Stuck in the Middle
It's been awhile, hasn't it? How are you doing? Really? That's awesome! Me?
I'm...doing great! Just wonderful.
It's kind of funny how we can convey what we truly mean with the pauses between the words rather than the words themselves.
The truth is, I'm not doing great. That's not to say that I'm miserable (though that's what we often interpret that statement to mean); it just means that I'm not the personification of fucking sunbeams. I'm in the middle, which I suppose sounds odd, because we are conditioned to try to put any answer to that question into one of two categories, even though nothing is ever that simple.
So what is it that's making my answer to such a simple question so complicated? Well, the reason is perhaps best expressed through an adversarial relationship, namely the professional self vs. the personal self.
If I view my current situation through that lens, it becomes easy to explain why I feel so mediocrely; my professional self is completely dominating my most finite resource: my time. It's eating so much time that the crumbs falling from the table to where my personal self is chained and scrounging for any morsel are wholly unsatisfying. It's almost like a Ramsay-Reek relationship (for my buddies who are fellow consumers of either/both A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones).
The odd part of this picture, though, is that my job is actually pretty awesome, both in theory and in practice. I believe very strongly in both the mission and the principles of my organization as the best way to help as many people as possible and as a basically good philosophy. Add to that the fact that following that mission and those principles have led to some truly memorable experiences.
For one example, during the Memorial Day weekend, central Texas (specifically about an hour north of San Antonio) got absolutely deluged by two separate waves of extremely heavy thunderstorms dropping about a foot of rain an hour. Yes, a foot. This led to the worst flooding for the area in recorded history, and led to many shelters being opened. For one of the said shelters, I and one of our volunteers were tasked with delivering supplies there at 2 AM-in between the waves. This process included hooking up a two-ton trailer to a one-and-a-half-ton pickup, hauling said trailer to a town in which neither of us had ever been to an hour-and-a-half away in the middle of a rainy night.
Now, for those who know me, it will come as no surprise that I had never done any of these things before. It may come as a surprise, however, that my volunteer partner (who, coincidentally, is also a pale, blond-haired, blue-eyed fantasy and metal-loving religious scholar) was even less experienced in this realm than me. So, in essence, the folks in this shelter were depending upon the handiness of two skinny, nerdy academics who barely know the difference between a hammer and a nail gun. Fucking. Perfect.
So after we fumbled in the dark and the rain for about fifteen minutes backing the not-powerful-enough truck so that we could hook up the too-heavy trailer, we started chugging down the road and got onto the highway pushing the petal to the metal to go a blistering fifty miles an hour. After about twenty minutes of snail-like driving, the already wobbly ride started to violently shudder it's way forward. After a brief inspection on the shoulder, us two academics couldn't discern what caused the problem, so we resolved to continue, driving even more slowly and carefully (from snail-like down to 1950s English Christian motorist-esque) with flashers on at all times.
As if this ride didn't already have enough troubles, I received a call a little further down the road to inform us that the southern part of this town we were going to was completely flooded and thus, impossible to traverse. Great. So now we had to circle around, using completely darkened country back roads to get to an alien town neither of us had been to. This effectively doubled our time on the road while we were already exhausted. That said, our ride was relatively smooth for a good portion (about halfway?) of this detour.
Then the second wave of thunderstorms hit.
As an aside, for those who don't know or haven't experienced driving in storms that rain that heavily, I'll try to explain what it's like. The best visual analogy that I can make is when the water is pored onto the windshield at an automated car wash; you can't see anything through the windshield. Driving through those thunderstorms was like being in a car wash, except you're moving and the water doesn't fall off because it's constantly falling. Perhaps more jarring than that, though, was the sound of the rain. When you drive through storms like that, the rain doesn't sound like white noise, where you can hear the sound of each individual droplet hitting the ground; the sound is much more akin to a solid thud. Thud. Thud. Almost like a bucket of water being thrown at the car, but even more so due to the rain falling from the fucking sky and having gravity accelerate it for quite a ways.
Now imagine all of that previous paragraph and add to it the facts that we were chugging in our too-weak truck (made worse earlier on the highway), on unlit roads neither of us knew with low water crossings being completely rushed over by creeks-turned-Rapids, and you have an idea of what we faced.
Yet we persisted. We pressed forward because we knew that that shelter needed our supplies. So we gamely continued our quest to the shelter location, and, by about 4:30 AM, we were rewarded.
We had arrived at our destination.
As we pulled up, stopped, and started to unpack the trailer (with considerable help from the shelter residents themselves-easily numbering a hundred), one of the police officers securing the place motioned towards me.
"I want to show you something," he said.
We walked around our now empty trailer and he pointed towards one of the wheels. "You're tire is shredded."
Sure enough, the tire was completely gone. Neither my partner on this trip nor I had caught it at the time, but we agreed that that must've been the culprit for the violently shuddering that the truck had been doing since we were on the highway hours before. So we drove nearly two-and-a-half hours on a rim through all of that bullshit. Needless to say, we were shocked and relieved. We then left the shelter and trailer and finally got back to San Antonio by 7 AM.
That was an experience that I really wouldn't have been able to have if I was in a more normal line of work. I felt proud of what we did. I felt brave for what we were willing to face. I felt like we were goddamn heroes that morning. And that's just one (albeit extremely dramatic) story out of dozens I could tell.
All that being said, why do I not feel like a million bucks every day? Well, quite frankly, the nature of my job is that I can be called out at any time to help someone in need. With that in mind, it's hard to find time just appease myself. As I have had less and less time for personal joys, I have started to lose them. I don't see movies that often, I haven't gotten a comic book in months, I haven't any of the books I have currently and I haven't gone on any Meetup outings. Hell, I barely pay attention to the music I listen to in the car (as a former college radio co-host/DJ, that's sad). Even my love of sports has started to fade a bit.
That is how I have come to feel neither terrifically or terribly, but mediocrely; I feel like a hero one moment and a loser the next. That's a hard slog.
That being said, I think that there is light at the end of this tunnel. Over the past couple of days, probably due to a certain Supreme Court ruling and seeing probably my favorite movie in some time, I have started to draw myself out of some doldrums. More personally, however, I think that I have fallen victim to a false line of thinking about the nature of the relationship between the professional vs. personal selves. It isn't a competition between two separate entities; it's a companionship between two parts of a greater whole, going for the same goal: happiness for the true self. It's not about the two fighting for the most finite of resources-time, it's about the two sharing the time we have, for they both are constant parts of you and I.
To sum up, my happiness is finding that harmonic convergence of the professional and personal selves, somewhere in the middle.
Maybe being in the middle is how to feel perfectly after all.
I'm definitely not there yet. I'm not sure when I'll get there, though a good way to tell will be when you ask me, "How are you?"
My response will be, "I'm doing great!" with nary a pause.
It's kind of funny how much you can convey what we mean with the pauses between words...