I’ve cried so much lately, and I don’t know why.
At least, that’s what I tell my wife while I’m crying, that I don’t know why.
I might know why. We might know why. Our most recent move and everything that has accompanied it has entirely overwhelmed me.
There was a point at very early in my career where I was given lots of responsibility over a small company’s supply chain. I had very little idea about what I was doing, what I was supposed to be doing, what the company expected me to accomplish, how much the work was supposed to cost, or how much they expected me to spend. I told them during the interview that I wasn’t the right man for the job, but maybe spending an entry-level salary to power a venture that hadn’t proved itself yet seemed like the most frugal course: I was young, resourceful, somewhat knowledgable, and discontent with current industry practices. Anyway, it worked out well.
A metaphor for that early job was that they hired me to tread water in an above-ground pool that had already filled to overflowing from a garden hose. My job was to stop the spillage and drain the pool without turning off the hose. As I treaded water and poked holes in the side (first through process then through building a team to execute the process), someone would sometimes come by and say, “Look, he’s just treading water!” or “Look! He’s just poking holes in the sides of our pool!” But my boss never listened, and I kept at it as best I could, and eventually I had poked enough holes in it that it drained faster than it filled. After three years I stood on the floor, and though the hose kept pumping, the holes kept draining, and with no plans to implement a larger hose or for the holes to seal up, I called my work done and left.
My next role was just as vague and entrepreneurial: the new company had work to do, and it wasn’t getting done, and they needed someone to figure out what work wasn’t getting done, how to get it done, and then to do it. I did that for a while and succeeded at it; I was treading water again, but I’d been in that position before, so I defined and executed a strategy. Just like at the first company, I felt that if I were ever going to drain the pool completely and keep it drained, then I needed a team, but when push came to shove they refused.
Right in the context of their refusal, another offer presented itself that included more responsibility, more money, and the resources to tackle all issues at hand. I took it.
Let it be said that all red flags should be paid attention to for any offer dropping out of the sky: This job’s vagueness isn’t like a vagueness I have solved before; it’s like trying to contain the Ganges in a pint glass. I dove from a platform into and no follow-through about resources or bandwidth to implement change. It didn’t help that there were one or two rock-thrower colleagues, too, who were calling out from the sidelines about how “The pool’s still overflowing, the pool’s still overflowing!” (Note: Nothing makes me so anxious as people calling out my failures in public even when my failures aren’t really failures at all.),
That said, my anxiety may have just have been projection. Yes, colleagues continually asks me to do “better”, though their definitions of the term were always vague at best. Yes, I’m pretty sure I heard annoyance and doubt in my boss’s voice when she mentioned that her boss hoped that I would be able to take over her role in a few months. Yes, I’m pretty sure I saw doubt in my boss’s boss’s face when he looked at me as we passed by each other in the hallway. Yes, I didn’t know how to solve their problems without follow-through on their promise of new resources. Yes, this all made me feel extraordinarily anxious. I don’t know whether it comprised the tapestry I saw in my mind, but I suspect so, and I carried that heavy load of anxiety all the time.
Further, the move (from the East Bay to Marin) was expensive, and we borrowed money from my parents to make it happen, and now we live in this old house (which Ashley adores) with a live-in landlord who seems to dislike everything about us from the fact that we’re alive to the fact that we share a trash can. It’s just another form of oversight, another form of someone looking at me the jeering, and I’m tired of that right now. (Jeering has always been an act with which I have the least tolerance, and my response to it often is to cry. In public. With hot shame.)
