The Uncertainty Principle

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We’re staying right now in an RV park that we’ve been to before. It’s on tribal property at an Indian gaming casino. It turns out that the attached RV park is one of the nicest ones we’ve been to, bar none, so we have come back several times.

When we made the reservation last week, we could only get two nights, Wednesday and Thursday. We were put on a wait-list for the weekend nights – number eighteen. That meant there were seventeen folks ahead of us.

Now they did say they tended to get through the lists fairly rapidly, but there were no guarantees.

When we checked in on Wednesday, we’d gone from number eighteen to number sixteen – up two spaces. Okay – still a couple of days to go so no biggie.

Thursday was a not great day. A bike ride that we thought we could handle turned out to be much longer and more strenuous than expected. This was partially due to being out of shape, relying on both apple and then google maps to route us back and forth, a much hillier terrain than we were used to, and just plain, it got real hot. When we finally returned to the coach, hours and hours later, I ended up having severe leg cramps and then I fainted. My poor husband thought I’d had a stroke and called the paramedics and I got to spend a chunk of my afternoon in the emergency room.

The good news is that severe dehydration has a relatively simple fix – more hydration. Two liters of IV fluids pretty much fixed me right up and I feel great today.

The bad news is that dehydration is a sneaky devil. I mean, I was trying to chug fluids throughout the ride, but the heat and lack of humidity got the better of me, and I’m no spring chicken, either.

So it felt like we just plain lost a day of our relaxing, albeit very short getaway. Yesterday, I trudged to the office to check on our position on the wait-list. Number thirteen! We’d gone up a total of five spots. Which meant – we’d have to leave the park.

Well, no guarantees.

An hour later we were ready to leave and had decided to just boondock (or camp without any hookups for electricity, city water and sewer) in a wide open lot next door to the park, but still within walking distance of the casino. We went to check out and mentioned what we were going to do and said we’d be happy to come back into the park if we managed, somehow, to get to the top of the list. Yeah, it’s a hassle, but we were willing to do this, rather than try and find another park, or just go home. I also casually mentioned that I was the lady who went to the ER on Thursday. Yeah, all that dramarama was for little old me.

In the middle of checking out, the staffer says, hey, wait a moment, checks out her book and informs us that well, there is a spot open but just for tonight (Friday night). Not the entire weekend.

Okay – we’ll take it! We were pretty elated – it’s hot and being able to run the air conditioning is nice. Plus we hadn’t had much writing time, and we really wanted to be able to get to the casino and the pool which hadn’t happened yet, either because we’d lost Thursday.

So no guarantees for the entire weekend, but hey, one night was good.

We moved the coach two spaces over, and got to writing. Then about an hour later the phone rang. Yep, it’s the office and yep, there’s another space that opened up for both Saturday and, if we want it, Sunday night, too. Oh yeah, we want it.

Again, a bit of a hassle to move the coach, but it’s a thirty minute hassle. And we don’t have to go home and it’s over the weekend at one of our favorite places.

We went from number thirteen on a wait-list Friday morning to right at the top by Friday afternoon.

Obviously it’s a small matter whether or not you get into a show, or an RV park, or a restaurant that’s popular or during a particularly busy time. The larger matter, though, is how anyone handles uncertainty.

What we had come to when we went to check out yesterday was – we were prepared to leave, although we hoped we could stay. And we told the “powers that be” (in this case, the office staff) this. We didn’t just slink away and think, well, there’s no way we’ll be able to stay. Nor did we arrogantly not have a plan B in mind in case it didn’t work out.

So three things – 1. We remained positive; 2. We had a Plan B just in case; and 3. We let the powers that be know what our intention was, without necessarily saying they had to do anything about it.

See, if you think the office girl magically found me a spot because she felt sorry for me – no, that’s not it. What happened was that she had one night open and normally most folks want both weekend nights. She hadn’t thought to offer it to us because she knew (or presumed) we only wanted both. I think she was a bit surprised when we jumped on the one night so quickly.

I think telling her we were willing to leave and come back communicated that we would probably be very happy with just the one night, too.

