No joy in Kangworld…

…today.

And, lo, there it is: the same sinking of the stomach, the same welling of the tears in the eyes, the same weakness in the limbs, the same momentary stall of the heart.  It comes as it does, without warning and without regard for whatever I may be doing at the time.  Without respect for the remainder of my day.  Without regard for whatever mental state I may already be in.  And it levels me.  It makes me want to hide under the sofa or retreat to my bed, places where I can be alone with the clichéd misery and seething pain that comes with chronic grief.  It’s the unyielding, never ending reminder that my best friend is dead.

Five years, two months and one day later, one would think I would have some sort of coping mechanism in place by now.  Yet, I don’t.  A few years ago I accepted that I never will.  There are certain losses from which a person cannot recover.  This is mine.  This will always be mine.

Today, as I go about the Saturday morning routine of catching up on email, dithering around on the internet, trying to avoid thinking about work, wondering how I’m going to do all the tasks I can’t during the week (and ultimately end up postponing) and cramming in my workouts, I did something incredibly reckless:  I looked at the stupid “On This Day…” thing on Facebook because there was an adorable picture of my kid from two years ago.  Lured by a picture of my then four year-old son with his face painted like a dog, I started scrolling further down memory lane.  And there it was.  One of my darker days.  The day after I “eulogized” my dead best friend, I was leaving Atlanta.  I was leaving behind all future opportunities for shenanigans and high jinks.  I was leaving behind my safe place, the place I went when feeling unusually vulnerable, confused about life or exceptionally depressed.  The place where I went to celebrate ridiculous things.  The place that held over fifteen years of memories in a friendship nearly twice as long.  I had, unbelievably, survived the memorial service but it was really time to go, time to move forward and accept life as a darker, lonelier, scarier existence.  Oddly, as we were driving on I-75, the old iPod spit out Elliott Smith.  I could think of nothing more appropriate (even if Kate didn’t listen to him).

Pain.  All pain.  All pain, all the time.

Kate’s dad once said something along the lines of “the pain is still present but it’s less acute.”  In certain aspects, he’s correct.  But there are days when the acuity of the pain is so severe, I feel as if I cannot draw a single breath.  There are days I look at my child and think “Only because you’re here, am I.” because that sentiment is true.  Be it out of obligation to my child or the fact that he really brings me that much joy, I’m here when I’d much rather not.  An anxious depressive who loses her anchor is an anxious depressive who isn’t fighting a battle – she’s fighting a goddamn war.  With a fake smile on her face.  With a heart that doesn’t want to beat.  With a brain that wishes it wouldn’t work.  With a spirit that is simply crushed.  With a mass of negative emotions she can only lessen with a happy pill or temporary withdrawal from the world around her.

All of this after a dreadfully painful year prior and no immediate end in sight.  This landmine that must be crossed is a big one.  And, unlike in the past, I have no safe haven in Atlanta.  No place to heal.  No place to put myself back together.  No friend to curl up next to, under a blanket with a giant bottle of wine and massive amount of carbs, and shoulder to cry on.  No one to lean on who immediately understands the pain without requiring some sort of explanation as to why certain things bother me as much as they do (and, let’s face it, when one is already upset, having to go into a detailed explanation is exceptionally frustrating).

So, yes.  I’m being very selfish today.  Whiny.  I’m feeling sorry for myself.  I’m misbehaving.  I’m throwing a tantrum.  I’m doing all the rotten, shitty things I do when things don’t go my way.  And I’m doing them largely alone, as I have done since 19 December 2010.  It’s going to be one of those days where doing one nice thing for someone (as Kate would do) isn’t going to lessen the sting, either.  Nope.  Today is going to be one of those days when the dam breaks, the emotions flood my world and everyone around me has the good fortune of drowning in my misery because sharing is caring.

At some point, I’ll get my shit together and head out for a long walk – my ersatz Kate (coping mechanism, evener of the keel) – stomp out any aggression and hope the mood elevates a notch thanks to a flood of endorphins and some music.  Then, I’ll likely find a pile of blankets and stuff my head under a pillow.  Days like this, the chronic grief usually wins and everyone else usually loses.  No amount of therapy will ever lick that, either.

Today, there simply isn’t any joy to be found.

