The Amazing Thing

I have gotten up, made the bed, fed the cat, put away last night’s clean dishes, transferred last night’s wash to the dryer, made honey lemon water, recorded that fact on my self-improvement chart, weighed myself and recorded my weight and BMI%, set my phone to charge, cleaned out both backpacks and put everything away and have made a list of my obligations over the next four days. Oh, and I’ve taken some salmon steaks out of the freezer because it’s Thursday, which is motherfucking Salmon Night (both the kid’s brain and mine need the Omega 3’s).

It’s 0320 and I’ve been up for an hour.

If I am going to have pride in this house, and have everything prepared for everything I want to accomplish for myself and for my friends and tenants in a day, then such “nonessentials” as housecleaning need to happen before a new day and its new workload start.

These are the “invisible” chores which are women’s work. And how good it feels to set everything up in the early-morning darkness is one of the prime indicators that I would love to have a family to tend; love to be a homemaker.

But, for the moment, I’m a businesswoman, landlord, and student. And those responsibilities eat up my daylight hours as much as my (hopefully) future family would. As I dance my way in the silence of the house through all these chores, my mind chews through today’s roster: another totality invisible to others, but reigning my day:

Today at 1 pm, Angry Joe needs to get to a job interview at a landscaping place that hires veterans. We contacted managers to follow up on last week’s applications, and he’s already high in the running at two other places, one of which — the construction company — he’s been angling for for months. But yesterday he called to say he’s bored not doing anything, and told me he’s going to take the first job he can get! So to-and-from his interview I have to get him to see the wisdom of passing up the local company in favor of the long game. (Goodwill Veterans Services makes you apply for 2 jobs a week to continue staying in their program, with all its free perks.) So, that’s 1 pm.

At 2 pm, the Marine’s mom will come back from the veteran’s hospital fresh from taking her son to his first meeting to determine his service-connected disability rating. Many things will flow from that process, but those are all down the road. Immediate-term, she wants to meet with me to determine her budget and plans for the foreseeable future. Which is code for: is she going to work for me, or is she going to move out and find her own gig? I have to figure out my strategy and hard limits for that meeting before I go in. The mom is talented, smart, great for her son, and incredibly driven. She’s also an attention hound, liable for hair-trigger pity/anger-fests, a hustler angling to get her family all together under one roof, and who teaches them to follow her lead in putting herself ahead of everything. She’d be great if I could steer her, or if she’d listen to grander joint strategy without making her own. She’s also brought into painful clarity a number of weaknesses in me. Primary among them my desire for an actual by-god business partner: someone as on-fire as I am to get ahead with all this. Even the prospect of having a fellow business mind to halve my work and share the strategy made me lightheaded with glee and relief. I am going to have to be cognizant both of the drawbacks and advantages of my own needs and the company’s, and keep my people skills at the forefront for however many hours we meet. Additionally she should have results by this afternoon on the three days of testing for which they kept her for two overnights in the city hospital.

At 7 pm my Finance Class is meant to meet as a group online and discuss the conclusions we’ve come to over the preceding week regarding our case study. Two of my teammates have been busting ass, especially the other female. We’re supposed to use algebraic ratios to determine whether the company is a good bet or not, in a number of different lights: cash on hand, profit dollars per dollars invested in property, number of sales versus inventory stored and taking up warehouse space. She not only has figured out these ratios (using raw numbers given to us in word-problem form), she has then gone online and made a four-page list of what each ratio is used for. This will help with our upcoming midterm exam next week, but also is useful in determining our analysis for this case study company. Which she has gone ahead and written up — a different two-page document on the health of the company, based on the results we got for our ratio comparisons. She is taking the position that I normally would: chief ass-buster and inspiration for the team. I don’t know how I feel about that — relieved? Ashamed? Jealous? Inspired? But I know I’d better have my own two-page analysis written by about 7 pm tonight. Oh, I mean 8: I just remembered the professor is holding a Skype meeting at 7, to ask us if we have any last-minute questions about the project, which is due by Sunday midnight.

Nothing else is due at Sunday midnight anymore, since the new-to-teaching professor for the other class failed to post our assignment instructions in time, so she wrote yesterday to say she’s giving us a de facto week off.