Yes, this was much easier for us to do because we were already here. A lot of the other folks above us in line were probably only coming for the weekend so if they were put on a wait-list, they had a bigger incentive to find an alternative place or face not getting anything for the weekend. We, of course, had an equal incentive (to play the odds or just find an alternative) as we’d come mid-week.

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I didn’t always have a good way to handle uncertainty. As a child, I lived with plenty of it, having been abandoned by my divorced father in favor of his new family and living with a mentally ill mother. I craved certainty and guarantees, as many as possible. I hadn’t learned that life never hands any of us those things.

My husband, on the other hand, lived with relative calm and stability in his youth and one would presume he’d be much more able, constitutionally, to handle uncertainty. In some ways this is true. But in other ways, he can get quite negative when things don’t go as he assumes they will. In this case, he went to the negative side, assuming we’d end up going home a couple of days early and kicking himself for not booking sooner.

As I’ve grown, though, I notice that I strive for equanimity in relation to ‘not knowing’ – I don’t always succeed but that is my goal. In the face of the ‘Publican’s negativity about it all, I said, well, it really could go either way (I figured there were fairly equal odds). I convinced him, I guess, that there was no downside to staying positive, as long as we came up with a Plan B, too.

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This theme – handling uncertainty – was explored in two TV shows I watched recently.

In the first, Mad Men (one of my favorite shows), Trudy Campbell fails to secure her daughter a coveted nursery school spot at the Greenwich Day School. Pete, of course, demands a meeting with the headmaster who basically says, well, no, your daughter isn’t getting in – (once again, no guarantees!), and the failure to have an alternative was the fault of your ex-wife (she didn’t even bother to apply to any other schools for the little darling.) And also – you’re a double dealing Campbell from hundreds of years ago in Scotland. In response, Pete sucker punches the headmaster (he being a MacDonald) and the headmaster yells, “See! Sucker punched by a Campbell!”

On a more serious note, the last few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy have poignantly highlighted the theme.  Dr. Derek Shephard (McDreamy to most of us) is just driving along, witnesses an accident and stops to help out the folks.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t moved his own car out of way and when he gets in after the accident, he’s broadsided by a semi rounding a bend.  McDreamy doesn’t die immediately but is later killed off by incompetent doctors who are not used to handling such traumas.

Meredith Grey has a husband one moment, then loses him the next. Bam! And, it turns out, she’s pregnant. Double Bam! So she’s heartbroken, her kids are confused (they’re little) and she’s giving birth to a baby sometime after the death of her husband.

Can you imagine the bittersweetness of it all? No husband, no father and now three kids to raise on your own. It’s the big casino of no guarantees in life.

Part of this character’s back story is that she’s faced a lot of the same circumstances I did earlier in life – mainly a chaotic childhood (but more severely so than mine), so she’s somebody who seeks a lot of certainty in life, from picking her career (the same as her mother’s), to even adopting a child when she and McDreamy are having trouble getting pregnant.

It was a nice touch on Thursday night’s show that they interwove Meredith’s story with that of her own mother (Dr. Ellis Grey, played by Kate Burton), who faced with somewhat similar circumstances, didn’t just run away, she tried to kill herself and thereby abandon her daughter.

Meredith also runs away, but not because she’s self destructive. Her running away turns out to be very self protective, as well as protective of her children. The pregnancy, which we learn about later in the episode, infuses her running away with positive, not negative, meaning.

She’s not like her mother – rigid and self-destructive in the face of life’s vicissitudes. No, at the end of the episode she returns to Seattle as a new mother and widow, a woman coping with her ‘new normal’. Ready to be a mother to her kids and a surgeon to her patients. Maybe ready to even smile now and again in between the grieving.

She’s learned to bend and flow with uncertainty.

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I would only hope to be as graceful as a fictional character if faced with similar levels of uncertainty. Of course that would mean someone else would have to be writing my lines for me.  Shonda Rhimes, where are you when I need you?

Instead I blurt them out higgledy piggledy and I’ve been known to be pretty negative when faced with the unexpected bad news (Shonda, come on!)  My challenge has always been – I have to examine my own premises and beliefs about myself and my place in the universe, and figure out if they serve ‘me’. That is, the ‘me’ I am now, not the me I was as a damaged child or teenager. Only then can those thoughts that come hurling from my brain and out of my mouth be relatively positive, tempered with a knowledge that the negative, too, can happen.

