Saturday, February 22, 2014

So, what did you want to be when you grew up?

People often ask me, as I am halfway through a mid-life career change to nursing, if I wanted to be a nurse when I was a kid.

The answer is yes, but that's not the whole answer. Truth is, I wanted to be a ballerina, a nurse, a member of the French Resistance, a mom, a teacher, a famous detective, and a chef. Among other things. Like most kids,  what I 'wanted to be' when I 'grew up' changed often. I did think about nursing more than some things, but only because my entire concept of the profession was informed by the Cherry Ames and Sue Barton series of novels, which I devoured between 6th and 9th grades. By the time I was 18 and figuring out my major, however, you couldn't have paid me to go into a nursing program because a) math, b) science, and c) a significant 'ick factor' related to bodily fluids.

And in truth, once I was in college, and then in the working world, I didn't think again about nursing as a career until I was, oh, 39 years old. At that age, I'd just completed 6 months of treatment for breast cancer, and had been in the care of some really awesome nurses, and it occurred to me that, "hey, maybe...."

But I told myself that, no, it was too late to switch careers, and besides, I actually liked what I was already doing.

And then my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer when I was 43, and died when I was 45, and his hospice nurse was just so caring and fantastic. But still, I told myself that I wasn't a 'change careers in mid-life' sort of gal.

And then came my brief tenure in NYC. Honestly, after the first 6 months, I really didn't enjoy my time in NYC, except for one thing: my weekly gig as a hospice volunteer. And that was where it happened - where suddenly, the question of 'would nursing have been the right path for me when I got out of high school, oh well, too late now' became 'I must go back to school and get my RN.'

And so here I am. In nursing school, approximately 300 days from graduation, and loving every minute of it, even when I'm so stressed out by the course load that I'm breaking out in hives. I cannot wait to be an actual nurse. When I'm with a patient, either as a hospice volunteer or on clinicals for school, I feel like I am in 'the zone.' I feel like I am where I am supposed to be, and all is right with the world.

Do I regret not doing this sooner? No. I think perhaps I wasn't ready until that moment that I absolutely knew that I had to push forward toward this new career. But I'm so glad I didn't wait a moment longer. Not just because I'll be 50 right after I graduate, but because I cannot wait to start doing this work. This meaningful, amazing work.

Thoughts on social media, bubbling to the surface...

I was not an 'early adopter of either Facebook or Twitter. But once I did join both of those services, I enjoyed them for a good long while. My approach to both evolved over time, but the enjoyment didn't diminish.

Until last year, that is.

Twitter was the first to go, last summer. And then, over Christmas break, I began to lose my taste for Facebook. I decided to take a break. Well. I'm the administrator on a group page, so I can't really take a 'full' break, but I took a break from posting on my own page, and endeavored to ignore my newsfeed as much as possible. A week into that, I realized how liberating that felt.

And then, I slowly started to untag myself from posts, remove photos, scale back the various 'about' sections, and, bit by bit, I deleted every post I'd ever made, from 2008 until the present.

And then I started culling my 'friends' list. At first I felt bad about that, but I realized, hey. Life is short. And while I wish it were otherwise, there are folks in this world who add more complication or pain or frustration or even simply a complete lack of communication to one's life than any of the positive things they might add. And these days? Well, I believe in focusing on what's good and true and honest and edifying, and if someone balances out to be a lot less of that, and a lot more of what's negative, I don't have time for that on social media. Offline may or may not be another story, but as far as social media goes, I need for it to cause less agita and to provide more enjoyment.

I'm still not posting over on Facebook, except for the page where I'm an admin. And I probably won't post more than one or two updates between now and the end of the semester. And I don't even miss it. It's been great. I didn't actually expect that. I thought I'd miss it more, but I think I'm starting to mull it all over and question my former approaches to it, and to start to formulate the approach I want to take going forward, when I end this 'Facebook fast'. We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The passage of (a lot of ) time

The crazy thing about semesters, especially semesters chock full of mind-numbingly demanding coursework, is that they seem both to drag on endlessly, and to fly by at the speed of light. I swear, it was just August a few days ago. And now it’s almost the end of my winter break and the start of a new semester. 

Over the last semester, I jotted down a lot of ideas for blog posts, and have some of them partly written (er…typed) out, so I’m hoping to start getting them up here soon. Before the deluge of nursing courses and clinicals and the ever-present threat of near emotional breakdowns begin in earnest. Haha.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Distractions...sort of. Well, more important than that, really.

Something I don't think I mentioned when I started this blog: I'm a full-time nursing student. Yeah.

Over the summer, I had just one class, and it was comparatively easy (microbiology -- lots of memorization, but straight-up science -- easier, in a way, than the constant critical thinking of nursing courses). So, while I did have homework and tests, I still had time to futz around on this blog, here and there.

