Gender and the New Masculinity

ashes-sitoula-32553I was always closer to my mother than to my father. I also have four daughters and, though I have been divorced, a strong and respectful relationship with my wife. I feel very strongly about gender equivalencey and I think I have, in part, earned the right to post the thoughts below.

Other than dad, who was quite distant, I haven’t had many male role models. Most of the men I have observed (and I am a keen observer) suffer from what I consider to be over-amplifications of maleness. The penultimate expression of this maleness can be summarized in a scene from “This is Us” where Jack’s friends try to teach him that golfing is an excellent excuse to get away from your family. I see a lot of men avoiding their families in through pursuit hobbies, football, and work.

Men also don’t talk about their feelings and have developed strong avoidance strategies (see football and well, careers) to ensure we don’t get stuck doing so. We aren’t supposed to have feelings, or cry, or worry about whether we look fat in these pants. As with women, there are many stereotypes about masculinity — many of which make me ashamed to be a male.

Similar things can, of course, be said about women but I have no direct experience with those. Of course, I do have direct experience with my mother, sister, wife, ex-wife, and four daughters. I definitely see that male and female-ness is different. Sometimes opposing, sometimes similar, yet different. And not always consistent, but predictable enough to be a thing. Maleness and femaleness are different.

But they are not, in fact, polar opposites. I do think one can examine male and female responses to a given scenario or stimulus as being different points along a continuum, however. For example, a male may choose to pick up a stick and pretend it’s a gun whereas a female may pick up that same stick and pretend it’s a magic wand. Different, but not opposing.

And the advent of more gender flexibility allows us to see these differences as continua rather than being opposite or at odds with each other. Maleness and femaleness are becoming less mutually exclusive and more similar. And isn’t it healthier to focus on our similarities than to obsess over our differences?

Things are changing, but when I think that the women’s suffrage movement started in the late 1800s, I wonder why they are changing so slowly. Of course, the past ten years have seen what may be the highest rate of change in gender issues certainly in my lifetime. So things are happening.

From my perspective, that of a heterosexual male, I am thankful more men are embracing and talking about their ‘feminine side’. Simultaneously I question whether the male-ification of women is good or bad. Mostly I believe we are still in a transition. Women have been becoming more masculine for quite a while (over 100 years I would argue) whereas men have been becoming more feminine for only a few decades at most.

As a father of four daughters I often hear from young women that their dad stayed home with them. I assume I hear about these rare instances more often than the average person. But this suggests to me that there have been men taking on more traditionally feminine responsibilities for longer than I/we might believe.

Nonetheless, the male to feminine transition is relatively new and the female to masculine transition fairly old. Men are in the honeymoon phase where it is almost cool to be a stay-at-home-dad or to have a wife as primary breadwinner. Compare this to women who still make 25% less than men in the same job yet are delaying motherhood and having to be supermom to achieve familial goals.

I have lost jobs to seemingly less qualified women (former career in STEM) and have had female supervisors who were woefully underqualified for their jobs. I have witnessed first hand some of the repercussions of what I still refer to as the ERA movement (equal rights amendment). As the pendulum swings to the far extreme I see women essentially trying to be men in order to be successful. That is lame. I’m pretty sure that’s not the point of gender equality: for women to become men? Please.

So I wonder what lies ahead for men becoming more feminine. I know for myself I went way overboard, my pendulum swung so far to the opposite side that I lost myself and became a proverbial doormat to my ex-wife. I overshot my target by way too much. I tried to become more like a woman than a man rather than trying to embrace the best feminine qualities I felt I needed to be primary caregiver.

I listened to a podcast recently by Ryan Daniel Moran where Jordan Gray was discussing how masculinity affects our lives. He suggested that the ideal ratio was for a man to be 80% masculine and 20% feminine. I don’t know what that means exactly or whether it is accurate but I think we can use relative percentages to discuss this phenomenon.

I think the women’s movement has led to a lot of women trying to become more like 80% male. This is the pendulum swinging too far, in my opinion. Pant suits, aggressive work behaviors, fighting the rats in the race. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable to suggest that some, maybe many, women are searching for success in a man’s world by acting more masculine. Certainly a viable strategy, but one I wish we’d abandon.