Only then can I flow and bend with life. In all of its horrible and glorious uncertainty.

Writing101 – Day Fourteen Prompt

The Challenge – take a nearby book and go to page 29.  Whatever word pops out to you, write about it.  The twist – make this in the form of a letter.

Note:  I used the book, Quiet by Susan Cain.  Page 29 . . .

***                                                          ***                                                           ***

 

Hey Anxiety:

My old friend.  Man . . . every time I think you’re gone for good, you come on back to say howdy.

Well, shit howdy to you, too.

I catch myself compulsively playing solitaire on my iPhone and realize, with a start, that you’re back again.  Why am I playing game after game (besides the fact that they are very short games – I’ve gotten rather good at them by now)?  The physical action calms me down.

It does make me wonder about the meds I take – you know which ones I mean.  No, I don’t go for the big guns, the benzos, no, I’m talking about the milder stuff.  Maybe it just doesn’t work anymore?

You know the part I don’t like is that you really are my constant companion.  I don’t get to never see you again and yes, I know we’ve had this stupid conversation more than once, but . . . okay, I don’t really want to never see you again.  Right, okay.  Blah blah blah – if I never had ANY anxiety, I’d not be able to react appropriately to real threats.

Fine. 

Look – it’s not the real threat that’s the problem – it’s all the imagined threats.  It’s all the gunk in my head that keeps me up at four a.m. (and sometimes all night long until the sunrise) trying to vanquish you by reading, or playing video games or mindless TV watching (yep, I.D. is my friend.)   I don’t even want to go to sleep because I’m afraid you’ll visit me in my dreams.

Do I really think there’s going to be an economic collapse, or an apocalyptic and dystopian version of the future?

I guess . . . well, I don’t know what’s going to happen.  I’m getting older.  My husband is, too.  Although I don’t feel vulnerable now, I know the future is only going to be one of physical and possibly mental decline.  I’ll do my best to stay healthy, but the healthiest person becomes dependent on others at some point.

This stuff does worry me a little bit – realistically.  It’s the big ephemeral fear, the “fear ball” (my friend coined that term which I love), though, that can paralyze me from acting on my own behalf.  That’s the problem.

So I need you and I to somehow learn to live side-by-side without you crowding me out.  I may not be able to rid myself of you entirely, but I ask you to just stay as quiet as you can.  You don’t need to lob any fear balls my way anymore – I get it.

So we’re okay, then?  Alright.  I’m off to meditate and later to the gym.  I hope you enjoy these – it should shut you up, at least for a little while.

Your pal,

Laura

 

 

Dying with My To-Do List Undone

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I have written a bit about retirement and it’s one weird state.  Because once you are in school at the age of four or five or six (depending on where you live, what time you lived in and so on), you are in the harness until you retire.  I mean, that’s like 60 or more years!

First it’s the school harness – you have a place to be for so many hours every day for years (decades in some cases.)  Except for vacations and other holiday periods, you are strapped in, baby.

Then when you are finally released from that harness, you go on to the next harness – working life and adulthood.  Even if you were to marry and start having babies immediately, you are in a particular harness of taking care of your kids and home and so on.  But for most of us, child rearing is the second job.  We have the regular 8-to-5 (or 9-to-6) job at least five days a week and then we’re picking  up the kids from somewhere and we’re home getting homework done, dinner made, baths for the little ones and pure exhaustion for the big ones.

That’s a pretty tight harness.  For most of us, the only time away from it is the weekends (and often at least half of the weekend is for the chores that didn’t get done during the week), and about two to three weeks a year when we are on “vacation.”

Then you retire.

If you’re really considered lucky, you retire before 65 or 70 nowadays.  You get a present and a cake or a luncheon (or all of the above) and human resources processes your last check, you pack up your crap, and you’re done.  For the freaking rest of your life.

Or, like me, you close your business, field the calls and make referrals to people, shut down your website and let your license go inactive.  You don’t get a cake or a final check.  But you might go and buy yourself a cookie.

And then you take off the harness of work or business . . . you breathe . . . inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale . . . slower and slower.

And then what?