Phew.

* * * * *

Those immediate time-hacks charted for the day, my mind goes down the list of every other tenant. As if in a video game of the role-playing/group quest variety, where instead of a health/damage meter each “character” has an attention-meter hovering invisibly beside them, and a brief to-do list. Four of my tenants’ meters of “amount of attention received from me lately” are very low: the Marine’s wife, the Turkish tenant, Grouchy Ed, and the New Guy. In terms of how bad that is for me (emotionally or materially): The Marine’s wife swings from attitude problem to feeling her needs are properly met, but either way neither contributes nor detracts much from the overall. Plus, she’s insulated from life by Mango House’s sub-matrix of the Marine and his mom…so she doesn’t need me. The Turkish guy is the only mentally healthy tenant I have: he just does work and works out. Failing to pay him attention isn’t bad for him, but it is for me, since he’s late on rent — but I’ve texted him recently and he says he’ll have it Saturday. The other two with the low attention are the high-maintenance men, who are also starting to form a team. If they get attention from each other, that’s fantastic — if it’s the good kind. But I’m overhearing (from my window, as well as fellow tenants) that they’re starting to stay out until all hours…and coming home sick. Grouchy Ed recovered from the flu just last week; now he’s rocking a hellacious, wet cough. There’s also scuttlebutt that he’s starting to overuse his prescriptions. His potential partner in crime, the new guy, hasn’t paid anything yet (note to self: call the VA housing-grant agency today); also, he said he wants to go in on various businesses with me, and that he’s moving into my (shitty, thanks guy) home despite its (apparently epic) drawbacks, because he wants access to me. That is something I really should attend to before his mood sours, but after two weeks of ignoring him I’m pretty sure all possible damage to his ego is already done. That could be bad, if he decides to repay that lack of care in kind, with disrespect for my rules and the other tenants. (This may be a motive behind his 4-am high-volume Japanese porn sessions lately, which are really disturbing the Kid’s sleep in the next room.) Also, I thought I heard him coughing lately too. Plus, he never responded to my last text: unacceptable, if deliberate. A communications concern if accidental. Also, if he and Grouchy Ed are going to team up and start an echo chamber reinforcing disrespect of the rest of the community, an intervention is needed before it gels. So, for all these reasons, very soon I am going to have to pour attention into the meters of the needy older men.

And the cat has fleas (add “wash cat” to to-do list; add “find vet for cat” to the list of things to do once money comes in). And my two teeth still hurt considerably (one molar in my back left jaw, one front tooth on the top), so an in-depth investigation into what dental insurance I have (if I still have insurance; if it’s been auto-debiting from my bank account) is in order. Then I can schedule my first trip to the dentist in years; an item far down both the “once money” comes list and, until recently, down the “what do I even matter” list.

But all that is changing. In part, by making all the work I do less invisible. And, in part, by changes in behavior.

An example of which kicks off at 6:30 am, when the Kid will come over for running on the beach and yoga…for an extensive list of reasons more clearly detailed below.

* * * * *

Point is: Mom’s visit into town was the last straw. I’d been surprised by that. Why was I so close to being pushed over the edge?

All this work I do that is invisible to everyone around me, I had dishonored myself by making invisible to myself as well. These people have needs, and meeting them is just good manners; good tending. I guess in an evolutionary sense the idea was that tending such a tribe meant they would tend you, back. The irony here is that I have created a tribe of people incapable of tending even themselves; that’s why they live in my halfway houses in the first place. So there’s an inherent flaw built-in to the notion that, if I only give them all of me, they will restore me in kind, in turn.

And this is where the Buddhist mindful attention, and gratitude come in.

Because they do try. Whether it’s Grouchy Ed cooking for me or the New Guy giving me his key so I can show an inspector his room (note to self: follow up with inspector on whether he got Angry Joe’s probation fees waived).

And, in return, I bust my ass all the harder for them.

But also, I spend my off-hours researching ways to get ahead of the curve; to cure underlying deficiencies (mental illness, joblessness) that keep leading to surface-level stresses day after day.

And sometimes, blessedly (and this is the gratitude), I catch a break.