Because this approach doesn’t change any of our values. Being selected for top positions because you’re masculine (i.e., aggressive, militant, and willing to put career before family) doesn’t change the qualities necessary for being at the top. I would much rather see us try allowing more feminine qualities to the top and see what happens. To me that’s more to the point.

I’m not sure what the ideal percentage is and I’m sure it varies from person to person, couple to couple, and job to job. I’m not even sure if it’s a reasonable metric. To me, the idea of men becoming more feminine and women becoming more masculine is not about us embracing the exact behaviors or values inherent to the opposing gender endpoint. Rather, I think it should be about us opening up to understand our partners, bosses, and coworkers. In embracing other perspectives we can be more empathetic and incorporate new ideas into our own.

In my own gender-bending adventures I have learned to appreciate the experiences traditionally assigned to women or mother-role caregivers. I understand what it’s like to not be defined by a career. My life is void of a job that defines me. My answer to the question “what do you do” is anything by typical. I know what that feels like.

It isn’t a lot, but I probably understand the feminine perspective better than many men. Certainly better than most alpha-male rat racers and career oriented men. But I have not become ‘more like a woman’ in the process. More feminine, perhaps, depending on how you define that. If I started at 80/20 I’d say I’m 65/35. But it hasn’t changed my masculinity as far as I’m concerned. It’s a bad metric.

I have just become more aware. More sensitive. More empathetic and sympathetic to ‘other’ gender roles and concerns. I have been out of the traditional masculine box and walked in those shoes. It left an impression on me. It suppose it changed me, but I don’t think that’s quite accurate, either.

I guess I wonder what our world would be like if we all could experience other perspectives. The single-minded, traditional masculine and feminine roles and characteristics are so limiting. Why would you want to constrain yourself to a limited human experience defined by your gender identity? I don’t get it.

Not sure where to leave this other than to say I think I have tapped into something important that I hope to continue to develop. Let me know what you think.

Being different: It’s not a bad thing!

Being different: It’s not a bad thing!

Really, that picture could be on my homepage. But not in a literal sense. I’ve just always identified with those who let their freak flags fly. And I’m offended by my own use of the term freak, because that’s what got me here in the first place. . . .

I’ve always been different. Not in a three arms and no head kind of way but more that I just didn’t think the same thoughts as other people I knew. At some point early on I wasn’t aware of this. I guess I just figured we all had our own unique and cool thoughts, ideas, and feeling. I suppose I knew there was enough common ground to facilitate a society but I eventually started to feel like most other people agreed about stuff and I just didn’t.

I’m sure it started earlier, but my memories tell me that it started with football. I didn’t really like football, or other organized sports, and certainly didn’t follow it with the same passion as many boys my age. I was also a pretty small kid so it was kind of a joke to think of me playing football and I suppose a lot of kids my age made that joke. I didn’t care but I did.

That “I didn’t care but I did” thing started to be a common feeling for me. Sticks and stones and blah blah – words fucking hurt. As I got in to breakdancing I really started to hear the resistance. I think the first time I was called ‘fag’ (I hate that word) was when I was thirteen, had moved to a new town, and was really into breakdancing.

I don’t know why I have always been into different things. Breakdancing, bicycle freestyle, bluegrass music, mandolins, home brewing, stream ecology. . . Most of the things I enjoy and pursue are outside what I would call ‘normal’ or ‘typical’. Part of this could be the narcissism of small differences and part could be leftover from my adolescent development where I first started defining myself by who I’m not to discover who I am. But I truly don’t think I was being intentional, I have mostly just done what I thought I would like.

Anyway, I started being bullied and receiving negative attention. Mostly from other boys but also from girls. Even some adults would express their dissatisfaction with my hair, clothes, or activities. One particularly benign instance was when I shaved my head. Not bald, but with a #2 guard. People flipped out. My hair was really not that different from a classic high and tight, which most of the football players wore at the time, but it was different enough to generate quite a reaction from the world around me. One particularly beefy jock actually told me I was the bravest guy I knew for doing something so out of the ordinary.

