Arrows Out

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Now, you didn’t actually think I was going to continue with that whole ‘opportunity number’ thing for the next THREE YEARS, did ya? Too constricting. But I do promise I’m trying to look at my troubles through my opportunity eyeglasses. See the silver lining, yadda, yadda.

Scraped my fried brain up off the sidewalk and put it back in my head. Poor thing; it’s all hard and un-fluid right now, and any Dutch gets it stuck in a groove. I be damned tired of mouthing all the vowel and dipthong sounds every time I see something. Oi! And the pressure that builds up (really need a steam release on the side of my head)! You know…I don’t think I WANT to hear how well I speak after a year of study. Just let me stumble through, correct me where I’m wrong, speak slowly to me, and smile. Don’t tell me I’m smart or fast or ahead of other people. It makes me nervous. Like I’ve got something I have to keep reaching for. And I don’t know how long I can keep reaching like that.

In marches my next opportunity: a week holiday from language lessons. No classes, no one on one, no language cafés. I can hit my computer lessons more and do some catch up. Sleep in. Stay up late. Whatever the hell I want; I got the whole week in front of me with no appointments or meetings (or at least none centered on language which is good enough for me right now).

Whew! Just in time.

This past week, I’ve been cutting back on four essentials: smoking, caffeine, food, and exercise. I never planned to, just found myself in situations where I couldn’t smoke, didn’t have so much coffee, didn’t have any hunger, and didn’t have any time to go and waddle around the neighborhood. Hip hip for the first two. Good on the third, but I gotta watch it; I’m tending to eat only about 1200 calories a day right now. We all know how I feel about the last one. This week will be a blast back to my routine, and I’m sure there will be at least one post about how much my ass muscles hurt. But I’ve been having on and off headaches again; withdrawal from both smoking AND caffeine at the same time. Not that I can drink more coffee or smoke more. I just can’t. I can’t have another cup of coffee. I can’t take another toke. It’s almost like my body is shoving out a splinter, only the splinter is my need for caffeine and marijuana. And food is a TOTAL rejection. I haven’t actually been hungry for days now. Make myself eat, of course. Something. But food is just fuel for the machine; I find no joy in eating.

Well, this is a dry run. This is me seeing if I can manage to just get out and socialize more. First step: can I do things, be with other people, keep to a general schedule, and stay healthy? That’s what I’ve got to know. If I fall ill every other week I’ll know I can’t do it, no matter what anyone wants to tell me. There is NO WAY I’ll take on the responsibility of an acting role or a language helper or anything else if I can’t just be out more and stay bleeding healthy. And I’ve been thinking hard over the possibility of me NOT being able to do it. My life has so centered around my need to perform, my need to (I guess) be recognized. Now I’m thinking behind the stage is cool, too. Now I’m wondering if I should find some small one scene play scripts I wrote and bring them to the group to workshop. Or maybe they’d like some atmospheric music for some of their plays. Something I can do from my seat. Something that won’t fall apart if I fall ill. And I’m thinking that maybe I have something to give back in the language department, too. I feel I’m getting a lot from these free community programs, and isn’t it awfully mean of me to not offer to pass on my knowledge of English to someone who wants to learn?

Dear Goddess, I think I’m coming out of my shell.

Been trying with that one. My classes are one thing; I tend to be a star there without trying or wanting to. The theatre group is another. The other night I found myself sitting between two people, both of whom were turned away from me in conversation with people sitting further down the line. I felt I had three choices: sit there and feel ignored, get up and try to find someone to converse with, or stick out where I was and stop feeling so sorry for myself and just join in on one of the conversations to either side of me, asked or not. A quick glance around the room showed me that everyone was engaged in conversational groups, so I it came down to feeling put out or just joining in somewhere. And joining in was simply turning to one of my sides, listening but not participating, laughing at an appropriate moment – which, btw, made the others in the conversation turn towards me to include me a bit more from then on. It worked to an extent, tho I still felt like an appendage. I know I can’t really be a part of the theatre group unless I begin to put myself out there with them. Join in, raise my hand, speak up, volunteer, talk. In this matter, I feel like I’m back to being five years old again. Terribly shy. So I tend to stay quiet. Listen more than speak. Not raise my hand – tho the one director caught me out on that, got me up to participate in an improv scene, and I really, really enjoyed it.

I guess the one thing that’s become evident to me is the whole arrow issue. When my arrows are pointed in, when I’m worried about my age or what I say or how I look, things don’t go right. When I surrender and give all that up, when I let myself think more about other people than myself, good things can happen. They don’t always happen. But the opportunity is there (ah, there’s that new trigger word for me).

And that’s the key. Arrows out, and opportunity comes seeking YOU.

