Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Things That Imperfectionists Shouldn't Do

I am very, very good at doing things. Granted, those things are often done less than perfectly, which nine times out of ten is just fine for Real Life and Getting By and you know, Survival, which has pretty much been my mode of existence for the last 22 years. But as the years go on and the Survival gets less Survivally because I start to figure how to mostly just do the things that I am good at and shuffle the things I am not-so-good at off on to other people who do them better, it becomes more glaringly obvious when I am doing things wrong.

I have done a pretty good job at convincing one or two people for a very brief period of time that I have All The Skills and know Prettymuch Everything. This leads to the expectation that I can handle shit on my own and accomplish things. But just because I told you that I got signed off by the Forest Service to drive around with a 20 foot utility trailer does NOT automatically mean that I know anything about driving with trailers. I mean, these are the people that let my oldest daughter run a chain saw, for Heaven's Sake. Even so, I have had to make good on all of my bad-ass bluffing from time to time and drive with a trailer. Even a trailer that is loaded down with a loosely stacked, fly-way, wanton pile of trash and a seriously lack of good tie-downs. I feel like at this point I should give myself a pat on the back for having tie-downs at all, or thinking of them, even if I did have to borrow them from my daughter's boyfriend. But still. The thing is, how EXACTLY do you tie down loosely stacked, wanton trash that would just as soon float along the highway as be planted forever in a big smelly landfill? I mean can you blame it?

nailed it. 


Well if you're me, you half-ass cover it with a mostly shredded tarp that is more holes than solid, and then you drive fast enough that the cars coming along behind you won't know where the odds-and-ends of carelessly strewn remnants of a former life along the road came from. Because I do things IMperfectly. Certain husbands of friends and relations who occasionally shake their heads at me and repair my toilets and stuff would be happy to know that at least this time, I actually hooked the trailer up the RIGHT way, which is no small feat since the actual ball receiver on the hitch somehow got twisted. As in, perhaps SOME ONE at SOME POINT that I was once married to actually flipped the poor trailer and it still hasn't recovered completely. Anyway, it was hooked up right and completely, if not perfectly, this time. And I made it to the dump without anyone catching up to me to tell me that I lost a broken Rubbermaid tote at mile marker 277.

It was a stressful drive, since I have some trust issues with trailers anyway. But I made it to the dump and I unloaded all of the garbage, without even saving any of it in case somebody could use it for something (once again, a HUGE accomplishment for a Stecker). But the most important part of all of this, and the thing that was causing palpable anxiety for the forty minute drive (other than the gas light that came on right outside of Northport), was Backing The Trailer Up.

All I could hope for was a desolate landscape with no witnesses to the 117 point adjustment it would take me to get the 12 foot trailer backed into a space 20 yards wide. But alas, it was not to be. Some hairy redneck with a stakeside truck was right in the middle of the 20 yards target, throwing out his load of tobacco cans and carpet scraps with questionable stains. I took a deep breath and I did my best. My best invariable involves me chanting instructions to myself out loud, interspersed with curse words. Things like 'wheels go opposite' and 'left is right' and 'next time hire somebody' as I eyed my backwards approach.

But guess what, you guys? I did it. PERFECTLY. Without a single pull-forward-straighten-out. I backed that puppy right into almost exactly where I intended and it was even aligned straightly with the redneck stakeside. I would've taken a picture but I didn't want him to judge be for being superficial while I was throwing away my collection of wine bottles, rain-soaked self-help books, broken surround sound system and mate-less socks. Image is everything, my friends, even if it is imperfect.






Monday, May 15, 2017

Things About Control (or lack thereof)


Turns out, there are very few things over which I have any level of control.

Turns out, this is true most of all when it comes to the people I love.

My span of ACTUAL control goes about as far as what I am eating for breakfast... and even then I have to wonder what is really in the Fruity Pebbles that I am annihilating. Does anyone know?

I can make a week's worth of healthy dinners and leave them ready to heat and destroy for my kids and come home to find everything untouched and a case of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese missing from the pantry. (OK, I can't pretend they didn't learn something from me.) But the harder I try, the less control I have. Whether it's making rules and setting curfews and measuring skirt hemlines, or trying to track down 20 year old who's been missing for a week in the Himalayas (don't worry, she didn't die) - the more effort expended, the result just seems to be heightened anxiety on my part and teenage girls dressed like hookers.

