thebitterbabe

never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: hobbies

the magic 8 ball

Volunteering at the farm has turned out to be one of the best things I’ve done here. I’ve met interesting people every time, and our conversations reflect many of the themes I’ve written about– the health insurance problem, the lack of jobs, the issue of overwork for those who are employed. This week I talked to a woman in a professional field who recently asked if she could cut her hours by one day per week and was laughed out of her boss’s office.

There’s a power in people talking to each other, and we are forced to do so when sorting vegetables hour after hour.

The human contact cheered me up this week just when I needed it. I was feeling down after my mom told me a story about a friend of hers, in her seventies, who is thinking of returning to her high-rise life in a big city because after more than a decade in a small town, she doesn’t feel like she has any true friends. She participates in casual activities with people but it never goes beyond that. I know this woman, and she is generally a very “positive thinking” type. Her story worried me once again that, past thirty-five, a single woman is doomed to a certain kind of isolation. I suppose I should feel grateful that I’m resourceful and like my own company.

I was also a little bummed and surprised to hear through the grapevine that the job in the small town nearby has been filled. I didn’t score an interview; I suppose at higher levels they can dispense with civil service processes. The woman who got it is married and a mother and originally from a small town, so admittedly she is probably a better fit than a single hussy from Hollywood (me, in other words).

The same day I heard that I may get contacted about some upcoming positions at my workplace in L.A. It’s flattering to feel wanted, but I lost some sleep thinking over the logistics. There’s one job in a posh spot that is desirable to work in but unaffordable to live in. There’s a high-level post that would be well-renumerated and great for my career but located in suburbia, about an hour away from the city. There’s the office job with the long hours and commute in which I could live in a highly-urbanized zone, with all the attendant pluses and minuses.

They are all tricky for a single person and leave me wondering, if I have to make such stark choices, what my values are. The suburban job would be best in terms of money and career; the posh job in terms of quality of life; the urban job in terms of excitement and potential to “blend in” as a single person. It’s difficult for me to think straight because, at this age, I can’t quite project what would make me happy. Would I feel too old and tired for urban night life? Would I be happy to have a quiet life in the suburbs as long as I was building a nest egg, or would I feel that money and career for its own sake means nothing but unrewarded stress? Would I feel like an odd egg and poor relation in the posh area, or would the beautiful scenery and ease of life be just what I needed?

It’s too bad it’s not working out here, because I wouldn’t have to answer those questions if I could stay. I could take a medium-stress job with the opportunity for growth in the future; I could stay close to friends and the city’s center while only participating to the extent I feel comfortable; and I could responsibly build a nest egg. If I have to separate those things from each other and choose, I’m not sure what I will do, but given the tales of economic woe out there, at least I have some choices that have some appeal (and I’m unsure whether, in the end, there will be more than one– or any–choice).

playing to strengths

I’m still in a sewing class, but I don’t think it will become my hobby for the long haul. It requires a great deal of patience, which is not my strong suit. I have some talent at picking out patterns and colors and designs, but the actual mechanics of sewing frustrate me to no end. And unlike learning to dance or play an instrument or cook, the penalties for mistakes are steep. There’s a lot of thread pulling and re-buying of fabric. And then there’s the machine itself, which has an unfortunate tendency to snarl with thread or otherwise falter.

On the other hand, I’ve thrown myself into cooking with a renewed energy due to bringing home a large box of vegetables from the farm. Occasionally I mess up there too, but my mistakes are usually edible, and if not, they are not all that costly.

Perhaps I should be concentrating more on writing. I’ve always loathed the idea of going back and reading old journals; it seems emotionally excruciating to me. But I finally got my Blurb book versions of this blog out this morning and my initial impression was, “Hmmm… not bad.”

dropouts

I wish this last sentence were true… I still have some hope:

Because women alone are dropouts from society of sorts, they tend to overconform in order to be accepted. But precisely because there are so few options open to them, they have a chance to make their own. They do not have to build friendships and life patterns around a husband’s life. They do not have to ask anyone’s permission to, for example, move to the city, where being alone is not considered unusual or strange. They can go out and find supportive people and build supportive relationships, even build a community of their own. (In a sense, I am part of a community of two in the city room, sharing and gaining self-confidence with another woman reporter). They can form organizations of widows or divorced women and shape them to be what they want them to be– not settle for groups of lonely women consoling each other. They can form and join summer communes where women and men alone can share with each other what they wish of their lives. They can choose jobs, not for security, but for challenge and supportive atmosphere.