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Opportunity 3: Just say ‘nee’

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Oh, my. After 24 hours, a rather frank discussion with my very cute physiotherapist, and a deep search in my head for a box marked ‘my age’, I found no real answer. In fact, in that boxed marked ‘my age’ there’s just a slip of paper with two words on it: I am. A statement of being rather than a reflection of my march through time. I thought on my youth, and spending an inordinate amount of time in the company of older people. Why should the reverse now bother me so much? The answer is it shouldn’t, so I’m setting aside my heebie-jeebies over the entire issue and hope it doesn’t raise its head again before my 70th birthday.

Onto bigger and badder things.

I have had four new ‘language cafés’, as they call them here, pointed out to me. A language café is just a time and place for people to get together and talk in whatever language they’re trying to learn. One morning, one afternoon, and two evenings have been, shall we say, rather strongly suggested to me. On top of classes, reading, the television, the papers, the adverts, the EVERYTHING. So I HAD to pick that picture on top of the page, because yes, that’s how my brain feels: washed out, fried, a little dirty around the edges, and cooked for too long.

Dear Goddess!

…And I don’t know if my reaction is normal or not. Seems to be an awful lot of people who CAN do it all 24/7 and not lose it. I don’t count myself among them. And I’m a little afraid to point that fact out to these people who push me so much! Met a woman last night who speaks 10 languages fluently. 10! And she knows someone who speaks 35.

I’m feeling overwhelmed.

There’s still so many words I don’t know yet. Today was my one on one lesson, which really WAS one on one because the other student was sick, and my teacher and I talked for two hours. There were rather large gaps of time when she was talking and talking and I could barely understand the general gist of the conversation. Other times, I understood quite well.

It’s a matter of vocabulary. Mine is still quite small. And I’ve found the best way for me to learn new words is from the computer. My online lessons show the written word. They have a person clearly say the word. There’s a button right there I can hit over and over again to listen and try to imitate it perfectly. Then they move onto short sentences that include the words you just learned. THAT’S how I’m picking up more words. You can mouth syllables at me FOREVER and I just won’t get it. It’s that hardcore repetition that’s giving me the words I need to make the move from a child-like speech pattern to a more grown up one.

And if I’m forced (or strongly encouraged) to spend so much time talking or reading or listening, well, frankly, I get bloody tired. I don’t want to do the damned computer lessons after a certain point. I’m fried.

More will just confuse me.

*sigh* But I guess I gotta take into consideration what these people might see in me. Whether or not they’d be shocked by my real age, they don’t see a dummy. They don’t hear someone who can’t speak the language. Just the opposite; plenty of people tell me I speak very clearly. Great. Those are the vocabulary words I KNOW. I’ve seen them. Said them. Heard them. Repeated them and repeated them. I need new words. New adages and sayings. But not so fast I get confused. That’s why the computer is so great. I never annoy it when I ask it to repeat what it’s saying twenty times.

On the other hand (because there’s always an ‘other hand’), I found today that my limited vocabulary got me through quite a bit. We talked about the news I’d watched, the stories I’d seen. Or that’s where we began. One of the news articles I saw is about a proposed change to the assisted suicide law. That brought up a lot. Ulla. My mother, then my father. Her mother. Death in general. Figures; even in DUTCH I try to talk about death! Then we moved onto other topics: the theatre group I found, University, her kids, careers and jobs in general. A rather wide range of topics to try to tackle after only one year of language lessons.

But then I never DO set the bar low. That can be very problematic. Perfectionism and the bald reality of never being able to live up to that ideal. Yet if you don’t try, if you don’t aim high, you’ll never hit that mark. So I try. And when I fail, as I inevitably do, I tell myself that I gave it my all, I could ask no more of myself, and I’ve done well. You did good, kid. Of course I always second guess myself. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. Live too long in that neck of the woods and you’ll end up in Regretsville permanently. I should know; I’ve spent years there and I’m sure the ghosts in my head keep an empty apartment on the second floor for me.

There’s a fine line here I can safely walk. Heel to toe, all the way. I will not try them all out in the same week. I will not even consider that. Not with my regular classes, the theatre group meetings, and trying to wedge some exercise in there too. Too many times I’ve spread myself too thin. Too many times I’ve lost my balance and dropped all the balls.

I am completely unwilling to do that again.

Thank you, but I’m busy. Thank you, but I can’t. No, no, no. They say ‘no’ is one of those early words for babies. Why do I have such a hard time saying it? Maybe it’ll be easier in Dutch.

Nee, nee, nee.

Opportunity 2: How Old Am I?

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So. The long awaited meeting with the theatre group finally manifested. It was more than my lowered expectations had expected, less than my inflated ego dreamt of. All in all, a decent place to begin.

