6th Grade Identity
My elderly mom came over toward the end of last week.
When she visits, it is guaranteed she will bring something for me from her treasure trove of hoarded and saved items at home.
Last week it was my elementary school yearbook. I’d graduated the sixth grade and was headed off to middle school.
Next to the picture of each child was a list of likes, dislikes, and desires.
Next to me there was this:
Favorite Color: Red
Favorite Band: Def Leppard
Favorite Book: A Horse and his Boy from Narnia
Hobbies: Reading, Nintendo, Creating Desserts
Wants to be: A Dentist
I have zero memory of creating this list. I asked my mom if she could ever recall me saying I wanted to be a dentist. Nope. But she added that my father wanted me to do something practical. So we decided I probably wrote that because I thought my father would be reading the yearbook, and I didn’t want to list something that would disappoint him — I didn’t want him to see that I wanted to write, because that would have made him upset.
The rest of the list is still surprisingly accurate. I still play games, I still read, and I do a ton of cooking — I’m the designated chef in our household. When I go to friends’ houses I am often asked “what are you bringing?” with the expectation that it’s something good. (To anyone reading this: If you want to get a great cookbook, skip the classic Joy of Cooking in favor of the America’s Test Kitchen tome. For real.)
What I ended up being is a programmer and information technology specialist. Middleware, DevOps.
Sometimes I’m glad I took this path. The money’s decent — I have financial stability. I’m in my mid-40s now and I’ve been working for twenty four straight years with good health care. The income has sustained me through life, allowed me to pay off loans, do a modest amount of traveling, buy houses, clothes, furniture and gadgets, books and video games and guitars and whatever I want, really.
But sometimes I’m not. The work itself is often dull, and even when it’s not, I’d prefer to be doing and thinking about other things. (Cue every person everywhere saying platitudes like “Well that’s why they call it work.”) Sometimes I wish I tried another path in life — something artistic or more creative.
Most likely had I tried to be a writer professionally I would have failed. Or not been very successful. Or been diverted into channeling my writing skills into something as boring and distasteful as the computer shit that I currently do. Like writing journalistic articles about <topics> assigned by <media company> that I don’t care about. I’d probably get burnt out on writing too — this is a thing. The same way that programming for 10 hours a week is ok for me but programming for 50 makes my heart feel crushed and I start to hate my life — sometimes I suspect if I had to write for 40-50 hours a week it’d be the same. Hell, writing for even 40 minutes on Open Diary makes me kind of tired.
I’m talking about this stuff at least in part because I had to program for over eight hours straight at my job yesterday — broken up by a meeting with people I despise who tell me what to do — and by the end of it I was exhausted and upset that I spend my life this way. I will have more of the same today, more of the same until the particular project I’m working on is done, which probably won’t be until the end of next week, depending on how things go. Having to program about stuff you don’t care about is sort of like allowing an invasive species to take over your mind for a while. It doesn’t belong there but it takes up residence and does what it wants to do — and you simply cannot ignore it. I have to think deeply about business problems x, y, and z, and how to make and massage and transform data in ways to accomplish those goals, and then write the code, and then test the code, and then document how the code works, communicate it to other people, then deploy the application which contains the code to centralized systems where other people will look at it and test it and eventually we can make plans to put this code into our live systems and hope to god that nothing blows up and it behaves the way it’s supposed to.
Nowadays I sometimes wish I could stop dreaming of doing something else with my life. It’s just a source of pain. Acceptance of my position would be better — more mature, healthier. I should accept my current identity as a 40-something man who occasionally hates his job but overall has a good life. I should should stop whining about it and be grateful to be who I am.
Acceptance, supposedly, sets us free.
But when I’m having bad days at work, the fantasy of doing something I actually enjoy comes rushing back, and I wonder about the life not lived.
Now, I can also wonder about missing out on all that sweet, sweet Dentistry.
I got the results of my vascular tests yesterday. Everything’s fine. Ultrasounds on my legs and abdomen show that my arteries are wider than normal by about 50%. But there are no aneurisms (and no real threat of aneurisms either.) I asked the doctor why things are wider than normal and he said he didn’t know — I mentioned I have a connective tissue disorder and his eyes kind of lit up and he said, oh yeah? I showed him my fingers go backwards. All of my tendons are super stretchy, my joints are more malleable, I sub lux and pronate.
People with connective tissue disorders often have wider than normal veins and arteries. This is because the sheath itself is a connective tissue.
Could this be a problem down the road? Will it get worse?
Probably not. Let’s put a note in your file to re-do these tests in another five years just to be sure though, ok?
And that was that. In the evening I told my wife I’m fine and she cried. I hadn’t realized she was that worried.
But then she also cried because she was thinking about her mom, who has Alzheimer’s. She saw her mom for an hour yesterday and found that she (the mom) was “folding” everything — folding things into things, folding spoons into underwear, folding newspapers from the 1990s and placing them into kitchen cabinets as if they could be used as paper plates. I feel like I don’t have a mom anymore, she said.
So a lot of emotional trauma yesterday for Jennie. My health scare, her mom’s continuing decline. In the middle of it, her surly 95 year old father yelling at everyone, pretending he is still “the boss” of the family. Total shitshow scenario.
Jennie is also struggling with identity, in a way. She is losing her mother and father — she is a caretaker for them instead of strictly a daughter. She knows that this year her father will likely die — he’s 95 ffs. And her mom will probably be hospitalized. Things are changing.
And as we all know, people fear change. Change is hard.
Anyway: I’ve gotten over the following health hurdles in the last month: Vascular check, growths in eyelids removed, knee issues mostly resolved. I’m OK mentally too — the talk therapy, combined with lexapro, writing on opendiary, and continuing to exercise regularly has resulted in generally better moods and more stable days.
So hopefully I can put a rest to the doctor stuff for a while.
I would write more but I have to go back to programming-land and do actual work. I have a therapy appointment in the late afternoon, too. At least I can tell the guy that I did journal entries more often than not.
I like that as a 6th grader you wrote ‘creating’ desserts. Sounds like the word usage of a budding writer.
I’m sorry for what your wife is going through, i’m beginning that journey with my parents as well. Not easy by any token. Best of luck.
I know the relief from a health scare being just that. Sorry you (and J) felt the scare. So glad you felt the relief. Bummer that you’re in the drudgery slide at work. I was just talking to someone about changing jobs. Along the lines of “It’s exciting at first, but once you’ve done everything and you’ve done it well…” I was lucky in that regard. Kids take a long time to become redundant, but they did finally stop surprising me. They always made me laugh, though. I imagine there’s not much laughter in the IT world. Sweet, sweet dentistry. That’s undoubtedly where it’s “at”. Or perhaps…in that novel?