I can't stop my adult children from making adult decisions any more than my parents could have stopped me at 23 years old from moving into a straw building with dirt floors and giving birth, unsupervised, to a baby in early January. I know it's the decisions like this that form us into the Real People we will become, ones who know better than dirt floors and arranged marriages and not telling your mother where you are in Nepal for a week. But getting through all of those life choices and the aftermath thereof is way more brutal from the outside looking in than it is as a 23 year old who is making her own damn poor choices.

Worst of all, I cannot fix the broken hearts that I would have fought so hard to avoid. But the fight is always against the windmills of my own experience that have NOTHING whatsover to do with the heartaches that my children will face. I can shape their growing up experience to make sure the results are absolutely different than my own and they will still wreck their own hearts in some magical way that I never thought of.

It leaves me standing on the sidelines with my arms cut off at the shoulders so I can't even cheer effectively. Helpless. Just watching. Unable to close my eyes or look away as they tackle life without the appropriate protective equipment. This, my friends, is why wine was invented. All those middle eastern mothers back-in-the-day finding a way to keep their grapes from molding as they watched their 11-year-old-daughters marry the rich uncles of their husbands. (See, it can always be worse.)

Even the most powerful men and women in the world haven't figured out a way to cure heartache or depression or to protect their loved ones from it - in fact if anything, they've probably propagated more of it than poor simpletons like me - at least I'd like to think so.

I don't like not having answers and not having control and not having solutions and fixes for the things that could hurt my people. I don't like feeling like an accessory to their heartache because of things I didn't warn them about or couldn't prevent from happening. But that's the cost of loving people, I guess. Feeling their pain right along with them and not being able to do a damn thing about it.

Except listen. Or hold a hand. Or just be, quietly, here. So that when they come back from the Himalayas and the dirt-floor-huts and the happily-never-after, they aren't alone. And we can all go tackle our windmills together.

Things About Plans

I used to be really good at laughing at All the Things that didn't go as planned in Life - which happened to consistently be All the Things. Somewhere along the way I seem to have lost this skill, even though All of the Things in Life still do not go as planned. And I guess it makes sense, since the things that are not going according to plan aren't nearly as easy to find the humor in as they used to be. I mean, the kids who used to be pooping in the bathtub and sending their scandalized sister climbing up the slippery tub surround wall are now wandering around developing countries alone and making decisions that will change their lives forever. Not that floaters hiding under bubble bath can't be permanently scarring, but they're also funnier than things like, oh, say, Marriages of Convenience or dying in a Himalayan crevasse. But NOT finding the humor in all of the unplanned things certainly doesn't make them any easier to live with, and the things certainly don't seem to have any intention of going any more according to plan than they always have.

Figure A - the Planning to Plan Planning P
Planning has been thrust into the forefront of my thought process a lot lately. This is due in part to no fewer than three training sessions this spring with the federal government that were super keen on applying the principles of the new Planning to Plan Planning P (see figure A) that someone at FEMA came up with in an apparent fit of brilliance (according to someone at FEMA). It's also due in part to the realization that has been dawning on me that while as Roald Amundsen so aptly states: "Adventure is just bad planning," one can only have so many adventures before exhaustion takes over and everything just spirals into chaos. Another reason planning has become a major theme in my life lately could possibly have to do with the late emergence of a Very Important Person who is not only a professional planner, but also a Reasonable Human Being who is probably only interested in tolerating so much chaos ADVENTURE.

So I have been working on a plan. A good plan. Because I've been very good at bad planning and lots of adventure, but now I would like to try some good planning and see how that goes. And because I have some specific goals that I intend to achieve, like not letting Life get the best of me - which is much more specific than it sounds - and things of that nature. Some French dude once said that "A goal without a plan is just a wish", and for what it's worth, I have dropped my share of pennies in the wishing well.
or just on track, ever. 

But in the midst of all the planning I have been forgetting to find the humor in All the Things that don't play out according to plan. And that's an important skill to have because if you can't laugh at Life then you'd better believe that Life is sure-the-hell gonna be laughing at you. I'd like to keep everything even on that playing field. And I think Life knows by now that I can take whatever she dishes out.