The group consists of about a dozen people. Only one comes from the states. The rest are native Dutch, German, Indian, British, and French. Quite a motley crew of accents, let me tell you. I’m lousy with names, no matter how hard I try, so I’ve already forgotten a few and am struggling to remember exactly which woman goes with which handle. But hey. That’s why I’m in the background for now. Three other newbies showed, two of whom were obviously there for acting and no other reason. Truth is, I might be the only person who straight up volunteered to help out backstage. I know how tough it can be to get help OUT of the limelight, so I’m very willing to offer mine. Besides, there won’t be auditions for a new play before January, and I want to make some connections NOW.

The group will be performing two one act plays in November. One’s a drama, one’s a comedy. The drama was up last night; tonight’s the comedy (and yes, I’m going back). It wasn’t until they rehearsed the second scene last night that I realized the entire thing was supposed to be set in the states. Between the British sister, the German brother, the Indian lover, and the French cook, it was damned hard to tell (and no, I’m not exaggerating)! Most of the people offer warm bodies that can learn the lines. One woman could actually act. But they seemed fun loving and friendly, and I can hardly hold an early rehearsal against anyone – tho it DOES seem to me if they’re planning on performing in a month they should be a bit further than they are.

I held back. All night. Held back from saying too much. I was asked about my experience, and gave a truncated version. No reason to go listing all my accomplishments; I would have monopolized the conversation and that’s hardly what I wanted to do. Besides, at one point M, my contact via email, told us that he taught at the University. International business relations. My face gave me away, obviously. He said ‘you look like you know what I’m talking about’ and I responded with my pat answer: ‘yes, accounting and finance major with an economics minor, cum laude’. That raised an eyebrow or two, as well as eliciting a soft exclamation of ‘cum laude’ from someone standing next to me. Uh, oh. Tone it down. Did my best to remember to ask questions of other people and allow them time to talk about themselves. That’s vital. I also found it useful to help me distract from my need to think about how to shorten up my answers so I didn’t intimidate the hell out of everyone. Wish I felt like I could give them the truth without doing any damage, but I don’t. After a lifetime of intimidating people simply by being ME, I’ve learned. Keep my answers to a minimum. Never say everything the first time out.

Especially since they don’t know they’re dealing with a 50 year old.

Yeah, I caught it. The inevitable size up when I walked in: female, dark hair, attractive. Oooo! Genuine American accent. We can work with that. And I did my own sizing up. Every face I looked at was at least 15 years younger than me with one exception. One of the directors (and he comes from Minnesota, one of my previous home bases) is probably in his mid 40s. As I chilled and watched, I realized they didn’t know. Didn’t know I was obviously the oldest person in the room. Didn’t know I had almost 20 years experience on each and every one of them.

Once again, I passed. That’s what it feels like. When I was 16 I was passing for 18 to get beer. That looking older than I was trend continued until I hit my mid 20s. Then after a short time (so very short!) when I actually LOOKED my age, I began to look younger than I was. My brother and I make fun of the actor Donald Pleasance for a lot of reasons (just do a Google search for Puma Man film), but the primary one is that Donald Pleasance ALWAYS looked like Donald Pleasance. Go back into the old black and white Outer Limits, 20 years before some of his better known roles, and you can’t miss him: still the same balding head, the same face. Like he’s stuck in time. But you know…I’m kind of a female Donald Pleasance. Put a picture of me in my mid 20s next to a picture of me now and other than having better hair now, I look pretty much the same. It’s kind of a double edged sword. Feels very shallow to complain about it, yet….Yet I find myself out of step with everyone around me. People my age think I’m younger and automatically put in an age gap. I’ve even heard the “you’ll know better when you get to be MY age” from a woman who was, alas, younger than me (I didn’t puncture her ego and set her straight). People younger than me think I’m in their age group but between my ACTUAL age and my RA I just can’t keep up. So far, I’ve been choosing to continue with the charade of being younger. If they don’t question it, why should I? RA is a disease that strikes younger people; it took me down in my mid to late 30s. So any problem with ‘why can’t you do that’ can be explained by my condition.

Still. I feel in-between. It’s rather unsettling. Obviously: I got home at 11 last night, stayed up to midnight, tossed and turned for at least half an hour, and got up by 7. Meh. I’m setting myself up for a world of tiredness tomorrow.

And later today I face my very cute physiotherapist.

Oh, I’ve got to sort myself out over my age! It’s not helping that I have a rather recent memory of a 20 something guy laughing hysterically when I told him old I was. Make no mistake about it: it WAS hysterical laughter; he’d been hitting on me and he freaked out.

Right. Well, when I was first diagnosed with RA I stumbled around for a while not knowing how to tell people. I guess this is the same thing. I should expect to do it wrong a few times until I learn how to accept it myself – right?

