Friday, February 19, 2010

I Used To Rule the World

Be pretty if you are;

Be witty if you can;

Be cheerful if it kills you

--from the plaque on Tom and Katie's chimney

I'm unemployed for the first time in twenty years. There've been some rough moments. I'm waking up in the morning and thinking, "Hmmm . . . what do I do today?" And I cannot think of anything that is on a deadline, nothing that absolutely needs to be done. It's a completely new way to think about time and about my necessariness. Just Tuesday morning I cleaned the kitchen and living room until it sparkled. (Confession: it takes me about as long to do that as to draft a memo on potential claims). Yesterday (Wednesday), I looked at the kitchen in the evening, sink filled with dishes from the day and the evening meal prep and thought: Surely not again. I just did that yesterday. I know the 9 am -12 noon line up on TNT because that's when I go to the gym. Sometimes, I just stay there, on the treadmill for two, two and a half hours, watching an episode of Vegas and then a whole basketball game on ESPN2 or a soccer game on FSN. I also find myself in the middle of the day wondering what to do with the three hours until the kids come home from school. My children's success has become mine, their homework my homework (It's unnerving for them, this intense maternal interest). I've read 38 books since October 21, and am working on three more simultaneously, one for each toilet I use and one for the car. In the back of my head, there's a little voice that makes occasional comments about the uselessness of my life and mumbles something that sounds like mighty and falling. It's louder on some days than others; I can't hear it very well, but it's definitely there.

A few weeks ago, I sat crying in my car in a church parking lot. (I admit I cry easily. The commercial by Proctor & Gamble running right now during the Olympics that shows the little kids all suiting up to ski, skate and jump that ends with, "To their moms, they'll always be kids." That makes me cry. The one about "the best picture I ever saw was the one that allowed us to know my wife's breast cancer was treatable"? There's me weeping at the kitchen counter while I read the sports page. But, normally, I don't cry about me. I don't let the other side see me blink. Just last week I drove up and over Boulder Mountain in a whiteout; road completely covered; drop off to the canyon floor on my left; mother, two sisters and two very cute nephews behind me. Looking at my face, you would think I was driving to Home Depot to pick up track lighting.) But, that day in the parking lot, I sat crying about me.

It was late afternoon—that lag time between 4.30 and 6 when you want to eat chocolate or bread. I was driving up the hill to our driveway. I knew waiting at home for me was Julia with a paper, maybe Adam with his homework, or maybe they didn't need me at all, a dinner to make, and socks, always socks. Suddenly, I burst into tears, those tears that come accompanied by a groan from the pit and a shudder that ends in the shoulders. Truth be told, I didn't want to go home. In that moment, I wanted to go somewhere I could order off the menu while wearing clothes that need to be drycleaned and talking to people who don't need me to be patient and kind, just clever and competent.

I didn't want the kids to see me crying, so I pulled into the church parking lot down the hill. I sat there, in the rain, with the windshield wipers on, Bono singing, "Stuck in a moment you can't get out of . . . ." I tried to call Kevin, but he wasn't answering. I could have got really angry with him for being so insensitive to me in my time of need (of which he knew nothing but that doesn't excuse him). In fact, I started to. I called him three, four times. His phone went straight to voicemail. I didn't want to sit alone with those feelings; I needed somebody to roll around in them with me. Tears rolling down my face, head thrown back against the headrest, still moaning, I seemed to drift into the eye of the storm—a momentary calm. To my mind came the words of an article I read at my mother's house a few days before:

"Self-reliance means using all of our blessings from Heavenly Father to care for ourselves and our families and to find solutions for our own problems. Each of us has a responsibility to try to avoid problems before they happen and to learn to overcome challenges when they occur. . . . How do we become self-reliant? We become self-reliant through obtaining sufficient knowledge, education, and literacy; by managing money and resources wisely, being spiritually strong, preparing for emergencies and eventualities; and by having physical health and social and emotional well-being." I had stopped at those words "emotional well-being" when reading that paragraph and thought, then and later, about the concept of emotional self-reliance.