Mediocrity

Mediocre [mee-dee-oh-ker]

adjective
1. of only ordinary or moderate quality; neither good nor bad; barely adequate:
The car gets only mediocre mileage, but it’s fun to drive.
Synonyms: undistinguished, commonplace, pedestrian, everyday; run-of-the-mill.
Antonyms: extraordinary, superior, uncommon, incomparable.

2. not satisfactory; poor; inferior:
Mediocre construction makes that building dangerous.
Synonyms: meager, low-quality, second-rate; so-so.
Antonyms: excellent, superior.

Look, I’m really trying not to allow myself to fall into the pattern of simply whining for its own sake. It’s easy to say, “oh, woe is me,” and expect everyone to shower you with kindness and sympathy. No one appreciates a drama queen, which is perhaps why I took so long to admit that I was having serious problems with stress management at work, to the point where I just physically broke down and mentally burned out. Even now, I hesitate writing this down because I don’t want to be seen as a whiner.

After all, it’s only stress, right? It’s an occupational hazard of being a teacher. You learn to handle it, channel it, and make it driving force in your working life. In my case, everything starting falling apart when I could not stop worrying and obsessing about work, about wanting it to be productive and positive and knowing that all my efforts at making it such were completely futile. Then I tried to achieve a Zen-like state of simply not giving a shit, but that didn’t work at all. My colleagues are really good at maintaining that balance of caring just enough, but not to the point of obsessing over it. It’s a very typically Swedish lagom  (meaning:”just enough”) mentality. And while the principle behind it is admirable, in my experience it often leads to a state of complacency that justifies expending the least amount of effort possible, which leads to substandard work, which leads to mediocre at best and often poor results. But I just care too damn much.

My Swedish colleagues have no idea what its like out there. I’ve worked in schools in America and in schools in Sweden founded by Americans. They expect results. Real positive results. Mediocrity should not be the goal. Mediocrity is not acceptable.

 

Exasperation, irritation…

…frustration.

Lacking a punching bag and the requisite energy to jab the punching bag, I need to find an appropriate substitute.  I’m going to assign blame to my hair.  Yesterday, I went for the periodical untangling of the rat’s nest and shearing of the fleece.  As hairdressers are wont to do, mine straightened the curls.  I don’t care for this, as a rule, but she actually makes it look like something other than newsreader hair so I keep my gob shut and let her attack me with the flat iron.  Now I have a headache because trying to keep the mess out of my eyes is a Herculean effort.  The hair – it knows not what to do.  It just wants to hang…straight…in my face.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I usually keep the hair wild and longish so I can hide behind it but I do this of my own volition.  I AM IN CONTROL – not the fucking hair.  This is me.  Right now.

Hi
Contributing to my positively shitty mood is my struggle with a stupid essay I have been trying to write for five or six (sive) weeks now.  Oh yes, I crow about how wonderful it is to limit myself to essays.  I say “Why yes, real writers of books and things, if I get bored or if a concept refuses to come together, I can just bin the shit and move on to the next because I am awesome, lazy and lacking in discipline.”  The sad, pathetic truth is that I might find myself reworking something to the point of madness.  Barking madness.  Madness that results in stuffing cookies in my face and retreating to my bed to snuggle two stuffed bunnies and whichever cat decides to grace me with his or her presence (lately, it’s been Annabel – the kitty that is so muscular and solid, it feels like a cinder block is crushing your legs).  It is as ridiculous as it sounds, especially given the pajamas that I’m wearing when I engage in this behavior.

My undoing, my descent into rambling lunacy came at the hands of an upgrade.  Miss Thang actually got off her ass and renewed the domain and upgraded the website early this year.  The upgrade has given me power and nothing is more intoxicating to Kang than power (ok…maybe a foreign accent emanating from a handsome man or a quality Belgian beer).  Knowing that my involvement with style sheets and CSS results in bad things, I refrained from going anywhere near that mess.  No one wants to help unfuck whatever fuckups I make while coding.  People would sooner try to figure out my parents’ A/V rig than sort out what I call coding and that’s saying quite a lot because the A/V rig cum home entertainment system is a hot fucking mess of a nightmare.

But I’m genuinely irritated because I might have OCD tendencies.

