15 November 2009

How to divorce a concept

1) The beginning is to ask why. This often may not occur to you to do in the face of conventional wisdom, a boss, a parent, etc. For example, you suggest a new idea like going back to school, changing careers, adopting a dog, adopting a child, adopting a new political party, spiritual belief or religion. This is then countered with "but you have to," or "but you can't..." And then fill in the blank. You have to: have insurance, give two weeks notice , get married, see the dentist every six months, eat your vegetables. You can't: just up and change like that, upset your father, be a starving artist, live on rice and beans.

Now here's the hard part: ask why It usually doesn't even occur to us to question thing so ingrained as the need to steadfastly pursue a steady income and health insurance, at least if you come from white, middle class parents like mine who believe it is your first and foremost concern to have a job with a steady income and insurance. I'm lucky to be queer, to have friends that up and change their sex and/or their gender, lucky to know a whole bunch or radicals and hippies and freaks who meditate, sculpt, pray to God, pray to Kali, pray to the moon, or maybe don't pray at all. For me, I'm surrounded by questioners and asking why has become as strong a reflex in me as offering the ingrained rules is for the people who do it all the time.

Advanced technique: ask why without having an answer yourself. For example, I've already figured out how to counter why I should need insurance and can quickly rattle off "why should I worry? I'm healthy, vegan, I exercise, and haven't needed medicine in years. If I get cancer I'll go bankrupt curing it and then start over or I'll die. Who gives a shit?" The harder and scarier thing is just to ask "why" even if you don't even if you don't have any answers yet. If you're really and truly lucky, you might get possible answers to this questions, arguments for both or many sides, and a chance to explore the possibilities. More likely you'll get some more conventional wisdom, platitudes, cliches, and some shit your great grandmother thought made sense in 1911. Remember, the person doing the offering isn't malicious. Then again, even if well intentioned they may well be shit and an obstacle in your path who needs to get out of the way or learn to support you, even if they don't understand you.

2) If you ask why and don't get a good answer, divorce yourself from the idea.

Advanced technique: get a divorce yourself from the entire system on which that idea is based. For example, some transgendered people change their sex from male to female or vice versa and end there. Other trans folks, regardless of how they do or do not transition their sex, come to the realization that, regardless, sex and gender as binaries are false and do not exist as described in biology, psychology, or society at large. The second group are using the advanced technique, and teaching the rest of us something truly fabulous and wondrous and amazing.

Likewise, I've recently divorced myself from a steady pay check, but I'm ready to divorce myself from the entire concept of validation of achievement through discrete digital values including, but not limited to, the numbers on my pay check, grade point averages, scores on individual tests or other assignments, batting averages, job reviews expressed as a number, the number of pages I write per day, the number hours it takes me to memorize a scene by rote, or the number of blogs I post in a week.

One of the great hallmarks of the modern world is to quantify things. This is by no means a terrible thing all of the time. The percentage of my laptop battery that is charged is a valuable number that can help me plan my actions to best benefit my productivity. Believing I have achieved some adult rite of passage by earning a paycheck isn't valuable, at least to me. It is certainly not valuable to ask how many pages I wrote this week.

Do you know what I did do this week? I looked at an affirmation in the Artist's Way that seemed really silly, like a straight ream of New Age horseshit, and I wrote it down and I responded to it with every cynical and mean and unsupportive thing I had to say. Afterwards, I responded to my own cynicism with kindness and support that I didn't know I had in me to give to myself. And I just sobbed and let it out, and then went upstairs and painted a whole new affirmation on the wall so I would remember what was really important. So, does it matter if I wrote a paragraph or a page or an epic novel? No. It matters that I forget that men aren't supposed to cry and that I "should" be earning a living, or that I should be doing anything at all other than exactly what I was doing which in fact was amazing and transformation and healing. I stopped trying to do anything at all other than create and nurture the best possible me I could be and I had a real, honest human experience. You cannot quantify spiritual and emotional growth. The weather yes, the human experience, no. That's how I'm working the advanced technique (this week).

3) Be willing to be validated, rewarded, fulfilled, clothed, fed and brilliantly happy. On the surface this looks like a no-brainer, but it's not. Some people find it emotionally, spiritually and/or physically easier to stay where they are than to go someplace new, especially if it involves risk getting there. And let's face it, it takes risk to get anywhere interesting or rewarding. So yes, this seemingly obvious thing is actually an important step.

4) Be willing to be scared, look like shit, have no money, and fail. Let's get personal here. I asked why I should have to give two weeks notice to an emotionally abusive boss, so the last time she pulled her intimidating, immature, publicly humiliating bullshit I decided it was, in fact, the last time. I walked out, found another computer and worked from there, emailed her saying that abuse wasn't an option, and I wasn't coming back to the office until there was a solution. The next working day I called HR but they were already in the office and I got fired. I am willing to be scared, look like shit, have no money and fail. I'm not willing to be abused while I sit in a cubicle I hate, not making the art I would love to make, just so I can have insurance.

If your job is the only ill effect on your mental and/or physical health, then ditch the job and BAM, insurance problem solved. I know that's not an option for everyone, and sometimes you ask why you must keep a miserable job to have insurance and you get a very good answer like you have a congenital condition and will die without your prescription coverage. Asking why doesn't mean you'll always get an answer that changes everything, but if nothing changes then at least you have a reasonable explanation as to why, at least for now and maybe for always, things are the way the are, and not just "because I said so."

Now I have to be willing to be scared and possibly broke if my former employer contests my unemployment benefits. I have to look like shit. (I'm out of exfoliant and it doesn't seem like a reasonable purchase just at the moment.) I have to be willing to fail at an unemployed actor who is waiting to hear about his application to return to college. I have to be willing to fail to get in. I have to be willing to fail at getting a job serving, or even bussing tables. I have to be willing to fail at paying my rent and having to move to my parent's house, be homeless, squat an abandoned house or rely on the charity of friends or family. I have to be in an emotionally and possibly physically and financially precarious or even dangerous place. But this is divorce. It might end quietly and fairly in mediation; this might be the knock-down drag-out fight of my life. I have to be willing to get hurt and, if you're divorcing a concept, so do you.

5) Lather. Rinse. Repeat. What, you thought you were going to divorce yourself from one concept and establish a new one in its place and life would be honky dorey from then until you shuffled of this mortal coil? No, not likely. There's always something else to learn, some other bullshit to unlearn, and a whole lot of work to be done.
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