On the other hand, our new home is so beautiful that Ashley and I have picked up meditating. Three days now (and I hope for many more to come) we’ve gone out to the patio and listened to her little chimes ding, quieting the whole valley below, and thought quietly for a time. Memorial Day morning felt pretty routine: I breathed in and thought as my wife’s book suggested, “I am in this moment.” I breathed out and thought as the book suggested, “This is a beautiful moment.” I opened or closed my eyes as my instincts suggested. I breathed and thought and breathed and got distracted by work and checked myself and breathed and thought and got distracted by how middle-classy house-wifey my adopted mantra seemed and checked myself and breathed and thought and breathed and thought and watched as Ashley checked the time on her phone and breathed and thought and breathed and listened as she chimed her bells to close the session, and I breathed again. Then a lightly violent buzzing filled my head, and I flinched away to my left, and there to my right was a red-headed hummingbird. And I looked at it in wonder and didn’t want to say anything for fear of scaring it away and didn’t want to look at Ashley to miss it fly away. And I asked her, “Do you see it?” and she said “Yes,” and I turned to look and see if she knew what it was, and she was looking where I’d been looking, and when I turned back it had already flown away. I cried. I got frustrated with myself for crying, and I told Ashley I didn’t know why I was crying, and she consoled me and said it was OK, and then we got up and went inside, and she packed up and left for work, and I worked from home on Memorial Day, and I worked on Memorial Day while attempting to write this piece about why I’m crying.
We began meditating three days ago because I started crying regularly four days ago.
The hummingbird struck me with it’s beauty, and that’s not the first time this neighborhood has met my anxiety with beauty. The other day as Ashley and I left our house to go to work, I began complaining about my new job, and Ashley said that even if I lost the job, she’d rather be bankrupt here than rich anywhere else, and as we broke the topmost step heading from our apartment to our car, we spotted two three-point bucks standing in the private road our house is on, and they looked at us, and we approached them, and they walked away slowly without fear, turning to us on occasion like symbols promising that our lives are protected by providence. They watched us get in our car and drive away to work, and I promptly forgot them in the busyness and stress of the new office, but I remembered them today as I watched the hovering hummingbird, and I felt at peace and protected. And then I got up and got on with my day, and I felt immediately anxious again. And this is the cycle of my days lately.
So I cry due to overwhelming anxiety about the lack of definition and ability to succeed at my new job. I cry due to its burden and having to carry its weight all the time. I cry at the beauty of our new place and the promise it offers that all my anxiety is misplaced. I breathe deep and try to find a sense of peace, and I find it, and then I stand up and immediately lose it. I’m exhausted after only six weeks. I do think I’m sorely in need of a break. But I only got some of a break yesterday, and I’ll only get some of a break today, and work will resume tomorrow.
Hopefully I’ll find a way to manage it all. And if I don’t, my wife will still love me and my parents will still care for me (not that I want to rely on them; I am an adult after all.). But I want to succeed at work and in general, and I want to be considered a success, and I want to protect and care for my wife. I want to be a man of means and of good conscience. I don’t want to sit at a bench and cry like my father did when he got laid off the second time in two years, not knowing how he would provide for his well-provided-for family.
Therefore I somehow find that I need to rediscover myself. I’m not sure how I lost an emotional knowledge of myself along the way, but I’m also pleased by at least one of the surprises I gave myself: The more anxious I become, the more I rely on Ashley and the more I appreciate her. Since the move, I have been drawn to her in a way that I never felt drawn before. She is acting as a support, as a bulwark against the world, as a remind that life is good and the anxiety I have is made by myself. Her support of me is what allows me to cry, is what pushes me to cry. And I love her dearly for that.
In my younger years, whenever I became anxious I would push away those closest to me. This was described to me once as a control issue: If I couldn’t change the thing that was bothering me, then I would change something else just to make me feel like I was improving something. Of course, the net result was usually just a change and not always an improvement, but that’s not the point. Change itself is the point.
There are two particular times I can remember that I participated in this behavior:
Christina and I were having a bad time of it in college. It was our first stint, sophomore year, and we were struggling through finals. Having her around was a distraction for me. (I considered her and masturbation to be significant distractions for years.) For Christmas break, Christina was going back to Houston, where she knew she’d see her ex Billy, and I think she had an instinct that if we didn’t break up she would cheat on me. I had an instinct, too, that I would rather be single in Dallas than attached to some far-away girl, and so between being annoyed at the distraction of her and the binding agreement of her, I took the offer when it appeared.