Because the facts that Angry Joe doesn’t need a ride to the day labor place this morning (because of his afternoon appointment), and that I do not have Graphic Design homework this week, are completely just in time. Since my body is more exhausted than normal this week.

* * * * *

Why, you may ask?

* * * * *

A nuclear flare-up this week between the Kid and I has scared us both into actually taking care of our mental health. That is: into enacting the routines and actions I’ve researched, invested in, designed, and charted. That means: running every other day on the beach (the same three days as the Trackless Track Team/Math Department of the school), to get connected again with nature, burn off our anxiety, get out from the head into the body, boost dopamine and serotonin, kickstart the hippocampus (learning center), and increase cardiovascular endurance for martial arts. Off days are the Tough Mudder training plan, made of ten-minute circuits made of 2-minute cardio bursts (jumping jacks), alternating with 1-minute body-weight strength exercises (pushups). The overall effect is to build muscular strength while enacting a HIIT alternation of cardio intervals: the same as our running program espouses, with a sawtooth-chart of intensity ranging from a sprint for a minute or so alternating with a slow jog for a minute or so. The idea (in both the run and the Mudder plan) is to gradually increase the time spent at high-intensity, while shortening the periods of low-intensity, until in future you can just operate at high-intensity for the entire period of time. Tuning the body like this is great preparation not only for mud runs (like I look forward to again), but for fighting sports, nearly all of which are staged in 3-5 minute bouts, with low-intensity recovery times in between. Even performing kata/poomse is a few minutes of intense demonstration, bracketed by calm. And since we both need the pride and support of membership in a community of kickass, authentic, self-bettering, violent people, building up our capacity this way is essential in order to develop sufficient fitness to join the town’s best martial teams — which, through years of research and referrals and visits, we’ve already found.

The cooking of salmon tonight is part of a parallel and connected set of routines which involves a different set of research on two fronts: the benefits of predictability/stability on anxiety, and the nutrients that high-twitch brains and body systems actually need in order to heal.

Those nutrient studies strongly suggest a regimen of fermented milk foods and focus on probiotics, and supplements/foods heavy in Omega 3’s (best from fish), and the B-vitamin complex (especially B-3, B-6, and B-12). Metastudies suggest that calming can be achieved directly by certain substances including L-Theanine, GABA, melatonin.

And the behavioral calming studies suggest that, in addition to the absolute necessity of establishing a predictable routine, yoga specifically helps trauma by activating the peripheral nervous system, re-myelinating the Polyvagal Nerve, and otherwise reconnecting the practitioner with an embodied feeling of safety and peace in their skins.

And, of course, everything that’s good for the kid is good for me as well, with my 20 years longer wrestling with trauma, but only recent studies (and time to study!) appearing to help me figure it out.

Helping a compatriot in PTSD gain those twenty years on his own life feels like the best revenge to my own abusers. Hey, if I was forced by them to have to do this research in order to find peace, then I am damn well going to graft that peace directly onto others.

People deserve what shortcuts we can give them, in this life.

* * * * *

So, in sum, it is one thing to say that I’m trying to get myself stable and healthy while helping two households of others. And the dream of a self-sustaining job that allows future art and childrearing is a cute story to share in passing (or in the timespan of my mom’s fleeting interest).

But the heavy, incessant lifting I do is done a disservice by those simple glosses. The polish I try to put on all this — that it’s all just included in the services I should be thanklessly expected to provide — is a point of pride to me (it allows those depending on me to not have to worry, as I do, about everything). But it also has been harming me. Nobody gets it.

And there’s a strong argument to be made for the stance that I’m right — nobody around here should “get it.” There’s a reason for professionalism, and the reason is exactly to not get the effects of your stress onto other people. Especially people on whose money you depend for your livelihood — and so on whose calm contentment you depend.

The answer, then, is to level up. To start spending time in the company of people who DO get it: who are running businesses themselves, who are knocking themselves out helping others.

More and more, I’m starting to. More and more, those networks are coming into being.

Mostly by my sheer force of will, incredible people skills, and humility.

Or, as Angelus wrote to me last night, I should not consider it a source of shame that I broke down so hard this week.

The amazing thing is that I do not break more often.

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