So even though some of the attention I was getting was not negative I was dumbfounded. Why did people freak out so much when I did things that were not within their standards of what they considered normal? Why did I matter?

Well, as I look back, I realize I decided the whole thing was a reflection of my inadequacy as a human being. I decided that I was creating problems for people because I was inferior. There was something wrong with me that led me not to conform but to stand out and do my own thing. I started viewing myself as an outcast and out-of-place in the world around me. I think this is when my anxiety and depressive episodes started.

Now that I look back, though, I see that I could have made different assumptions. For whatever reasons, I chose to view this attention pessimistically. Perhaps it was teenage angst or an inherent tendency toward depression, but I chose to a pessimistic perspective or mindset. I made up a whole bunch of stories about myself that described my lack of value. I went further to develop strategies about how to deal with my inferiority – to compensate. I became a people pleaser, a chameleon, a mind reader, and started showing people an inauthentic version of myself. To varying degrees.

And to varying degrees these strategies worked. Though mostly they didn’t. I became shy and somewhat reclusive. I didn’t feel safe around people I didn’t know. I guarded my true self, showed new people an inauthentic version of myself and, if they liked that person, because exhausted maintaining those masks. I had friends who knew me and even a few girlfriends, but the world was not my oyster. I struggled. We all did, but I think I created more problems for myself than I really had.

And it was all about my mindset. I told myself a pessimistic story rather than an optimistic one. Today my therapist suggested that I may have drawn attention not because I was weird but because I was charismatic. Perhaps people admired my ability to be myself. I was, back then, being pretty authentic, I’d say. I’d sure like to get back there.

I could say I wish I would have made a more optimistic decision but I am not revisionist. My hope is that I can now look back with a new perspective and mindset to tell a different story about my past. I will redefine my history to reflect the qualities in myself that make me good. That give me value. That make it ok for me to be a person in this world. I hope to understand better that I matter to people and that I deserve forgiveness. Because I have learned, thanks to a pessimistic story I told myself, that I hold myself to a ridiculously high and inhuman standard. All because of choices my teenage self-made.

I will continue to develop this line of thinking. But to summarize I think today I learned that the stories I told myself might not be accurate. Or, there are other stories I can tell myself that are at least as true and potentially more authentic. I have the freedom to choose a more optimistic interpretation of my life experiences that does not detract from my value and allows me to free myself of the negativity I cloak my personality in. I can learn that I am a regular human being and deserving of forgiveness and empathy – especially from myself. I can learn to treat myself better because I am not only allowed to be myself but that the person I am might actually be valuable to others.

Moreover, I hope to better understand what happened to me. I want to learn how to create new beliefs and how to heal. I then want to understand how to help other people either avoid the same mistakes I made or to move beyond their own beliefs that may be harming their abilities and lives.

I have never really understood what people mean by saying ‘Be optimistic’ or ‘Show gratitude’ or any of those rainbow and unicorn approaches to tricking yourself into being happy. But I think I am an example of how pessimistic thinking contributed to much bigger issues. Who knows whether things could have been different but I can now see how choosing a positive attitude can have broad effects. And I can see that being positive has at least the possibility of affecting the future. And, for me, that’s a shift in mindset. And that’s something.

I am going to stop substituting my voice for someone else’s.

I am going to stop substituting my voice for someone else’s.

For probably ten years I’ve been trying to find my gut. To listen to my voice. To figure out what guides my intuition. I had become such a doormat of a people pleaser that I truly did not know where my voice was or how to esteem myself.

The more I read about following my heart, my passion, and knowing what I want from life the more disgruntled I became. Because I couldn’t find myself I wondered if it was all bunk. Is there a voice that guides us? I have about a hundred, it seems.

But I do believe I have a soul, a core, and an internal voice and that it is me. I just got so separated from that person. In the quest to find him I filled in the blanks as best I could. And what resulted were that I listened to the voices of others. Of my father and my ex-wife mostly. And of society at large, or how I interpreted it which was to represent the opposite of myself because that’s how estranged I felt from reality.