I'm still trying to carve time out, at least once every 7-10 days, to blog here. It just may take a few more weeks of adjusting to the pace of this new semester -- which is ramped up considerably even over the spring semester. This program is intense.

So bear with me. I'll be back. I just need to get my bearings and figure out how much non-study time I can have, and how much of that can be spent blogging. I do think it's important for me to have this creative outlet, so believe me -- it's on my radar.

Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Dining Solo

There have been times in my life that I've been called a loner. I don't think it's strictly true, mind you, but it's true here and there, in certain facets of who I am, and in particular chapters in my personal history. But it's not true in the main.

An event from my adolescence probably illustrates one of many origins of the 'loner' mystique. When I was growing up, my family liked to go to the local Bob's Big Boy, for the occasional meal on Sundays, after church. The five of us would be ushered into a booth, and we'd order under the watchful eye of our mother, who made sure we ordered what was nutritionally appropriate, given the menu choices. I loved Bob's Big Boy. But what I really wanted to do was have a meal there by myself. At the counter.

One day, sometime in the summer between the 7th and 8th grades, I asked permission to ride my bike to the restaurant to have lunch by myself. My mom checked to make sure that I had counted out enough of my allowance to buy a decent lunch, then made sure I understood that I needed to tip the waitress, and showed me how to calculate the tip.

And off I went. The restaurant was about a mile and a half from home, a fairly short ride on a bike. But even a short bike ride, in the summers of my hometown, can leave you red-faced and sweating -- which I was, when I arrived. I walked into the cool air of the restaurant, and felt almost chilled. The hostess looked a little uncertain about seating a 13 year-old kid all by herself, but stifled whatever misgivings she might have had, and asked me if I'd like to sit at a table or the counter. 'Oh, the counter,' I said, 'Please?' 

And there it was. A dream come true. I studied the menu, even though I already knew what I wanted, until the waitress arrived. I ordered a club sandwich, no mayo, with fries, and a glass of iced tea. The waitress took my order and whisked away my menu, and I pulled out my dog-eared copy of whichever Agatha Christie novel I was reading that week (I was obsessed with Agatha Christie murder mysteries at that age), found the page where I'd left off, and read my book until the food arrived. I'm sure the sandwich was no more special than before, but between the 'adult' experience of dining out alone, and my murder mystery, and cool, dark interior of the restaurant, it seemed like the best club sandwich ever made. 

35 years later, I still derive pleasure from dining alone. Don't get me wrong: I also love to connect with a friend over a meal. There's something lovely and intimate about having tête-à-tête over good food and a bottle of wine with a good friend, discussing the big questions of the universe or just the minutiae of your day. But sometimes, the best meals are solo, seated at the counter, or in a small banquette, allowing yourself to be fussed over slightly by the waitstaff, working your way through a few chapters of a good book, interspersed with discreet people-watching. I suppose, after all these years, my love of a good restaurant meal, sans companion, has bolstered the idea that I am somehow very solitary. It's still not true. I'm not that solitary. But it is true that I choose my companions wisely, even in breaking bread, and barring really good company, I'd prefer to dine solo. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jesus is My Child's Babysitter

I live in the Bible Belt, at present. During the summer months, you cannot drive a half mile without encountering a sign inviting you to sign your child up for a week of Vacation Bible School (a.k.a. 'VBS'). For a long while, I lived in the Northeast. There are a lot of Churches in Boston, but I don't recall seeing any VBS signs. And NYC? Too heathen for that sort of thing. But  here I am, in Blue Ridge country, and it's like VBS HQ 'round here.

When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, my siblings and I attended VBS at our church, every year, until we were too old to go. I'm sure it was supposed to be a kid-level deep spiritual experience, but do you know what sticks with me all these years? I'll tell you. It's the 5 foot tall chocolate candy bar. One year, our church had this contest. You had to bring as many friends as you could to church that week (with the ultimate goal of saving their souls), and for every kid you brought, you got a point. The child with the most points at the end of the VBS week would win the 5 foot tall, milk chocolate candy bar that was displayed on the sanctuary stage, just to the left of the pulpit and behind the piano. It was like the Catholic practice of granting indulgences, except Protestant-style. Save other kids' souls and get candy in return! Try as I might, I was only able to find one friend who would go to VBS with me, and so I did not win it. It was a bitter, bitter defeat, let me tell you. Bitter. Not because of the soul-saving (I am so not a saint), but because of the towering chocolatey goodness that would not be going home with me. 

