‘Wheel never stops turning, Badger.’
‘That only matters to the people on the rim.'”
-Malcolm Reynolds and Badger, Pilot episode of Firefly
I’m about seven months into a Wheel year, which means that, from a numerological standpoint, the year that started on my last birthday has been (is being) ruled by the number 10, which corresponds to the Wheel of Fortune card in the Tarot (if you believe that stuff, which mostly I don’t, but sometimes I sort of do). This is a card that usually, to me, at least, invokes some feelings of anxiety and worry. That wheel goes round and round, and it’s scary out on the edge, man.
One of the things that I’ve been told about dealing with the Wheel in general, and a Wheel year in particular, is that you want to stay in the center to take advantage of the stability there. And I think that is a wise thing, for sure. Standing in the center isn’t about ignoring the change that manifests with the Wheel (or, rather, the change that’s always going on, but perhaps seems to be magnified during this time) – it’s about being in a place of centered stability, from which I can engage with that incessant change without being flung off the side.
Here’s a thing, though. What if the change that’s happening needs to be engaged with differently?
For the past four months, our home has been in various stages of a remodeling project. So: decision-making, packing, culling, demolition, rebuilding, finishing, culling, unpacking, more culling, swearing, more decision-making, and so on. It’s felt like an immense project, and for me it’s been at least as much emotional labor as it has been physical (to be clear, professionals are doing basically all of the physical work with the exception of packing, unpacking, etc). When we moved here in 2010, we had intentions that turned out to be wholly beyond our ability to manifest. A combination of factors have contributed to that – circumstance, personality, foolishness, shifting priorities, and good old-fashioned overconfidence and naïvete. So the place I’m living won’t be a lot of things that I had hoped for – it’s not going to be a housing cooperative, and we won’t live here with a family of choice that treats the space as shared and communal in the way that I hoped (and sometimes still ache) for. Instead, it’s a place that in the long term is as much an investment as a home for me. And that really makes me sad, a lot of the time. The improvement of the physical space, as welcome as it is, also serves as a reminder of that fact, and of that failure. This whole process has been – still is – very difficult for me.
All of that is true. What’s also true is that the change, the transformation, the shifting of the physical space to match the reality of what is true and what will be true for the foreseeable future is a crucial thing. Hanging onto the symbols and trappings of that dream-that-was has made me ill, made me angry, made me feel the loss and sting of failure all the more.
There is a grief that runs under all of this for me. I’ve had other grief in the past few years, and I’ve discovered something about how that works for me. I don’t process grief from the center of the Wheel. Other people can, I know, and I imagine that it’s a better way of approaching the whole business. But as much as I might wish that that was true for me, it’s just not. It’s a sort of change, of loss and sorrow, that I need to lean into. I need to let it be, let myself be, and step away from the center, at least for a little while.
So I think that’s what I’m going to do for the rest of this scary year. Stop fighting my way back toward the center and hang out on the edge. Lean in the direction of change and know it’s the only way, for me, to begin to turn loss into something else.
It’s safe to say that the last few months have been rough ones for me. Emotional, interpersonal and financial stresses have been weighing on me, ranging from the pretty much usual frustrations about work and my minor role in contributing to the evils of the world (working for one of the largest banks in the world is not, as it happens, my dream job) to exceptionally unpleasant feelings of helplessness around my family, my home and the people I care about most. November and December, in particular, included several conversations similar to this:
Concerned friend: “Jason, how are things going for you these days?”
Jason: “Well, my life is just as shitty as they were last week, and since last week it was as shitty as I can remember my life ever being, I’d guess I’d say that I’m not doing so good.”
Concerned friend: “Oooooookay…..”
So, you know. Good times for everyone around me.
The biggest frustration, really, has been an acute lack of optimism. I’m not a rabid glass-is-half-full sort of guy, to be sure, but I’ve really tried to cultivate a sense of hopefulness in my life over the past 5 or 6 years, and mostly I’ve been successful at that. Lately, though, that well has been pretty dry. It’s become pretty obvious that I need to break some of my unhealthy patterns and lay some better ones in my life.
A few weeks back, I decided to try jumpstarting this process by shaking up my physical space. There has been some reorganization of space around the homestead, and as a result there was an empty bedroom down the hall from mine. Tempting as it was to just shove all of my crap in there and sort it out later (a strategy that I employed when we bought the place in 2010), I wanted to make this move – if you can rightly call it a “move” when it’s down the hall – a more intentional process than that. Also, it had been a long time since I painted anything around here and I clearly needed a reminder of how much I hate painting.