–Patricia O’Brien, The Woman Alone, p. 200

hard labor

It was a day of hard labor on the organic farm, but I’m so glad I did it. It gave me a glimpse into the life of the manual laborer. Also, I feel proud that at least I’m sticking to my promises to myself during this time off. I hope to get out there at least once a month.

While working, I met some folks straight out of the Paul Krugman documentary, Inequality for All, that is opening this weekend. One middle-aged woman seemed bitter, unfriendly, and bossy initially, but we eventually got to talking. I’ve realized that since there is so much to embitter middle-aged women, I can cut them some slack. Turns out this woman grew up in the area where I worked in Los Angeles. A single mom, she has no health insurance and scrapes by on freelancing. She told me she alternates health-and-yoga kicks with periods of hating everyone. She was interested in my community-college health insurance plan and the coming Obamacare.

A man who was working with us just quit his coaching-and-teaching gigs because he had to spend all his hours with “other people’s kids” and never got to spend time with his own daughter, a toddler.

The woman who stood by me in the assembly line said she recently lost her job after getting in an accident but was able to move in with her boyfriend, who lives outside of the city. She has almost no money but is at least taking advantage of this time “to explore new options.”

Yesterday I received word that I didn’t get that job I interviewed for, and while away today, my roommate moved out. We didn’t say goodbye. It’s good that he’s out, but I’m thrown back entirely on myself again.

Playtime is coming to a close. The job search will begin in earnest in a few weeks. I even applied for a high-level job in a small, provincial, conservative town about an hour away from this city. The pension plan is proportionate. Maybe I could do it and keep my condo so I could spend weekends in this city.

Hard times might require some hard choices.

tough cookies

I’ve written before about how it can be difficult for me to make room for spontaneity in my life; I am usually unable to show up somewhere at the last minute. My friends seem to expect me to be able to do so; I suppose they think I am just sitting around, staring into space. In reality, my days are planned long in advance, and dropping my plans any time a friend calls can feel like opening the door to chaos.

I now have a better understanding of why I am like this:

With recognition of their diversity, is there any one characteristic shared by most women alone? I would say there is, and I would identify that characteristic as their meticulous attention to planning. Women who are totally alone, without children, plan their lives with great attention to detail: they map out the hours of their days, setting down certain routines they do not allow themselves to break; they plan dinner parties and vacations far in advance of the event; they will almost choreograph their contacts with other people. They do all this for the very common-sense reason that they cannot take anything for granted. There is no structure that will generate things happening if they don’t make them happen, unlike the household of a woman with children, where the daily routine means a variety of expected and unexpected events– PTA meetings, skinned knees, new math lessons, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, good or bad report cards, crayoned drawings that say “I love you,” a mixture of warmth and worry.

This attention to planning is sometimes obsessive, often exhausting, but it is needed. It allows a woman to plan a European vacation over the Christmas holidays so she won’t have to sit alone in her apartment and be reminded she has no one during this, the most family-oriented of all holidays; it helps her circumvent lonely weekends when sitting around on a rainy day reading the Sunday papers isn’t enough. It is a way of providing norms and constraints on herself when there are none applied by society. In the same way, so is the fact that large numbers of women alone keep dogs, cats, parakeets, potted plants; something, anything, that demands regular attention and care. I asked one divorced woman about this, a woman with a dog and a cat in her apartment, and she added another reason: “I keep pets because they are a source of giving and receiving affection I can depend on.”

Planning is a crucial element of life not only to the ordinary woman managing to support herself on an ordinary salary, but also to women with special life structures, women who have achieved a certain degree of fame or fortune. Writer Marya Mannes has told me that without a carefully built discipline, a pattern to her life, she would be lost: “If I didn’t have my writing, and if I didn’t have an enormous zest for living– alternating of course with periods of depression like everybody has and feelings of great loneliness– I don’t know what I would do. It’s very tough to really do everything yourself, for yourself.”

–Patricia O’Brien, The Woman Alone, pp. 119-120

bouncing back

Yesterday as I stood outside my dance class I noticed a poster for study abroad opportunities through the language classes that I’m taking. I felt a surge of enthusiasm and rushed home after class to investigate. Turns out the timing is off for my schedule, but it was nice to know I still have the ability to bounce back from disappointment.

