I’ve been thinking about an exchange from back when A was in middle school. Walking in those halls, I bumped into someone I’d once worked near when I was the training department’s tame tech support. She had a child at that middle school as well, but was evidently there in her role as a performance consultant (in private practice by then). I was there more or less because of my role as A’s parent — I was volunteering somehow, perhaps as a school store cashier, perhaps as a library shelving page. We chatted, this colleague and I, and at some point — talking about how she saw her practice? — she commented on how much it bothered her to see folk like myself underemployed. I guess my face changed, for she backpedaled in a hurry. I remember that I was reacting to an implicit idea that since I no longer (a) took care of computers (b) earned money for what I did I was, therefore, underemployed. (Long before I landed in seminary I disliked capitalism’s valuations of which work matters!)
And still and yet: I was underemployed.
The school store offered a mildly amusing activity that gave me visual access to that terrible arena, the middle school cafeteria. I was profoundly worried for my A, knowing middle school’s social currents to be treacherous and knowing her to be exquisitely attuned to others’ feelings and motivations. Storekeeping itself didn’t remotely engage my brain or heart… which was fine insofar as I wanted those energies for A-cherishing, for insights into what I knew she’d never voice.
Once we’d been spat out the other side of those first-year rapids (life with A tends to be a collaborative experience), I moved to shelving, an activity I found — and find — deeply soothing in its gentle affirmation of orderedness. My brain and heart were still all-in for A-cherishing, but that work happened elsewhere and at other times. A dose of edge-justified alphabetized fiction renewed me in little ways for the larger work.
And consuming as this work was, important as this work was, it didn’t touch my making- and learning-self.
Hungry; too drained to feed myself.
These days I no longer have seminary’s formal education to help me feed my making- and learning-self, and given the past four years of regular meals, my brain-belly feels pinched. Conjuring a Big Paper from scratch in order to send it off to doctoral programs might’ve been a good meal, but I felt so time-pressed — finished with not even two days to spare-! — it was more a case of bolting my food and ending up with indigestion.
As often happens to me, both before and since then my energy to learn and make outwardly unasked-for things ends up bleeding away. I struggle to gin up effort in what feels like void.
All the while I can tell I’m bored and blocked, wishing for a world of shared swirling ideas… making and learning would keep me closer to my center, less of a prey to acedia’s “what does it matter,” would bring sparks and maybe fire.
I’m underemployed again.
Self-employed, so how do I build — sustain! — what I need?
How do I make this work?