Over the course of about 3 weeks, I primed and painted the room, shopped for (and finally bought) some lamps and shelving and went through everything in the old room and asked myself whether it was necessary or added something of emotional value to my space. It was interesting to note which of my possessions made the cut based on those criteria and which didn’t. Most of my books, of course, did, though I put about 30 into a donation pile. All of my clothes that I hadn’t worn in more than a year, with the exception of one of a suit that I just haven’t had cause to wear lately, went away.
Of course, the spare hard drive and the spindle of DVD-ROMs that I haven’t touched in about forever? Those somehow went into the general tech bin despite serving no immediate purpose. Apparently they fall into the “Emotional value” category, since I have no real justification for calling them necessary.
Once that process was done, actually moving into the new room was pretty simple. I did the majority of the work myself, though I had some help getting the bed moved in and put together, and some advice as to where to put the shelf for my altar and exactly where to hang lamps and such. It was actually rather instructive to do so much of the physical labor myself – I found that I really appreciated the assistance I received for those few things where I asked for it. Also, as an intentional act, it carried a little more weight, knowing that most of what I now see around me was my own doing.
I still have a few more things to figure out. I’m waiting on a couple more frames so I can finish hanging some art on the walls, for instance, and I need a better storage solution beside the bed. I’m really happy with the outcome so far, though. It feels nice to know that what’s in this room is only what I actively want to have in here. It also helps that in the past week, I’ve had 2 of the best nights of sleep that I can remember having in a very long time.
One of the great luxuries we have in our home is that each of us has a space that’s completely our own domain. Not our own in the, “Everyone keep out at all times” sense, but in the, “This is my space and I’m happy to have you share it with me for a while” sense. This year, I’m hoping to both remember and take advantage of that abundance and luxury, and to maintain the sense of intention and choice I worked on when moving in.
A couple of folks have asked for pictures, so I’m attaching them here. Please try not to cringe too much at the many flaws in the painting job you may see.
I’ve had a pretty productive week so far. Monday I finished the first draft of my updated resume and distributed it to the friends who have generously agreed to review it. On Tuesday I ran a bunch of errands, got some work done around the house, and did some research into other careers I might want to consider beyond the training realm (not sure how far I want to branch out yet, but it’s a good exercise that I should have completed a long time ago). Tomorrow will be pretty full, with a meeting about a freelance gig in the morning, followed by lunch and dinner plans – a whole day out in the suburbs. What a treat! Tomorrow will also include some of the mounds of paperwork to send back to my previous employer. Nothing huge going on, but I’m grateful to have enough on my schedule to have some routine to my week so far.
Having said that, I decided that today would be a day off. I have a few other things percolating that will need attention later in the week, and…well, look. I might as well enjoy some of the enforced time off, right? So the grand plan for the day was to sleep in (haha, yeah right), make breakfast, go to the library, maybe do some writing, and then see just how much television I can enjoy in one afternoon. Exciting goals, I know.
Given this ambitious plan, the discovery at around 7:30am that there was a foul and mysterious odor1 emanating from the laundry room in the basement did not amuse. Some discussion over coffee revealed that the odor was most likely related either to the hot water heater that serves the second floor or the dryer (which was running at the same time). After some more consideration, V and I concluded that the aroma could best be described as “High notes of burning, with a subtle undertone of death.” At least, that’s how it was best described from the back porch on the second floor. In the basement, the death was much more overt. I can only presume this is due to the basement’s closer proximity to the Underworld. Since money is tighter today than it was 10 days ago (and also since V is a good and kind person), we decided to see if we could determine the source of the problem on our own before calling in a professional – if nothing else, so we could figure out who to call. HVAC? Plumbing? Appliance repair? All options seemed possible on this magical day.
Step one, of course, was to determine whether the dryer or the water heater was the culprit. We started by running the dryer for a few minutes and waiting to be overwhelmed by the foul and mysterious odor. This failed to happen, which was both good and bad news – good news because I’m not qualified to do anything to the dryer at all, but bad news because the dryer is still under warranty so if there was something mechanically wrong with it, we would likely not be spending money to fix the problem.
So, on to step two. The best choice here would be to go back upstairs and see if running the hot water enough to make that water heater kick on would do anything interesting, but upstairs seemed rather far away, so V turned on the hot water in her unit and we stood around some more. Again, nothing. We considered that perhaps we had simply gotten used to the foul odor, but that seemed rather unlikely, all things considered.
V futzed with the air ducts above the water heaters, thinking that the first step would be to figure out how to easily disconnect the long piece that ran to all of them so we could better visualize the problem. I believe it was around this point that I saw something that might actually haunt me for a while: