Friday, April 13, 2018

The Life I Chose

I was 19 - and in Sweden, a trip I'd worked hard to make happen the year following graduation - when the first intimation that my life was about to change significantly occurred.  My father was gravely ill.

When I got home about 4 weeks later, my mother finally told me dad had multiple myeloma and the prognosis wasn't good.  He hadn't even turned 50 yet.

My intention to pursue higher education had to be scrapped.  There would be no money for tuition, textbooks, food, shelter.  Instead I went back to the telephone company as a long distance operator.

While the job paid good money it wasn't much fun.  It was very obviously a dead end job as technology was already creeping in.  It was also dealing with people who varied from kind and polite to rude and stressed, at times, down right abusive.  And at that point I was once again a 'new hire' so wasn't getting full time hours and pulling the 'nasty' shifts - the split shifts, the early morning shifts, the evening shifts.

The stress at home wasn't great either as mom traveled frequently down to Vancouver where dad had been in hospital for months, with various crisis due to his illness.

I finally found an office job - the only thing I had any kind of qualification for, knowing how to touch type - and even though it paid a lot less, it was regular full time hours.

If I thought I'd had an education in human nature and behaviour at the telephone office, I learned more working at the credit bureau - about the tendency of people to get in debt, then all the stress they incurred.  The petty office politics and low level misogyny with male management and female worker bees.  The sense of privilege and entitlement some people assumed.

From there I went to work for an insurance adjuster.  More lessons in how people cope with stress - or not - filing claims for damages caused to their homes, sometimes catastrophic loss, sometimes minor.  Or their vehicles.  I got fired from that job eventually, partly because I got bored and I just didn't care any more.

It took some weeks to find another job, this time hospital reception, part time.  More shift work.  More dealing with way too many stressed people.  Since dad was constantly seeing doctors and spending way too much time in a hospital bed, I had compassion for these people.  But wished they wouldn't take it out on the people who were simply trying to do their jobs and actually help them.

I lasted six weeks there until I fell into a job at the high school where I had graduated only a few years previously.  It was again interesting to see the change in dynamic from being a student to being an adult, interacting with teachers, some of whom had been mine.  After about six months an opening happened in the school library and I applied.  When I got the job I thought I'd entered the gates of heaven.  All those books!  And I got first pick (more or less.)

Another lesson, this time in being a bit of an authority figure to the students who used the library.  I knew I had a reputation as a bit of a bitch, but I didn't care.  I simply firmly enforced the rules - bring your books back on time or pay the fine.  Don't bring them back in a timely fashion?  I would call you out of class to give you a warning.  Noisy?  I would calmly tell you to be quiet - or go to the cafeteria.  And yes, I told my brother and his friends to abide by the no talking rule or leave.  ;)  I was that kind of big sister!

All during this time as dad experienced declining health, mom insisted on ignoring the elephant in the room, refusing to discuss dad's nearing end, my teen aged brother living in the toxicity of terminal illness, unacknowledged, I found myself dealing with the stress in my own way.  I read.  And I knitted.

The job at the school had it's own bundle of stress.  It was only 10 months out of the year, paid very poorly, and I had no income for the two months school was out.  I started working for a temp agency, which was it's own kind of hell.

Lots more lessons about how people behave under stress - or just generally.  Some people were kind, but some were not.  When stressed even the kind ones could lose their cool.

And by this time I was extremely stressed.

I was working office jobs that left me feeling unfulfilled.  And poor.  I went back to the telephone company, this time in an office.  I was the only female in a male environment.  I was also a feminist and found dealing with misogyny more and more difficult.

As my father made his way through one health crisis after another, he became more and more unhappy.  He was dealing with all sorts of issues related to the disease and my mother continued to not talk about end of life issues.  My brother ducked his head and just tried to get through.

We were also fighting the good fight to keep my brother in school.  He kept insisting he would quit school and get a job with the railway - they would hire with a grade 10 education.  The entire rest of the family was united.  My brother would, under no circumstances whatsoever, quit school - he would have to graduate grade 12.  And he'd better just get on with that.  As dad became more ill, Don stopped complaining and did just that - got on with it.  But I knew he wasn't happy.  He did, during this time, finally discover the escape that reading provided.

At the telephone office I became more and more unhappy.  It, like the rest of the jobs before it, became boring.  I wasn't learning anything - I knew the job, I could do it, but...

Doug was travelling a lot during this time and one night the rabid thought squirrels hosting a rave in my brain box I faced the fact that life was pretty awful right then.  Instead of simply feeling sorry for myself, as I had been doing, I finally asked myself the critical question.  If not this, then...what?

If I didn't want to do what I was doing for the rest of my life, why not?  What did all of the jobs I'd done have in common?  They were boring.  They had way too many people interactions.

OK.  Well, that's a start.

So, then, what are they missing?  Stimulation.  What kind of stimulation?  Because the nasty interactions with people were not what I wanted, obviously.  Finally the answer slowly dawned on me.  Creativity.  None of the jobs I'd had were, in any way at all, creative.  I was happiest when I was making stuff.

My ex-boss at the library had told me about a class at the local college where people could learn how to dye with natural dyes and how to spin.  The spinning didn't appeal to me, but the dyeing did.  I had, in fact, been looking for someone to teach me batik but hadn't been able to find a teacher.

I enrolled in the Monday evening class.  Where I was told I had to learn how to spin so that I would have yarn to dye.  Sigh.

After enrolling in the class I'd applied for and gotten a job at a custom drapery house.  I have told this story elsewhere. 

But I found that I was attracted to the fibre, the yarn we made from it and then, in the new semester, the small loom techniques - inkle weaving, back strap weaving, and so on.

When I made the decision to become a weaver, I really had no clue.  I could see potential.  I could see possibility.  I wanted a job where I could set my own priorities and schedule.  Make my own decisions about the direction I would take my life.

Little did I know what the reality of that decision would actually consist of...

And perhaps this post is long enough and I should save the rest for part II...


Peg Cherre said...

Isn’t it interesting how the lessons life brings to us, and how we interpret them, lead our decisions in subtle and not-so-subtle ways? Although the specifics of our lives are quite different, the ability to pull out the essential learning, and then to act on what we have come to know as true, are very similar.

At this point in my life I can only be grateful for all that. Grateful that I was born in the U.S. in the 1950s, grateful that I have a good mind and a reasonable body, grateful that I had a terrific husband and have wonderful children, grateful that my white skin has given me privilege, and on and on. I have empathy for those not so fortunate; who have so many obstacles stacked against them; who get beaten down again and again; who truly cannot make many of the choices I made in my life; who, regardless of hard work, dedication, and skill set, cannot lead lives that make them happy.

Laura Fry said...

I am also processing the privilege being white has given me. I wish people would see that we are all more alike than different and that helping each others helps us all...

Jessica Madsen said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story and your path of getting to weaving. I appreciate the perspective on life that you provide!