Depending on the device and/or platform I use to access the site, the justification is off.  I make adjustments for tablets and it skews the view for computers.  I make adjustments for computers and tablets and mobile devices suffer.  The alignment looks a lot like my son’s handwriting did in the beginning of the school year (or my husband’s current penmanship).  I look at the analytics and the device mix is 50/50 so no matter my decision, I’m going make sweet, sweet fuckery love to one segment of the wittew audience we have.  And, yes, I might just be like the average male who is driving a car and finds himself lost;  I’m not going to ask for directions or guidance.  I’m going to drive in circles until the tears flow freely and the tank is empty.  Which is where I am now – on a park bench, stroking myself (not in that way, you disgusting pervert) and telling myself I’m pretty and I have value to someone, somewhere (likely only my parents or my kid).

Who's a pretty pony

Right now, the Emotional Traffic Light Engagement essay (see – even the concept sounds clunky) is back in the draft bin for the millionth time, paragraphs are askew in some posts and my sack of fucks to give is very small and lacking depth (Dock just loves that line).

It’s not a crack house…

…wait a minute.  I was going to say it’s a crack home but I’m wrong.  It is a crack house.

Ever since Milkface began attending Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, I have been saddled with the burden of the commute from our house to central Durham. Without traffic, it’s a fairly easy breeze through RTP and up 147.  Maybe 20 minutes at most given the way I drive (probably would have been 10 or 15 if I still had Astrid).  Unfortunately, the drive is not made during off-peak hours so the slog can stretch upwards to 45 minutes (one way) if there has been an accident, bad weather or some witless fucktard in the left lane driving the speed limit.  As you can imagine, doing this twice a day has its drawbacks. While I love the opportunity to jabber with Milky or rock out to songs from My Little Pony, Equestria Girls or Taylor Swift, I have come to loathe missing the two to two and a half hours in my day. Particularly now that my shoulder has healed from the Great Shoulder Fracture and Tendon Tear Incident of 2013 and I am cleared to return to the gym to work off the manatee and get back to the small sized seal I once was.

About a month into the slog, I turned to Dock and said “Sorry, pal.  I know you hate urban life but we’re moving.  You’re going to have to take one for the team.”  Lacking a mirror, I have no idea what my expression was but it was apparently horrifying enough that Dock immediately consented and we decided to start looking for a house closer to PCSGU in central Durham.

Our decision to buy our current house in Agrestic was made after spending months trolling neighborhoods in Raleigh.  Given that a house is potentially the largest investment we would make, we wanted to make sure we were going to get what we needed:  enough space to avoid each other 80% of the time and what we really needed:  resale value.  We logged many a mile creeping through neighborhoods, taking notes, counting rental homes, reviewing tax cards, property values and comparable sales data.  Since it was suburban Raleigh, we really didn’t have to worry too much about crime statistics.  As for schools, well – Wake County is such a dismal clusterfuck, it really doesn’t matter because the school district will reassign your kid in a heartbeat so why bother with that?  The outcome was good.  We actually like living in Agrestic.  The neighbors, for the most part, are decent.  There’s little drama with the HOA and, holla, we have equity.

Given the outcome above, we decided to employ the same and start our search for a new home.  Last week, after feasting on mediocre fare at a brewpub in Durham, we piled in the car and started cruising the PCSGU’s neighborhood and a few others.  Surrounding the school are some fairly adorable homes that reminded us of what Five Points in Raleigh used to be like before the yuppy scum moved in, knocked over the small bungalows and built repro Craftsman homes but with six or seven floors (logic that one for me, please). My first thought was “Gee, wouldn’t it be great if Milkface could walk to school like I did when I was in elementary school?”  So, I was pretty darn excited.  We drove up and down a few streets and then turned (direction is not relevant).  In the background one could hear the dulcet tones of Elvis Presley except he wasn’t singing a happy tune.  He was singing the mournful one.  He was singing “In the Ghettoooooooo.”

Now, I’m not talking ghetto as in “I’m a snob and I look down upon thee.”  Nor am I talking ghetto as in “ratchet.”  I’m talking ghetto as in crime and not that petty, bored, suburban vandalism shit, either.

