to have washed up upon the shore of life first. I know now that things don't happen that serendipitously except in books, and that you might have to search long and hard before you find the best option, which may be hidden under layers of beach trash and seagull shit. For me, indecision --and the passivity required by indecision--are certainly a few of my most prominent and most despised vices. I am often boggled by the options, and want to do a little bit of everything without committing to anything: the true professional at "keeping my options open."

At least I know now at least that I have to do my own work, that John's aforementioned jury won't come galloping out of the caves of my mind to issue a verdict.

And I'm working on it. I've finally narrowed down my school choices, and I've begun to apply criteria to my decisions which will make or break them: I will not go to a program without these kinds of internship options; I must receive some sort of financial aid; I must be able to study exactly what I want (public health with a concentration on social and behavioral sciences and an emphasis on translating such research into interventional programs that can actually help people. As much as I love the prospect of research in this field, of the gathering of data and the telling of stories, I want to do something. That's one of my primary complaints about working in administration, or at least at this level...let me DO something, please! I want to help people and be intellectually challenged, not stare at a spreadsheet all day while my brain cells jump ship in protest). And if I am to stay with my organization, my criteria are much the same: I must be in a position where I can interact with clinical staff and patients, use my creativity to make and do rather than analyze, sit, wait, and analyze some more, and be intellectually stimulated on a daily basis. Of course, there are plenty of other hairy situations to sort out: location (East or West Coast?), money issues (ew!), and relationships (yikes!). This may not be much, but it's more than I had a year ago even.

It's a start. One of the leaders in my company, in a discussion over a book by John C. Maxwell's 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, encouraged me to find and write my "life sentence," a sort of mission statement laying out the main themes and goals of my life, from personal to professional. Everything I should do should somehow relate back to this sentence: enhance it, improve upon it. It should be my compass guiding me through the kinds of decisions I'll be making in the next year. I've written it, revised it, erased it, and began again a million times, but at least it's my sentence.

My life sentence. It may be not be pretty, but with any luck, it's going to be a long one, and I'd rather write it myself than wait for Steinbeck's nameless, faceless jury to do it for me.

I guess I'd better get started.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Now I Ain't Sayin' She's a Gold Digger

A random thought occurred to me as I was driving to work this morning, listening to a crappy British novel on CD:

I really appreciate the British colloquialism, "Sort it out." As in, "Charlie, why don't you go sort it out," or "What a poor sod! She really just needs to sort herself out." (Mostly I just wanted to use the word "sod" there... yet another wonderful quirky British linguistic creation. It always makes me think of humans as a giant, grassy hunk of dirt and soil, which quite frankly, they sometimes are)

Anyway, it's not something you hear that often in American conversation, or at least not in that sense. I really like it because it brings to mind images of the aforementioned "poor sod" sitting in a corner, attempting to sift through all the clutter, panning to find a glimpse or two of herself amongst all the mess that is life. Perhaps this is particularly poignant for me, since this is what I've spent a great deal of my time doing lately....without much success, I might add. I feel as though I'm digging through loads and loads of crap: of tv shows, novels, gossip rags, real friends, facebook friends, distorted emotions, the jagged edges of opinions from my parents, and layer upon layer of amorphous memories in a vain attempt to spot the gleam of some small, authentic shard of...me.

Perhaps this is the task of most twentysomethings: to sort through the massive mine of stuff that has composed our lives thus far and find the precious pieces of whatever that will make it all worthwhile. I guess that's what I am for now: a metaphorical gold-digger. Hopefully soon I will find the small fleck amongst the debris that will make it worth the risk for me to venture out and seize whatever adventure lies ahead.