I felt so poorly about myself that I figured whatever I believed/thought/felt must be pretty much the opposite of the truth. How awful is that? It comes from being different. I generally don’t agree with the status quo. I don’t watch football. I don’t understand organized religion. I don’t believe the hype. I play mandolin and own a brewery. There are many arguments that I self-identify with what I am NOT, and have never really moved passed my teenage years in that respect, but in truth, I just like things that are not typical.

Anyway, being different was a source of much ridicule and bullying in my youth and I still let those voices creep in. Those societal voices tell me that I am not good enough. I am different and therefore lesser than others or just plain bad. So when I try to find myself, and remember I am different, I hear the voices of society calling me names and making fun of my interests.

I hear my father telling me to walk the talk and to stop complaining about being different. He told me it was a choice and I have to live with the consequences of my actions. True enough, but his teachings also made me feel inferior because I couldn’t just do it ‘right’. Also, my ex-wife constantly berating me for believing I could enjoy my career or disagree with people doesn’t help. She constantly reminded me that I was different and therefore not good enough.

Society and my family have taught me that being different is uncomfortable at best and a big problem at the worst. I learned that my needs and ideas, being different, created discomfort for others and that I was therefore bad for being me. So, yeah, I sort of lost my self. And even now, as I try to rediscover myself, I have a huge arsenal or reasons why myself is not something I necessarily want to find.

So when I want to make a decision, or find my source, or focus inward, I hear a chorus of competing voices along with my own. The old believes come at me in the form of other voices to preserve themselves and prevent me from finding my true self. As someone who avoids conflict I am barraged by it when I do something as simple as making a decision about what kind of drill bit to buy.

The ghosts of my past still haunt me and distract me from being myself. Personal growth ain’t easy and this is an example of that struggle. Changing old beliefs is hard because they want to live, to be heard, and not to be replaced.

I wish I could understand how all this happened and go back in time. I wish I could have not lost myself, or to not have believed the hype, the other voices. I wish I could have been stronger. But I was weak and let them in. Now I need to let them back out.

I am a statistic. College, jobs, and the American Dream.

I am a statistic. College, jobs, and the American Dream.

I don’t want this post to sound negative as that is not how I am feeling. I think the appropriate mood that summarizes what follows is, “I’m just saying'”. These are just observations – I am beyond feeling like a victim. It is what it is.

See. I finally drank the Kool-Aid. I think I was probably 25. I decided my dad was right and that I was going to get my shit together and follow his instructions. And I’m not blaming my dad. That whole generation believed in the same schism. Do good in school, go to college, get a good paying job, realize the American dream. Our predecessors wanted us to do better than they did. They wanted us to not have to climb the sub-corporate ladder only to work more and have less leisure time. They wanted us to enjoy our lives more and work less. And from probably 1970 (and maybe earlier, I was born in ’72) to 2000 the formula to improve upon our parents success was to go to college, which would get us a good job, which would allow us to be happier.

I resisted like mad. I was a skater punk hippie pothead. I didn’t need the corporate world or to conform to the rules. Until resistance became futile. I did pretty well but realized that the cigarettes I was smoking were giving me bronchitis every year. And getting antibiotics from the doctor cost money. Maybe I needed insurance. To get insurance I need a ‘good job’. Hmm. I also grew tired of my car breaking down all the time. Maybe I needed to spend more than $1500 on a vehicle. For that I needed money. Hmmmm.

My girlfriend at the time was going to become a pharmacist. She was going to school to get a job to make money and have insurance and a brand new car. That started to make sense the longer I dated her. While she had a plan to take care of her future, I had no idea what I even wanted to do. So I fell back on some old advice.

Originally I dropped out of my undergraduate pursuit after two years. My dad paid for two years and said, if I made A’s and B’s he’d pay for the rest. Well, I didn’t make all A’s and B’s and he followed through. I took three years off to work and made pretty decent money. But no insurance and not enough money to afford any luxuries.

I decided to take student loans to finish my degree because my dad already had half of my education paid for. It made good economic sense for me to finish what I had started. I did much better the second time and graduated. By this time I had made friends in my department and even served as a TA while an undergraduate. I was exposed to new opportunities because I was kind of good and fun to be around. This led to some term jobs in my field which gave me experience. Before I knew it I was building a foundation.