Growing up mere miles from the city limits of Philly, I consider myself to be somewhat urbanized and somewhat of a badass.  Stuff like this doesn’t usually turn me away.  But – my husband travels for work and he travels a lot.  And while he does own many firearms, he is an antiquarian and I just cannot envision a break-in going down like this:

Felon:  Well, hello Lady of the House.  Would you be so kind as to give me your valuables, your legal tender, your credit cards, your ATM card and your pin code, please?

Me:  :ammo thing clamped between teeth:  Hold on for a second, Mr. Burglar/Serial Killer/Rapist/All of the Above.  I’m loading this long arm circa WWI and it’s a bit of a sticky bitch but have you seen this the Finnish stamp which has been marked over and replaced by this Russian/Bolshevik mark?  A very interesting time in history, would you not agree?

Felon:  My goodness.  That’s quite a find.  How much did your husband pay for it? Should I take that instead and sell it at a gun show? Perhaps, if you wrote down the history of this fascinating firearm, I might make enough bank to give up this life of crime, return to medical school and realize my dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon.

Mmmmhmmmm.

Each and every street, it seemed like we were either on “Adorable Bungalow Boulevard” or “Omar Comin’ Drive.”  The oddest part of all, there wasn’t any sort of delineation.  There wasn’t a transition.  It was either urban splendor or urban blight.  For a woman with lofty dreams of not losing hours in a day to traffic and commuting, this was extremely disappointing in a :sniffs: first world problems sort of way.  Especially since the more time I spend in Durham, the more I really like it.

Raleigh is so damn milque-toast, it viscerally upsets me whenever I return after a period of time elsewhere; mainly up North or abroad. Fucking Lexus SUVs, Japanese mini-vans and dvd players in every car.  There is this feeling that no one really works during the week – it’s just a series of carpool upon carpool.  The strip malls are the exact same.  My father lives across town from me.  We have the same exact strip mall with the same exact stores.  No variation at all.  There is very little local flavor and color.  From what I understand, one of the few assets is the annual hoovering of the fallen leaves.  I’m not sure if that’s compelling enough to make me stay.

Durham seems to be experiencing a demi-renaissance of sorts.  It’s always been a place that drew artists because *surprise* rents are low. One can drive through downtown Durham and see various tall-ish (there are no tall buildings here) being erected.  Some of the neighborhoods are positively darling or genuinely quaint.  It seems like the largest problem is finding the one that isn’t backed up to hAmsterdam.

*I realize that I have used this title previously but it is considerably appropriate in this scenario so accept my apologies for my laziness and lack of creativity.

Ennui: a little light self-pity

I haven’t done a ‘Word of the Day’ analysis/discussion for a very long time, so I won’t bother labeling this as a ‘WOTD.’ Ennui is a great word, though, because it describes my situation so perfectly. It’s defined as a “feeling of listlessness and general dissatisfaction resulting from lack of activity or excitement.” Yeah, tell me about it.

I broke my knee a couple of weeks ago, had to have it surgically reconstructed, and spent five days in the hospital. Now I’m home, basically a couch-bound cripple. I can move about with the help of a walker, so I can get myself to and from the bathroom and kitchen, but everything just takes a lot more time. I no longer have access to the upstairs area, so I have to have clothing and other things brought to me from the bedroom upstairs. However, once I have them, I can dress myself without any help. I can shower without any help, but I have to sit down, as I’m forbidden from putting any weight at all on my knee for at least six weeks.

I was given a nice little stash of strong painkilling and mind-numbing opiates when I left the hospital, but I stopped using them after the first week. Right now I’m coping using only paracetamol/acetaminophen. The knee hurts but it’s tolerable, and to tell the truth I sort of like the pain. It’s distracting.

The worst thing about recovering from this kind of injury is the all-consuming boredom that sets in after a little while. One does what one can to occupy the mind. I’ve got a huge library of films and TV shows at my disposal, and I’ve got my Kindle loaded with hundreds of books, and I’ve got a brand new laptop computer, upon which I’m typing this update.

All this has helped. However, I still crave sensation, stimulation, challenge, stress, and not the kind of stress that results from not having any of the previous things.

