My commitment issues

January 17th, 2008

I recently watched a Sex and the City Episode where Carrie and the girls talk about how each one of them have a dating pattern- a kind of guy they are attracted to or a sabotage pattern they follow as each relationship falls apart. And I realize I’m kind of the same way.

Luckily not with relationships- I was lucky enough to fall in love and get engaged all in the span of 6 weeks and never looked back - a fast decision made from my gut with full certainty, not the least bit of doubt.

But with my career I am much more fickle. I think I’m the opposite of many people- who settle into one steady job but have a hard time finding the right person to commit to forever and ever. I’m the person who had no trouble finding the right partner but can’t seem to commit to a career or a job or even a field.

Since I intend to crack this pattern right now, I will describe my behavior up to this point as past-tense. Essentially I have been attracted to fast-paced, high stress, creative and independent jobs. I always look for some form of intensity- with Americorps it was the challenge of living in poverty (who chooses that?), with CNYD it was the excitement of traveling all over and doing something brand new, with KSA it was the physical challenge of the crazy hours and the low-income families and the ground-breaking approach to education, with moving to India it was the personal challenge that I was going to successfully integrate into a new family and a new culture and language and make it all work out. In each case I put myself in a sink-or-swim situation- a set of circumstances so physically draining and constraining I could barely keep my head above water. And during every single moment I never shut off my mind, putting myself through a rigorous learning and self-reflection process when I probably could have better used the energy to just hold still and breathe.

A few years ago my brother and I went white-water rafting in Costa Rica and just when I was feeling comfortable a huge wave knocked me out of the raft (There was an 8 year old in the raft who managed to stay in just fine but that’s another story). I was knocked under the water and smashed into rocks over and over again. Every time I felt like I was about to get control of myself and hold my head above the water long enough to take a deep breath another wave came crashing over my head knocking me off balance and swallowing water. If you’ve ever been in this situation you would know that the best thing to do is to lean back, hold onto the straps of your safety vest and float. Once I stopped panicking and thrashing around I remembered this handy piece of advice from our safety video, and relaxed onto my back. The second I stopped resisting the water I felt myself floating - sure amidst huge rapids and bouncing off of rocks, but a calm fell over me as I watched the sky, took deep breaths and waited for the guy in the safety kayak to come get me. (He did come, just as a large wave took me under and ended up paddling right over my head, smacking me with his paddle, then back-tracking to pull me into the kayak, but that, again, is another story.)

I have thought about that incident a lot while I have been here in India these 6 months, and I feel like it applies to my whole approach to life. I think that I am drawn to stress and tension, and that I actually thrive on that energy- where I feel like it is up to my sharp wits to figure out survival. (This may sound extreme, but you try battling simultaneous vomiting, diarhea and sneezing fits- a literal full body evacuation of some sort of parasite - while trying to squat and maintain balance over the little hole in the ground that you are trying to aim all of this into while also trying not to gag from the sheer disgustingness of the odors you are emitting because your face is so uncomfortably close to all of whatever is coming out of your body, and we’ll see if you don’t think that takes survival instinct). And so in these many situations where I’m battling anxiety and stress and discomfort my tendency is to move faster- to think of 5 possible solutions, to analyze where the problem is coming from, to start talking really fast and moving around or frantically running 5 google searches on my laptop, or freaking out that Akbar isn’t moving as fast as me… and of course what I really need to do is lay back, look at the sky and breathe.

I guess my fear is that no safety kayak will come for me. But certainly my anxious reaction to a non-ideal situation is not helping either.

So for the first time ever I am turning down a really cool and interesting job purely because I think it’s going to demand too much of my time to maintain the logistics of it. I feel I am worth more money. I feel my time is worth a lot and I can’t spend hours and hours in a commute. I am confident that I can attract another job that will push me to learn but in a balanced way, that doesn’t place huge demands on my personal life and family. And I am freakin proud of myself. I don’t know what the future holds, and while I am not crazy about this kind of indecision, I think it’s going to be okay.

Maybe I’m my own safety kayak, and I’ve been waiting for me to show up all this time. So I ran over myself a few times- big deal. I’ll be able to get myself to a nice dry place soon.

India is a Hair Salon

January 17th, 2008

Yesterday as I was choosing how to get my hairs cut- there are only two styles here- feather cut and step cut- I came to the realization that all of Indian conversation functions like conversations in a stereotypical beauty parlor in the US.

I’m talking about a parlor in a neighborhood, not one of those ritzy spas (that I long for…) where everyone wears black and talks in a falsely soothing voice. You know the scene- people come in and out of the beauty parlor, some are regulars, some are walk-ins, and some are friends of friends. They all know the same people cause they’re from the same neighborhood. So they talk about eachother, it’s loud and busy and gossippy and full of that energy where work combines with chit chat and bits of information about other peoples’ lives are traded like valuable jewels. Whoever has the most juicy information is suddenly the most popular and the same stories get told over and over again.

This is a lot like the conversations that happen in households here. People from the neighborhood may just drop in at any time and trade secrets and stories, updates about who just had a love marriage, who failed out of college, who is trying to go abroad and who burned their chapatis. The best story-tellers are loud, talk with their hands and eyes, and make the subject of the story as dramatic as possible. There is no penalty for exaggeration or harsh treatment of someone else’s delicate tale. Bring it on sister is the motto.

Ever since I got here I’ve been fascinated by the way people talk here- not physically how they talk but what they’re talking about. It all seems so inconsequential- who often the people next door eat meat? - but that’s how they talk. And the same stories get repeated over and over and over again.

So for those of you who can’t experience this first hand, hang out at a neighborhood parlor and see if you can get a feel for that, then add in bright clothing and the smells of a curry simmering away in the background, and what you’ve got is pretty darn close to the real thing.