(Christina did hook up with Billy, she told me later, though I’ll never know whether they were having sex at that point or not, not that it matters much. I suspect so; I suspect she lied to me about her virginity, like so many other topics. What I know is that she told me she was a virgin but that she had no maidenhead and bled none our first time. I think maybe she liked having boys to string along, and she strung him and me along, and we liked it, and we let her.)
(I put a night together for Justin before he left: Ashley Walker was interested in a boy she knew going off to be a man, and Holly Hood joined in for the adventure, so the evening was something like a double date but altogether more exciting. Something about good a Texan Christian girl and me wearing a purple fluffy thong; it was good a good night to be single.)
Also near Christmas, when I moved to Boston in 2006, I was in a very distressing long-distance relationship with Sarah (quiet distress: her ignoring me seemed like an aspect of the long-distance factor of our relationship at the time), attending my night-time courses in Emerson’s Graduate Certificate in Book Publishing, and working another awful, awful, anxiety-riddled job. I left home woke up to the sound of my roommate brushing his teeth and clearing his throat around 6am, and I would shower and take Kalli for her little walk around the property, and then I would leave the house for work and school and not return until 10pm or so, at which point I would jog Kalli to the closest dog park about a mile away, come home and experience the cutting pain of the fascitis I was tempting–sometimes I would lay in bed and massage my foot for a good twenty minutes while moaning in pain–and fall asleep on the phone to a wordless Sarah doing her homework. At some point I broke, and I felt that something had to change, and I called my father and begged him to help me get Kalli back home so I could give her to Steve’s parents, who had offered to keep her rather than me taking her to Boston with me. To my lasting pleasure, such tormented gnashing lead to nothing, and I kept Kalli–her perfection, God rest her soul–to the end of her days. Osteosarcoma, poor thing, my great love.
So there: two times I casted about in distress, and two times I pushed my greatest joys (relevant to the time) away.
I am happy to say that is not my habit today. Today, every ounce of new pressure I feel, the more closely I cling to my wife. I feel compelled to tell her of my love a few times a day, where at other more normalized points in our relationship I was so engaged in my work that I barely gave her a thought except when during breaks. Between boredom at work and Kalli’s death and the pitbulls at home, between busy tourist-filled dirtiness of the city and the barbed wire view from our home, I felt pretty miserable, and I spent more of my time wondering about myself and what I might do than my wife and what I might do for her.
Now, though, I reach out to my wife almost hourly. Also, I call my family weekly, when I have never felt particularly compelled to call them before. I feel guilty with my wife when I change our plans around my work’s demands. I feel guilty with my parents when all I do is talk with them about my job and its issues and my anxiety. Even though this behavior may be entirely selfish from me, it’s different (and less destructive) than how I behaved before, and while I could wallow in the guilt of my selfishness, I’m fascinated by the change in my behavior.
I’m thinking now that instead of just reaching out to my wife with “I love you”s, which I know she adores, I should put more thought and effort into my little messages. That’s another way in which I’ve changed: the amount of effort I spend on courting has never matched the fervent energy I gave to Christina, and like my attempt to offload Kalli, it’s one of the burdens I carry dangling from its hook in my heart.
One day in the week following having written this essay, Ashley and I meditated and I prayed to Ganesha to remove obstacles from my path, and I thanked Mount Tam for letting us live in Marin. I then went to the job, and when I sat in my seat, my face flushed, and I began to sweat, and my heart drummed. Then my anxieties were confirmed in full, and I quit within the day. (Thank you, Ganesha. Thank you, thank you, thank you.) One way or another, I was not the man for the job. I feel very fortunate to be able to recognize that and be able to act on the knowledge.
Also, I changed the mantra from Ashley’s book: I now inhale and think “I am in this moment,” and exhale and think “I am of this moment.” Without the primary source of anxiety, meditation comes easier and its effects are less fleeting.