At this point I was competitive for agency jobs but I wanted something different. I wanted to be free to pursue my own interests. I decided to try for a Master’s degree to see if I could hack it. But my first two years of underperformance required that I take more loans to get the Master’s. But I was set on doing it.

I did very well in graduate school and got a lot of attention. Though I ended up investing another $10k in my education I was successful in the mainstream for perhaps the first time in my life. This buzz led me to believe I could do a PhD and, why not? It would essentially be paid for through a tuition waiver. And, in the end, wasn’t it better to get a PhD for the same price? What was a few more years. Plus, at this point, I was kind of a martyr and enjoyed showing everyone that the kid who almost failed out of undergrad had become a super student.

I really enjoyed PhD school and it suited me. I was able to work at my own pace, rarely more than 20 or 25 hours a week, and the work truly inspired me. It was the first time since I was an early teen that I looked forward to going to school or work or whatever.  I did well and had a lot of time to enjoy my hobbies. I decided an academic career would suit me well because I thought I could continue my lifestyle.

Well, I was wrong. I hadn’t really thought about what I would do once I finished my PhD because I believed I would just ‘get a job’. I believed that I was now going to be rewarded with the tenure-track position of my dreams because I had done all the leg work. I did what I was supposed to do. I was surprised that I enjoyed it and excited to accept my just rewards.

I did get a job, but it was a horrible experience. The town, the department, the entire gig was nothing like what I expected. My coworkers were depressed and beaten down. The faculty meetings and face time required were outrageous. My ability to succeed was nearly non-existent because of all the complications. The reality of a crappy tenure track job was shocking, disillusioning, and depressing.

At this point I could have suffered through a few years, jumped ship, and hope to move on to a better job. But I had learned a lot in the preceding few years and realized the job market was tight. I felt like I had shot my wad, accepted the only job I would ever get, and was now stuck. I believed that I had achieved the best I possibly could. In hindsight I never should have accepted the job. I should have stayed put and continued to adjunct for a few years in hopes that something better would come along. Only it probably wouldn’t have.

The reality was that hundreds of other kids were equivalently educated, good, and fun as I was. And, as horrible as it sounds, some of them did not have a white penis. The reality of my career path was that there were hundreds of over-qualified applicants for every job available. Some years were worse. But the bottom line was that I was one of the surplus PhDs produced to serve an academic institution but for whom no job existed. I was a casualty of the new academia. I subscribed to a dream that no longer existed. The one job that I possibly could have won I was prepared to quit. I was done.

You can read more about this here where I discuss why I quit. It wasn’t just about the job. I had family reasons. But the point is, the job for which I had prepared and that I pursued did not exist. It was a job from my father’s generation. Of my academic advisors generation. The jobs that existed required an effort and sacrifice that I wasn’t willing to provide. I was duped into believing I could pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake and that I would be rewarded for my efforts by being indoctrinated into the academic world.

I was naive. I was probably a lot of other things, too. I was arrogant. Cocky. Entitled, maybe. But I needed to find that confidence. I found it and then it was sucked right out of me.

Sure, it was my decision to bail. And in trying for the past ten years to find some meaningful work leveraging my PhD I have failed miserably. It has been depressing to continually try to find a rewarding job that would utilize my skills, training, and intelligence but they really don’t exist. Or, they exist somewhere else and are occupied by people who didn’t give up and quit. I don’t deserve those jobs and so I don’t get them.

And now I am still in limbo. Though I know I need to let go of the past to move forward, I hold on to some scrap of my former abilities and performance. I miss the confidence in knowing I was good at what I did and that people benefitted from my mind. I long to feel that sense of ability and belonging.

But I also long to find that again, somewhere else. I realize my passion was never really in conservation biology. I was good at it and I enjoyed it, but my colleagues had a true passion that I did not possess. They deserve the jobs because they will make the sacrifices. I won’t make those sacrifices therefore I need to move on. I need to find a vehicle for my passions and talents. I can begin again. Maybe I can leverage my experience and knowledge (though I try, that seems doubtful) or maybe I will start over completely.

What I do know is that I can achieve things. I can DO. I am good. I can learn again. But I think my story needs to be shared. There may be others who have had similar experiences, or young people headed in a similar direction who I might be able to help. I wish I could find the people who could benefit from my story, from my experience. I wish I would have had guidance during that time in my life. I don’t remember people around me trying to help but, if there were, I wasn’t able to hear them. I want to be that for someone.

BTW. My brother is a motorcycle mechanic. He got married at 18 and had a kid. Never went to college. Was a self-taught bicycle mechanic for 20 years. Scrambled a bit in his 40s but now makes a much higher salary than I ever have and is viewed as an extreme expert in his field. Two sons, two opposing career paths, our dad was wrong.

Moving, improving, and grooving. Forward, I think.

Moving, improving, and grooving. Forward, I think.

At around two months out I can feel myself changing but I also feel the tug of old habits. I am still actively looking for jobs but I am fantasizing more and more about never returning to work. The possibility that I can do something entirely different seems more real than it did a few months ago. I am making use of myself around the house and saving my family a little money doing work we would otherwise have to pay someone to do. My  next challenge is to take over all of our finances and investing to save the fees we pay our financial advisor. Together I will save several thousands of dollars this year, maybe tens of thousands, which essentially offsets what I am not earning.

And, remember, even at my best I made around $50k a year. In a 40% tax bracket that means I was bringing home somewhere around $30k. If I can generate new revenues or reduce our spending I can probably come up with $30k. This is slowly becoming my new mantra.

But I am still checking and applying for jobs. I have three open applications currently and found out I did not get three jobs last week. What’s different is I can no longer trick myself into believing I would like any of these jobs. Or at least I am more skeptical. But I am still obsessed with checking and there are (increasingly shorter) moments where I think “This is the job that is going to save me!”. It’s so weird to be so attached to checking for jobs. I do the same thing with email. I used to do it with online dating. It’s like I need some external thing to validate my existence or stroke my ego. Somehow I still believe, a little, that a job is going to fall into my lap and save me.

I want badly to make this transition but instead I find myself in the limbo-like state of transitionING into something different. Maybe change isn’t black and white and one day I will realize I have been a darker grey for a long time, but that I am no longer white. Change is hard. Old habits bully the new ones, often times in to submission.

I’d like to get to a place where I don’t have the urge to check my email in hopes that something will change my life. In the same way I don’t want to be looking for a job to change my situation. I see a future where I don’t watch the job ads but I have been doing so for going on 20 years. I often think about getting rid of my smart phone so I can’t check my email so easily. And I even remove the email apps from time to time to try to break the habit. I have stopped using Facebook and other social medias for the same reason. Email and job sites are the final frontier, lol.

I still don’t fully understand what all that’s about, but I’m trying to get passed it and to esteem myself from within. I am trying to use kinder words in my head, stop ruminating when I catch myself, and to stop beating myself up when I don’t live up to my unrealistic expectations of myself.  Eventually I would like to be ok not working at all and contributing in other ways. Truthfully, I think that’s the only way I’m going to be able to reach all of my goals and maintain a healthy lifestyle and attitude.

I have an excellent work ethic, I just A) haven’t liked the type of job I can get in my current location, B) have not been satisfied once I deviated from my professional path, C) was very content and could manage my current lifestyle when I was a professor, D) that ship has sailed.

If I could find a job that allowed me a flexible schedule, challenged my brain, rewarded me for being creative and efficient, and did not make me ride the clock if my work was finished I think I could be content. Otherwise, the man is a goddamned idiot and I can’t work for him without being frustrated and disgruntled by what I view as gross oversights, mistakes, and reduced professionalism. And the man typically operates under the guise of ‘that’s how it’s done’ or ‘those are the rules’. Well fuck that.

And that system seems to dominate the job market here. I would even say that the concept of a PhD is lost on most people. To me, the PhD doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it does mean a few things: 1) a person can perform excellent work unsupervised, on their own terms, and faster than you would expect, 2) a person has earned the freedom and respect to be permitted and even encouraged to follow their own lead. Employers don’t get this. What I see around me is a very antiquated view of management where employees are given tasks below their aptitude and expected to check off the boxes, smile and nod, and go home. Hopefully retire with some meaningful resources in 30 years. Don’t rock the boat, speak up, or have opinions. Do as your told and let your manager move up the ladder.

I don’t see how business stay open under those conditions. Of course, many of the jobs I have had are in the public sector and the whole government model is atrocious at best. In fact, I can actually respect Trump for trying to reduce EPA jobs even though I am a conservation biologist. There’s a lot of waste in the agencies where I have worked. In fact, this is laughable, but most of the public sector jobs I have had should be eliminated and rolled into someone else’s job. I rarely had more than a few hours of actual work to do in a week. And that goes for my past 5 years of employment.

Some would relish in that sort of environment. It caused me to die a little each day.

So. So far, so good. Making progress but it is painful and slow. Next up is getting all of our financing straight and taking over all of our accounts and budgeting from our financial advisors. Sucks to be them. The bakery is closed.

Finding the time. Making the time.

Finding the time. Making the time.

The most amazing thing I’ve realized since I lost my job is that I feel like I have far less time now than I did when I had to work 40 hours a week. It’s a real conundrum that I’m just beginning to dissect.

Part of it is that I have so many things I want to do. Things I couldn’t have necessarily done with my job. It’s like, now that I have the time I set some really lofty goals. Maybe I am aiming too high. Maybe I’m trying to achieve too much in too little time and, as such, have set myself up for failure.

Part of it is that I am so easily distracted by my wife, kids, pets, or whatever. I am highly disciplined but I can’t say no to people. If my wife wants me to go with her to the store, I’ll go because it’s not like I am at work. So I lose some time there. But I prioritize my family and enjoy them so it’s a conundrum.

Part of it is that I used to have so much down time at work (like 95% of my time there) to the point where I NEEDED things to do. So I would meditate and get all my internet/computer activities completed quickly. Getting to work at 7 and having nothing to do, and few distractions, pretty much insured I would do the things I had planned for that day.

But it wasn’t like I had big plans at work. I spent most of my time twiddling my thumbs and thinking about how productive I’d be if I didn’t have to sit in an office all day. And now that I have that I am less productive?

I continue to exercise and I can’t even remember when I did that at work. I guess I came home for an hour every day during lunch and worked out. Well, four days a week. That habit has existed for a long time so it was easy to maintain through the transition. But the new habits are harder.

I have added: writing, blogging, meditating (which I did about the same when I was in an office), journaling, and playing mandolin. I did all of these things, except mandolinist, at work but felt guilty doing so. I would say that I write more, blog a lot more, journal more, and meditate about the same to a little more at home. So there are improvements. There are some activities I have added that require time. But getting them done is a daily struggle.

I have a general plan every day to EMJMBW but I rarely execute the schedule as planned. I wake up, have coffee, shower, and then go to my basement office. This series of events can be interrupted at any point by my wife, children, nanny, pets, or general household duties.

In the simplest sense, I used to have a good 35 hours out of the house and away from all of those distractions. I wasn’t very economical with that time and I didn’t get much done but I had uninterrupted time away. Somehow I suppose I still got all my family and household duties completed but I didn’t get the JMBW part done much. In short, when I had a job, I was much more bored but felt like I wasn’t getting anything done. Now that I don’t have a job, I’m not bored, but I don’t feel like I’m getting a lot more done.

Part of my struggle is because I have my kids only half the time and when I have them I want to spend as much time with them as possible. As such, I struggle more to get my stuff done when I have my kids except when they are at school or ballet. Of course, a big part is that I have trouble prioritizing myself AT ALL and going to the basement to blog seems like such an unimportant thing to be doing that it is easy for me to blow it off. That’s part of the reason I have done so many house projects lately, because those seem like they contribute to the homestead and not just to my self.

That’s another thing. In the almost two months since I’ve been at home I’ve painted seven rooms, prepared a fireplace for renovation, unpacked and moved into a new home, organized an entire house, continued to run a small business and look for a new job, and explored taking over our home finances. So it’s not like I haven’t added a bunch of other things to my plate. Maybe I just need some organization.

I am going to prepare an excel sheet so I can break down the hours in my day and see where I can add or subtract to be more efficient.

Drugs, smartphones, discomfort, and restlessness.