I guess this is Opportunity 2. How old am I?

 

Opportunity 1: the long road

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No meeting with the theatre group last night. It’s moved to tonight. Naturally. I did everything I said I was going to do yesterday to prep: took a shower, took care with my hair, carefully chose what I was going to wear AND ironed everything, did a last minute online check on the metro. I was MORE than ready. Of course it was cancelled. Story of my bleeding life. It’s moved to tonight – my post-swim evening. So my hair, despite my best efforts, will be a bit frizzy. I’ll probably yawn at least once, even if I make sure to have some coffee before setting out. And to top off my annoyance today, I’ve been wearing my orthopedic shoes and now have yet another blister on my toe.

All I need to do is drop some food on the outfit I was going to wear and everything I planned will have gone straight down the toilet.

This is one of those times when I just surrender and say, ‘Ok, Universe, for some reason I’m not supposed to go into this meeting looking my best. I can deal. I hear you loud and clear. Now, can you give me some breathing room so I can just get TO the meeting?’ Yeah. That’s how far my expectations have sunk in the short span of 24 hours: I just wanna GET there. No looking my best, no relaxed attitude, just get the fuck there. Yeesh!

Maybe that’s for the best. Maybe my earlier high expectations would have led me to some deep and bitter disappointment tonight. At the moment I expect very little: to show up, to shake the hand of M who’s been my email correspondent on this, and then to spend the majority of the time keeping my mouth shut and doing jack shit. I expect no friendly overtures, no fast connection with anyone. Just a first tentative step into a new social circle. Anything above that will seem like a lot to me right now.

This start/stop stuff has its consequences, too. Been “taking it easy” with my exercise, trying to conserve enough energy so I can DO these things in the evenings. Which means for a few days now I haven’t burned like I’ve been doing, haven’t pushed or sweated…And I miss it. An awful lot. The endorphins, the release, the full body buzz – even the exhaustion that follows. And I’m getting cranky without it. Who’da thunk?

My bro has been busy with advocates and accountants, getting ready for our immigration renewal. Other than a lot of meetings costing a tidy sum, things seem to be going well. No one foresees any problem for us. That’s encouraging. After 14 years in Ireland getting eyed up every year like a bleeding criminal trying to rip off the system, it’s refreshing to see smiles and hear everything’s fine. Latest news on my status is that after five years of toeing the line I’ll have the opportunity to find employment. I’m happy and intimidated by that – happy that I’ll have the chance and intimidated that I won’t physically be capable to handle it. My job now remains what it has been: to keep working on my strength and the language. Keep focused. Keep going. For another three years.

I’m not so worried about the language; three years gives me ample time to continue my studies and improve my Dutch on all fronts. But the physical side…now THAT’S what’s scaring me. So much can happen in such a short time span with RA. I could wake up tomorrow and blow my knees out again and put myself down for another year. I don’t want to, obviously, but I’m well aware it’s within the realm of ‘possible’. For me, that’s where the real gamble is. Even my rheumatologist thinks I’m on the edge of incapacity. Finally did a little research on some of the info she gave me for specialty places that do wrist braces, and every single one of them is a bleeding nursing home. Every. single. one. Fuck. While I’m well pleased that these assisted living places exist and DON’T seem to be administered by the devil himself, my feet are firmly dug into the ground on this: I. don’t want. to go. to a place. like. that. Ever. Even the thought of going there to buy the damned wrist braces turns me off.

Christ, I am a young person caught in and old person’s body. Give me a break! My hair hasn’t even really turned grey yet.

Yeah, I KNOW she didn’t give me that info to suggest on any level that I look into a living space there. Or I think I know. Did she?

I haven’t even had the guts to ask if I’d qualify as disabled.

Mostly because I’m not sure I want to know.

Because if she said yes…If she, a professional, called me disabled, I might just give up. I might start to think it’s okay to back off ‘because I’m disabled’.

I don’t want to back off.

No matter how you cut it, this is the beginning of the last phase of my life. I can feel old age creep up on me. I can see it begin to show in my face. Ugh. It’s worse than you could imagine. Sometimes you begin to think it’s okay to give up, to let time overtake you. I suppose that’s the natural order of things. Your body winds down. You die and give way to other, younger generations.

ARGH!!!! SEE what backing off my endorphin rush is doing to me?!?! Fucking with my head now. Making me macabre (tell me that isn’t a chemical imbalance).

Three more years. One day at a time. That’s 1095 mornings to struggle through. 1095 afternoons of studying Dutch. 1095 days of making myself get some exercise.

1095 opportunities to make a difference in my own life.

It seems like a long road, with a lot of unknowns along the way. But I’m gonna try to take what each day has to give me, and do my best with it.

Here’s to opportunity 1: the long road.