I'm familiar with the notion of economic self-reliance. For me, it means that Kevin and I work for what we earn and we pay for those we spawn. We try not to make others pay for us or our children. We built up a reservoir to draw on when work is scarce and money isn't coming in. But the notion of emotional self-reliance was an interesting one. If I were to frame it in the same language as financial and educational self-reliance, it would go something like this: it's my responsibility to generate or develop emotions that allow me to exist in a state of well-being. In just the same way that I must become financial stable and self-reliant, it would do me (and my family) well if I developed emotional self-reliance. Being emotionally self-reliant means I am able to return myself to a state of well-being during those moments/days/weeks when emotions dip low or out of control. In other words, I find solutions to my own emotional problems.

Back to the parking lot: I sat there, hidden by the retaining wall, replaying Track 12: "You've got to get yourself together; you've got stuck in a moment and now you can't get out of it." If there were chocolate in the car, or a can of condensed milk, I swear I would have downed them both without even chewing. Then I noticed—on about the fourth time through—that the song also said, "But darling, look at you; you gotta stand up straight, carry your own weight. These tears are going nowhere, baby . . ." By this time, I'm getting a little tired of the crying, or at least the tears have stopped their constant flow; they're just a trickle and I don't think they're going to start up again. Breathing's back to normal. But I'm still punching numbers on my cell phone trying to find a companion for my misery (Remember, I don't let the other side see me blink. There aren't many numbers to call). Nobody's answering--luckily.

A very calm voice comes to my mind: "This is your deal. You have to work through this. This is not Kevin's deal. This is not anybody else's deal but yours. Figure out why you feel this way. Figure out what you want. Sit in this silence, this mess for a while. Let it come to you. But don't look for solutions or try to attach blame for this crying fit outside of yourself." Well, okay then. I sat for a few more minutes, and then went home. I walked in the door and spilled the beans to Julia, "I just sat in the church parking lot crying my eyes out."

"Ah, Momma . . . Let me give you a hug!"


Because of this experience and my brooding about emotional self-reliance, I've come to the conclusion that Kevin cannot make me happy. He would like to, and if I can articulate for him what I want, he will work to make it possible for me. Heaven's knows, he likes a happy wife. But, he cannot make me happy. That's my work. It's part of developing self-reliance, part of that really important emotional work of choosing to live in a stable place, and not allowing events, low blood sugar, or memories of past lives in dry clean only suits to throw me completely off track. Emotional self-reliance is choosing to live with less doubt, less fear, and more believing. Part of emotional self-reliance is not allowing voices that whisper of impending doom or negligible self-worth to take up residence in my mind. Just because the thought enters doesn't mean it deserves to stay. Just because it flits through does not mean what I have conjured up will come true, or that what I fear will come to pass. Being able to sift through thoughts and thus control emotions is "learn[ing] to overcome challenges when they occur." By so doing, I create within myself the emotional resiliency to weather storms like those that hit me driving up the hill to my own home.

From: Coldplay, "Viva La Vida."


  1. I, too, recently had a cathartic experience involving that very same U2 song. I wrote about it here:

    I love this concept of emotional self-reliance. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I find in my life that one of the lessons that I have to learn and relearn (I really wish there were fewer of those!) is how much of my happiness is a conscious choice. I choose which side to look on, where to focus my energy. Sigh.

    Good luck on transitioning into a new you. Metamorphosis is a very important and reoccurring theme in our lives!

  3. Tessa, I'd love to see you publish a book. I'd buy it =) In scanning your blog, it seems that many of your posts share common themes. Maybe you could coalesce them into chapters or a book? I think there is a wider audience that needs your insights and would love your writing style as much as I do. Just a thought!

    Sarah (BYU law '01, among other things)

  4. Crying in the car park is cathartic. It's better than boxing and shelving an issue like an out of fashion hat.

    As for being alone? Well there is some adventure to be found in moments of solitude - alone with our heart of hearts.

  5. Sarah, I wish a book . . . I just don't know how to go about getting it there. Any ideas?

  6. Three horses:

    Crying is good. It takes off the pressure. Helps me be more patient with myself and with the sheer time that some things take to sort out.