Here in this town, apparently, there are mothers who will suss out all the VBS locations and dates, and then will sign their children up for a summer's worth of VBS, one week following upon another. And endless summer of flannel board Bible stories, sing-a-longs, and forgettable crafts. Apparently, it's cheaper than finding childcare. You might say 'Jesus is my Co-Pilot', but there are apparently some who believe that 'Jesus is My Child's Babysitter,' instead.

I don't know if I would have, as a child, found this prospect alluring or terrifying. I imagine weeks on end of stale cookies and tepid, artificially flavored punch, day after day of coloring in Bible story hand-outs with stubby crayons, the endless parade of games meant to both wear us out so we wouldn't misbehave and also prepare our souls for the kingdom of God. I ponder the sheer number of 'Jesus Loves You' bookmarks I might have accumulated in that space of time, and to what use I may have been able to put them. And then I think about that 5 foot tall chocolate candy bar, and I'm pretty sure that eleven or twelve straight weeks of that sort of cut-throat evangelistic competition would have turned me into an atheist before puberty hit.

(Note: not everyone who reads this blog (especially those who may find it by chance) know me well enough to know that I do not have children. The title of this post, actually refers to a sentence in the third paragraph.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Constellations By Which We Steer

The Big Dipper, Little Dipper, and Orion were the first constellations I learned to recognize in the night sky. Large and angular, Orion was always the easiest to locate, even through the smog of a Southern California summer night sky. Visiting my maternal grandparents, whose home was on the outskirts of the desert, I liked to stand outside and marvel at how many more stars you could see in the sky, without the interference of street lights and away from the worst of the smog. But before I could start picking out smaller constellations, I always had to get my bearings by locating Orion. 

For some reason, I latched onto that constellation as if it were a talisman. No matter where I happened to be, if I could find Orion, I knew where - and who -  I was in this world. I see myself as if in a series of snapshots, growing up: me, at age 9, pretending to sleep in the backseat of my parents' car, on the way home from some family gathering, and instead trying to keep Orion in view as long as possible. Me at 14, miserable at church camp, and stepping away from the stories and jokes told around the evening fire, melting away from the crowd to stare up at the night sky between two pines, and breathing a sigh of relief when I could see the Orion beginning to come into view. And at age 18, finishing up a night class at the local community college, and nearly tripping over a dip in the sidewalk as I tried to both walk to my car and find my favorite constellation, simultaneously. 

Later, age 24, tired of my then boyfriend waffling between 'I love you' and 'I'm not sure if I love you, maybe I don't know what love is,' for what seemed like the millionth time, I tuned him out and searched through his truck windshield for Orion who, insofar as I was aware, had never waffled. Still later, at age 29 and 34 and 45, moving to Hawaii and Massachusetts and New York, respectively, I would always try to find my favorite constellation, bringing at least some sense of familiarity to new and unfamiliar surroundings. For some reason, Orion came to seem, to me, to represent continuity and steadfastness, especially at times in my life when those were things I needed the very most. That angular constellation was but one way that I could navigate back to the familiar.

But we find constellations in other things, as well, I think, and learn to navigate by those, too. I think of all the many kindnesses of people I've known over the years. Sometimes, when things seem a bit dark, those kindnesses are like stars against a night sky, providing some illumination and pattern of compassion that I can follow back to some sense of restored equilibrium, some renewed understanding of who I am and what I'm meant to be. I think of the friends who saw a shy, awkward kid, and helped me to come out of my shell just a little, who loved me unreservedly for who I was, and who I think understood that under that awkward exterior was someone who wanted very much to connect with those around her. I think of the teachers who saw past the sullenness and sarcasm of my teenaged years and helped me to better understand my own strengths and talents, and did so kindly and gently, and, in a way, helped ease my transition into young adulthood. 

I think of the lovely neighbor I once had, who worried that I worked too much, and who took it upon herself to check on me and bring me food, and to mother me when I was far from the family and friends with whom I'd grown up. I think of the co-workers who, during an extended illness (and again during recovery from a major surgery) came not just to drop a casserole on my table and then scurry off, but to actually spend time with me, laughing and talking about everything in the world, and making my heart a little lighter. And I of course think of the friends who were fiercely protective of me when my heart, which had been slowly cracking, one betrayal at a time, suddenly broke into a million pieces after a particularly bad breakup. I think of all the people I've met in the course of moving to yet another city, whether they became friends, or whether I met them once and never saw them again, who found a way to make my day a little brighter and to stoke the fires of my faith in my fellow man. Most of these actions weren't enormous or stereotypically 'heroic'. But, collectively, they are a pattern of little lights, that became something like a constellation of kind and compassionate deeds. 

And, as with Orion, I look for that pattern when I am uncertain, or worried, or feeling alone or misunderstood. They, too, have become a talisman, in their own way. They help me to steer back to where I need to be, and once again, I'm more sure of my place in the world because of them.