The ennui of recovery.
A lack of all activity.
Try not to think,
About the things,
You want to do,
But cannot be.
Try not to think,
About yourself.
Just embrace,
The lethargy.
Try not to care,
And be aware,
That all you’ll get,
Is sympathy.
The one thing,
That can save you
From this ennui,
Is apathy.

Lost in Transit

Three weeks past the vernal.
The sun shines faithfully,
But barren winter lingers.
Stubbornly prolonging dormancy.
Still feeding on the decay,
Of the previous year.
Not a blade of grass grows,
Nor any flower blooms.
Skeleton trees stand naked,
And leafless in the wind.
Predominant brown denies green.
The flight of spring, delayed.
Though more likely cancelled.

Pieces of Paper: How to be Unemployed in Sweden

I’ve already posted one or two poems about bureaucracy in Sweden, which were inspired by the process I’ve been undergoing since losing my job a few months ago. Well, I’m starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I haven’t gotten there yet but things are definitely getting brighter.

It’s important to keep in mind that this a country obsessed with paperwork, and I literally mean paper that one writes on with a pen. Occasionally, one encounters an “online form,” but it’s the kind that one fills in online, then prints out, signs, puts into an envelope and then into a mailbox, which defeats the whole purpose of filling in the form online.

Allow me to familiarize you with the process of getting employment benefits, and how many Pieces of Paper are involved. On the first day I was officially unemployed I went to the employment office with an Employer Certificate (piece of paper #1) from my former employer, where I registered myself as unemployed and seeking work. They gave me something they call a Treatment Plan (piece of paper #2) which is a list of mostly useless suggestions for how to get a job. They then notified my unemployment agency, which sent me an application form (piece of paper #3) to fill in.

The unemployment agency advised me to register for their online service, as it somewhat streamlines the process of getting the money. Kudos to them as it does actually work pretty well. However, you’d think they could email me my password like everyone else does, but apparently this had to be sent by paper mail (piece of paper #4) so I spent a few days waiting for it to arrive.

Before the unemployment agency could make a decision, I had to submit a Cash Card detailing the days and hours I actually worked and the same for which I was unemployed. Miraculously, this is actually a form that one fills in and submits online. Therefore it’s technically not a piece of paper, though it would have been in the past, hence the old-fashioned name of Cash Card. At least they’ve managed to bring this part of process into the 21st century.

At one point I sent them a message asking if I could just scan and email documents to them since I figured this could save both paper and time. They responded that they needed paper copies. I guess they can only be sure of the authenticity of a document if they have a physical paper copy, since we all know how difficult it is to fake paper documents.

Anyway, I sent them the application, along with copies of the Employer Certificate and Treatment Plan. I got my password in the mail, and filled in and submitted the online Cash Card. A few days later I got my Decision Letter (piece of paper #5) in the mail informing me that I’ve been processed and approved to receive benefits. I just needed to contact the bank that pays out the money and let them know where to send it. As it turns out the bank that does this is my bank, so they said the money should just show up in my account. Sweet.

But wait there’s more…

When I found out how much they’re actually giving me, I thought the amount seemed rather low. Employment is supposed to be 80% of your original salary, so I did some checking and discovered that the unemployment agency has an income cap of about $2,800 per month, which means they’ll pay benefits for up to that amount. It doesn’t matter if you made $2,000 or $10,000 per month, the amount is the same. Furthermore, they’ll give you only 80% of that amount, so if you receive the maximum amount of benefits we’re talking only $2,200 gross. On top of that, they deduct 30% for taxes, which would leave you with $1,550 net.

That’s where income insurance comes in, which I got through the Teacher’s Union. Since the amount that unemployment actually pays out is so pitifully low, my income insurance will pay the remainder of the 80% of my original salary, and that amount will be tax free. I spoke to them on the phone and they said they’d send me an application form (piece of paper #6) and which I’ll fill in and send back to them, along with a copy of my Decision Letter.

Joyful, isn’t it? I’ve now gone all the way through the unemployment process but have just begun the insurance process. Also, my situation is a little more complicated due to the fact that I’m taking a Swedish course. Normally, you’re not qualified to receive benefits while studying, but as long as it’s part time (less than 50%) you can still get unemployment. It just requires more Forms, Certificates, and Pieces of Paper.