One of those disappointments is that I’m guessing I didn’t get the job I recently interviewed for. I know there were about a dozen candidates, all strong. The thing is, several years ago I recruited one of the interviewees to work on a team I was leading, and we got along quite well and had some big successes. Another one of the interviewees came to the opening of my biggest project in L.A. If those kinds of connections are not going to get me a job here, I may well be sunk.

The situation is especially difficult for me because a number of my friends here are former co-workers and are still employed at this same organization. I can’t vent to them too much, and although I’m trying to keep it light, I’m afraid an uncomfortable rift might grow, and this city will start to feel unwelcoming. At the moment I actually have nobody to unburden myself to about all this, so here I write.

In any case, I signed up for my first shift of farm work this week and have my work shirt, boots, and gloves at the ready. By Christmas I will have accomplished many of the things I set out to do with this time off– a small trip, a cooking class, sewing classes, language classes, and a volunteer stint on an organic farm. Over the holidays I’ll do some traveling and see extended family. Perhaps I’ll revisit the idea of self-publishing a book from this blog next month.

When I attend interviews, the interviewers of course discuss topics like supervising others and managing the general public. I’m not gonna lie; it’s been incredibly nice to have a break from all that. My stay-at-home friends have NO IDEA how difficult public service is in this day and age. I know this because now that I’m at home, all those problems are mostly invisible to me as well.

While on the one hand I feel healthy and vibrant from this time off, on the other I often feel lonely and adrift.

If still unemployed in 2014, I’ll have some big decisions to make. I could stay here and continue on with language classes– I’d have at least two more semesters to go– and take whatever kind of temp job I can find. If Obamacare turns out to be the real deal, I’ll have more freedom to do so. I could give myself until fall 2014 to consider moving elsewhere (and going back to my former organization in L.A. will still be a possibility).

Or I could just throw in the towel on this place the first of the year. I’m sure my roommate (who hasn’t moved out yet but to whom I’m no longer speaking) would be thrilled to see me go.

I guess I’ll take my temperature in December.

theme parks

At 31 I had a pretty rockin’ social life, actually, but I didn’t realize I was at the top of a mountain I was about to ski down:

http://www.xojane.com/sex/stuff-not-to-say-to-your-single-30-something-friend

4) “I remember being single. When I was 25.”

Single in your 20s cannot be compared to single in your 30s. They are different beasts, for so many reasons, but the one I’ll focus on here (I’ll probably hit others in future posts, don’t fret), is the fact that when I was single and 25, I had lots of single and 25 friends, too. The pool of single friendship shrank drastically after that, so when you’re 31 and feel alone, it’s on two levels: friends and lovers. You don’t know what it’s like, but thank you for trying to find common ground with me. On the flipside, I don’t know what it’s like to be 30-something and married, so we both have lots to teach each other.

Some other good points in the article, like these:

7) “Are you seeing anybody?”

And here’s why I hate this one. You’re asking me about my love life. I’m SO not asking about yours. What if I started a conversation with, “How happy is your marriage these days?” Awkward. There is more to me than my singleness, and far more to talk about. Let’s start there.

My job is pretty cool, wanna talk about it? I have an awesome hobby writing for xoJane these days, want me to tell you about it? I’m obsessed with Momofuku Noodle bar, wanna go? Have you traveled anywhere cool lately? I have! Blah, blah, blah and so on. I am me more than I am single.

8) “OMG I’m SO excited to be single now! Let’s go out!”

My dearest, newly single friends, welcome. I’m happy to have you, and I’m sure you’ll navigate these waters just fine. But you just arrived in this theme park. I’ve been on the same ride for years. I am not your tour guide/wingman/nurse through your new foray into freedom. My singlehood is not a toy for you to play with.

Also, could we not go out when you were wifed-up? Why is it now more okay than it was before? Why am I in a different bucket than your couple-y friends? I don’t appreciate 2nd class friend status, all the more reason I’ll likely shut you down when you come to me in wild-child party mode. I will however help you move out, change your locks, or find a new apartment. What are friends for?

great expectations

I have three or four friends here who are quite lovely. They check up on me periodically, and we spend time together every few weeks. We can be honest and open with each other and are able to be sounding boards for each other when necessary. I have two or three friends like that in Los Angeles as well.

We don’t have anything like a “best” friendship however. Most of them have children and/or partners, and their prime intimacy needs are fulfilled. We don’t call each other on a regular basis. We aren’t currently struggling through the same things, and our interests don’t entirely converge. I’m forthcoming with them but not like I would be with a truly intimate friend or partner.