It must be a sign of being human that we so want compartmentalization and organization, neat boxes to store our junk (whether real or in our minds.)  We want long to-do lists with plenty of tasks to do on them.

We are genuinely terrified of freedom.

No wonder so many retired folk actually go back to work again – just maybe not as intensely.  They work as consultants to their old employers, or on a contract basis.  They take part-time jobs.  They volunteer.  They welcome jury duty.

Anything to put that harness back on, at least for a little while.

Being a mostly anxious person, the thought of free floating time is not my first idea of bliss (although it could be, I guess), so I’ve had to adapt or go mad.

One way both my husband and I are organizing our lives and our time is to put ourselves on flexible daily schedules.

We are not lollygagging in bed until noon.  I am up around sevenish, setting up the coffeemaker and taking my only cup of the real stuff downstairs into my old office which is now my “happy place” for journal writing, meditation, reading and yes, one of these days, yoga DVDs.  (Obviously, not quite to the point of the yoga DVD.)

My husband is up just a bit later than I am, feeding the critters, getting the Roomba ready to rumble on our new wood floors upstairs and then he grabs coffee and heads downstairs to HIS office to write, too.

It is a probable gender difference that, for the ‘Publican, he is happiest with projects and for me, I’m more into the zen approach, although I like my projects (meaning – beginning, middle and end) just fine, too.

So he’s not just writing any old stuff – he’s working on a novel which started life as a short story.  He’s working on it for as long as it takes, but usually around noon or so, he’s done for the day.

He also plays in a community orchestra and on various local musical theater companies, so there’s time involved in practice for that.  We try and get to the gym three times a week.  Plus the daily stuff of pet care and people care.  Beyond that, we have two blogs (one is a travel blog we work on together, although now it’s mostly his, and this one for me), plus plenty of reading.  We also regularly donate platelets at the Red Cross.

And we have the ‘Rents – our elderly parents.  The ‘Publican now spends at least once a week visiting and assisting his parents who live a town over and I’m on call for my mom, too.  I take her to appointments and to see family and friends who are outside the dial-a-ride zone.  She’s pretty independent still, so if she can get to a place on her own, she does.  But we’re cognizant that our parents need us more, not less and will continue to do so until they’re gone.

With all this going on, we really have little time leftover.  We don’t watch TV during the day at all.

I actually have a lot of boxes left unticked on my to-do list which is surprising and a bit disconcerting.

Our one big change that we’ve managed to put together is to buy a motorhome for both short and long trips.  This is a big purchase and not exactly a smart one (not if you’re talking investment), but it’s one that I think will improve our lives for the next few decades.  Right now, the trips contemplated are fairly short – three to four days up the coast or out into the desert.

We took a long trip in January and drove (pre-motorhome) back to Florida to see my father and to just explore.  We stayed in motels (found out the La Quinta chain has the best bang for the buck, especially if you have a pet with you – which we did.)  We had a lot of fun chasing the bad weather or having it chase us, so travel is something we want to do before we’re too old to do it, or enjoy it.

I also want to do more international travel, but for that we’re not talking motorhome.  There’s a lot of Europe still to see as far as I’m concerned.  But an awful lot of the USA and Canada is out there and I’m hoping we can work out times to be just on the road for weeks and perhaps months at a time.

I was always one of those people who thought “When X changes, then I’ll start living my life . . .”.  The “X” could be a million things, of course.  When I can drive a car, when I am 18, when I finish high school and go to college, when I lose my virginity, when I get married, when I have a baby, when I’m thinner, when I get this job, when I move to the next house, when I get divorced, when I get married again, when I get my license and leave this awful job, when I build up my practice, when I retire, when I die.

That last one, of course, is the irony of all of the others, right?  If I’m waiting for some condition to change . . . well, the end is predictable.

It was meditation that broke the grip of this pernicious thinking.  It actually taught me that all of my thoughts, good, bad, indifferent, were just part of the passing parade.  And that maybe I could just live right here and right now.  And the things I chose to do in the present would inform my future, but that the future is not even guaranteed.  So those things I chose to do – I just did them.  No more preparing – just doing.

We are definitely works . . . in progress, not perfection.

And yes, I’m expecting that I will die with many things undone on my final to-do list.

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