Drugs, smartphones, discomfort, and restlessness.

I started smoking cigarettes with wreckless abandon when I was about 17. For nearly ten years I smoked a pack or two a day. I loved the nicotine, but I also loved carrying the pack and lighter around with me. I liked having to always make sure I had my smokes. They were like my security blanket.

I smoked pot pretty much all day long during this time as well. Same deal. I loved having my kit with me, having to make sure I always had weed, and reveled in doing all the things I did while high.

Together I had a solid foundation of habits that I depended on emotionally and physiologically.

At some point I switched to smokeless tobacco to give my lungs a break. I got some sort of bronchitis every year and I knew all the smoking wasn’t healthy. When I started grad school and getting my shit together I quit smoking cigarettes altogether. That was 1997. But since then I’ve maintained an off again/on again relationship with nicotine.

As for the weed, I quit pretty hardcore for several years also when I started grad school. I mistakenly believed scientists were serious types who would never meddle in such things. Quitting pot opened the door for full-blown anxiety which I dealt with in various legal ways for the next decade. I think I was always anxious but the weed, and not taking life very seriously, helped keep it at bay.

Once the anxiety ripped open I leaned more into the dip and less into the weed and found a new friend in craft beer. For sometimes years I would go nicotine free but mostly chewed nicotine gum because I knew dip, like smoking, could cause cancer. And by this time I had spent over a decade of my life putting some sort of carcinogenic form of nicotine into my body. And I pretty much drink a beer or two every night.

I am currently nicotine-free and smoke weed very occasionally though I like my evening beers. I have probably chewed nicotine gum for nearly a decade but, again, do not currently. I will probably go back to it at some point but I am trying to stay off all forms of nicotine.

But my point is not just about nicotine. It’s about my need to have that security blanket. When I am not smoking/dipping/chewing gum I am more restless. Now, even when I use drugs I am a bit restless, but much more so when I am trying to be clean.

I still drink a cup of coffee or three a day and would freak the hell out without it. And I’m cool with the amount of beer I drink. But I remain disturbed by my seeming inability to resist checking my iPhone.

I got off of Facebook years ago because I had such a compulsion. I have removed most of my phone apps that update regularly including all forms of social media except twitter that I use for my business. I disabled all of the notifications so my phone only tells me when someone is calling or texting. But I STILL fucking check the damn thing hundreds of times a day. I don’t honestly know how often, but too frequently for my comfort.

I check my email a lot. I’d estimate I get a new mail about 1/100th of the times I check to see if I got a new mail. WTF is up with that? And I even removed the Mail app. I have to go in to safari and check my mail on the web.

I check the weather app maybe ten times a day. Does it change? Nah.

Now that I am blogging and on Medium I have those apps and check my stats more than I should.

So what I wanna know is why do I do these things? Is it related to my history of addiction?

In general I feel restless and so I think I’m looking for a distraction or for a ‘fix’. Sometimes I’m uncomfortable and am looking for an escape. But mostly I’m bored (and restless maybe). Am I still looking for a high?

And I don’t know what to do about the restless. What I do know is that when I’m inspired, creating, and working on a meaningful project I am far less restless. And that carries beyond the time spent actually doing those things. I think I am ‘missing something’ and, as such, trying to find it on my phone. Or in a sack of weed. Or a pack of Marlboros. Or a can of Skoal. Sometimes I think I am looking for esteem in these other things – from outside myself. Instead of self-esteem, am I dependent on other-esteem?

The only thing I know to do is to keep myself busy. And not crazy busy like some obsessive compulsive (though I may have those tendencies). But is that the solution? From whom do I seek counsel for my restlessness? I discuss it with my therapist but we have yet to go too deep. I am relearning how to esteem myself and maybe in discovering how the restlessness will subside?

And really, I should be proud that I am choosing healthier outlets for my restlessness, but the phone obsession is annoying. And embarrassing. And to the point where I consider daily trading my iPhone in for an old flip phone with no internet. But there are things I love about my iPhone and the problem is not the device, it’s ME.

I want to address the personality traits that lead me to do these things. But what are they? Am I sick? Am I bored? Am I a spoiled brat? Is this a thing?