The irony is, my friendships with them have stood the test of time and will likely continue to do so, whereas my close friendships have all gone down in flames. The lowered expectations and lower levels of intimacy have preserved the relationships.

I’ve been banging my head against the wall for so long now about the loneliness and lack of true intimacy in my life, and last night it occurred to me that perhaps I need to completely lower my expectations on that score. I already find solace in reading and writing, and I may need to accept that that is as good as it gets. Certainly this blog has been a huge help to me when I no longer had any friends left with whom to discuss these issues.

This morning I came across this piece on the Gateway Women forum:

http://www.utexas.edu/features/2005/writing/

His research has shown that short-term focused writing can have a beneficial effect on everyone from those dealing with a terminal illness to victims of violent crime to college students facing first-year transitions.

“When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health,” Pennebaker says. “They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function. If they are first-year college students, their grades tend to go up. People will tell us months afterward that it’s been a very beneficial experience for them.”

In his early research Pennebaker was interested in how people who have powerful secrets are more prone to a variety of health problems. If you could find a way for people to share those secrets, would their health problems improve?

It turned out that often they would, and that it wasn’t even necessary for people to tell their secrets to someone else. The act of simply writing about those secrets, even if they destroyed the writing immediately afterward, had a positive effect on health. Further studies showed that the benefits weren’t just for those who had dramatic secrets, but could also accrue to those who were dealing with divorces, job rejections or even a difficult commute to work.

“Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives,” Pennebaker explains. “You don’t just lose a job, you don’t just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are—our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves, our issues of life and death. Writing helps us focus and organize the experience.”

dragging and dropping

The final book should be appearing soon. I’ve given myself five or six days to get these out; school starts next week so this is all the time I have.

The “slurp” function hasn’t been working for me, so I’ve been painstakingly dragging and dropping each entry into the book versions. Nothing is edited. The books are simply the blog printed from oldest entries to newest.

I apologize again about the high prices; they are reflective of “print on demand.” Despite the cost, I think the book versions would be valuable for women who are currently traveling through the tunnel of grief or for researchers writing on this topic.

What will be my future going forward? Spanish II starts next week as does an eight-week sewing class. I would love to stay unemployed through October so I can get through the sewing class and then try to finish the Spanish class while working full-time. If my job search drags on, the bright side will be that I’ll get all the way through Spanish IV!

Although I was hoping not to have to go back to work full-time, I applied for yet another professional position at my former organization. I calculate that I just need to put in another ten years before I could buy back some years and retire. It’s worth it, therefore, for me to continue on that path. I also applied for some other government jobs that would tie into the same pension and to one job that is in the private sector but a little more glamorous (and I’m guessing low-paying).

I’m toying with some self-employment ideas as well, but they are all long shots and probably wouldn’t support me fully. I also keep my eye out for part-time jobs, but I hate to start something I may have to quickly drop for a full-time job. The timing of everything is tricky.

I wish I could pick my date to go back to work, which I suppose is the glory of paid sabbaticals. If I could, I’d pick next June! Yet I recognize that having a job would give me some grounding and a sense of relief that I don’t have to move again.

Moving back to L.A. wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen to me, but I’m unenthusiastic about the idea, as I know what I’d be getting into this time around. The dream vision of L.A. is gone for me. I’m already in very little touch with my old friends there, and trying to find another apartment would be a nightmare. Having escaped once, it’s also difficult for me to imagine going back to my former place of employment.

I could make it work though; I’ve learned that much about myself.

agendas

As I’ve written before, I’m loving this time off work and haven’t felt this healthy in a long time. I have no urge to shop but great urges to get going on creative projects.

One thing I’ve been doing during this time off is taking some fun partner-dancing classes. I was a little hesitant at first as I don’t want to repeat my former life here, but I was motivated by all the music I’ve been listening to in my car.

As it turns out, there’s a big difference this time around. I don’t particularly care that there is little romantic potential for me at this dance studio, and I don’t even care if I get asked to dance. I just appreciate the skill of my instructors and love watching them being creative on the dance floor.

It’s sad when I think about how much of my attention and energy– at least 50%– went into the partner search in my twenties and thirties. Yet could it have been any other way? I can’t imagine there are very many single thirty-two-year-olds who aren’t consumed with the search.