Sunday, February 11, 2007

Clarence, If You're Out There, I Sure Would Like to Hear From You

I'm in a quotation heavy frame of mind, so I'll lead off one with another.
With the eyes of a child
You must come out and see
That your world's spinning round
And through life you will be
A small part of a hope of a love that exists
In the eyes of a child you will see

-- The Moody Blues, "Eyes of a Child", To Our Childrens' Childrens' Children

In that spirit, I today draw upon the writings of a 7 year-old philosopher queen.
I have been to where I am now many times, but I dont have anoufe money to afourd much money for the process, but I may be able to move the building matereals.

-- Iris über Alles, The Royalty

Where I Have Been

This blog is now closing in on seven months of existence, but the external forces that have been driving its creation date back years. Way back then, the questions were ill formed, my vocabulary for articulating them was limited, and the narrative was too murky. I had several false starts and misguided excursions.

One of those instances was near the beginning of 2000. I was in the crucible at the time, but I didn't realize what it was or that it was necessary. My wife was running out of patience with me after two years of therapy and indecision. She wanted to have children more than anything else, and my reluctance brought forth a mixture of melancholy and malice. She was verging on leaving. It was forcing me to self confront the fears I had about parenthood.

I had turned 30 the prior year, with a heavy dose of melancholy of my own. I was still beating myself up on having given up the pursuit of a Ph.D. about four years prior. We were about 3/4 of the way through a painful debt management program, a monthly reminder of how overextended we had been, and how far behind financially we were compared to our friends. We were still renting while many of our friends were already had houses. My wife wanted a house almost as badly as she wanted a baby, so I got my share of grief from my unwillingness to take on a mortgage in the midst of the debt reduction.

I tried to put a word on how I felt, and I managed to come up with the word futile. I didn't know about the notion of existential dread at the time, but I had read Eccelsiastes enough times to know how it felt.

I tried to address those feelings by drawing upon the character of George Bailey in the movie It's a Wonderful Life, a movie that I had watched several times and had just viewed a week or so prior.

I identified with Bailey strongly at the time... someone who had once had dreams of doing better yet always feeling like I had to sacrifice something for the betterment of others. And at this dark stage of my life, like Bailey, I felt like I was "worth more dead than alive."

One of the underlying messages of that movie is that the most meaningful things we do are not always the ones that get the most glory by society at large. We don't realize how important they are until we are shown what didn't happen because of our actions.

From this, I got a sliver of inspiration. Perhaps if one defined life as a struggle to defy futility, one could find purpose and happiness in that. I thought about writing an essay on it, but it was hard for me to build it into a coherent system of thought, so the words never made it to pixels. I tried talking with my wife about the idea, but it made her eyes glaze over.

The idea would eventually fade into the background. Looking back, I'm glad that I never wrote the essay because I lacked the emotional foundation (differentiation) from which to build real meaning.

Tell Me Once Again, Why Am I Here?
And so I face the wall
Turn my back against it all
How I wish I'd been unborn
Wish I was unliving here

-- Eurythmics, "Sexcrime", 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother)

And so at this hour, during some of the coldest days of the year, I find my soul standing on that truss bridge, eyeing the water below, cursing the dilemmas I face, wishing that the life that gave rise to them had never existed.

It is three days before I turn 38, and it signifies the end of that six-month countdown within which I was to decide whether my marriage was worth holding onto. This is my first two-choice dilemma. It is further complicated by a second dilemma, born from the uncertain future of my current employer. The search for a new job has reminded me of a horrible fact: my skills don't find much demand in the local job market, and there are many other places where they do, but they are far away.

The linkage between the dilemmas came into much starker relief on Friday night. The kids were away for a couple days with my dad and stepmom, and my wife and I had gone out to dinner. Somehow, we got on the subject of one of her friend's friends, who lives and works in Japan. This led my wife to bring up my own job search.

She said, "You realize that if you wind up getting that job with (the really big software company in the Pacific Northwest), you'll probably be subject to a non-compete agreement that might keep you from taking other jobs in the event that you're unhappy and want to move on." I said that such agreements usually apply only to areas where one's knowledge of a company's intellectual property could be used by a competitor. They couldn't ban me from writing code altogether. I said that if it came to a point where I did get an offer, I would make sure I knew what I was signing onto. I had done so in the past, and I wasn't going to stop doing it.

She then turned teary eyed and asked if there was some way I could ask them to set up the Far Far Away Lite situation. That is, I work longer hours for a shorter week and then come home for a long weekend. I told her that it wasn't likely with a job like this. Looking more distraught, "Couldn't you at least ask them?" She then put her cards on the table, crying and telling me that she did not want to move. She didn't want to be out there all alone, leaving behind her support network of friends (mostly other preschool moms). She also said that it would be my responsibility to break the news to my dad and stepmom, who would be devastated.

This was one of Schnarch's maxims playing itself out in full force (emphasis mine):
What's an example of a crucible in marriage? How about the fact that your spouse can always force you to choose between keeping your integrity and staying married, between "holding onto yourself" and holding onto your partner. These integrity issues often surface around sex and intimacy -- about what the two of you will and won't do together. They can just as easily arise over issues about money, parenting, in-laws, and lifestyle. The more emotionally enmeshed you and your spouse are -- fused in my lingo -- the more you will push this choice right down to the wire. Stay in the marriage or get divorced. The key is not to lose your nerve or get overreactive or locked into an inflexible position. I know that's tough when you think your marriage is about to explode -- or you're about to sell out your beliefs, preferences, or dreams. But it's actually part of the people-growing process in marriage. (Schnarch, Passionate Marriage, p. 47)

Schnarch invokes the phrase people growing machinery when talking about marriage. Sometimes, I wonder if that apparatus looks like a rack.

Our relocation conversation didn't get much past that point. I struggled to be permeable, acknowledging the anxiety she was facing. I told her that I was grateful for her being honest with me. I knew from my reading that in order for communication to be effective, the recipient has to be mature enough to accept the message. That didn't mean I had to give up non-local job searches, but it did mean that I had to suppress the reptilian urge to invalidate her feelings.

The only way I could see an employer agreeing to the work four long/go home for three option was through a short-term contract, where the services that I provided were of high enough value to include a big travel allowance. I don't know if that kind of setup exists, but it might be the best option in the short run.

I had a horrible time sleeping that night. I was stressing about the present and future. Even after budget cuts, we are barely getting by, and we're only a couple of incidental expenses away from falling really far behind. I work for an employer that is flying by the seat of its pants, and the only local jobs I can get interviews are short term contracts with no benefits or little increase in pay.

My wife doesn't want to upset her own world to make things better, so I am left to reconcile the unmet ends. In my gut, this feels fundamentally unjust. As I've mentioned before on this blog, I feel like there is no room for me in my own life. Yet, I feel like there is no recourse I could take that would not do damage elsewhere. Like the shivering Mr. Bailey, I find myself instead wishing that I was never born.

A Smoldering Wick Will I Not Snuff Out?

We spent most of Saturday taking care of errands and shopping. One of the errands involved getting my tires checked, because I suspected that at least one of them had a very slow leak. That involved dropping off the car and using the minivan to get around. We talked about possibly going to see a movie in the evening.

After the shopping was done and the car was ready for pickup, my wife dropped me off at the tire shop. She said she was going to run to another store to look for more clothes. I headed for home, stopping to get the car refueled.

About an hour later, my wife comes home. I have the movie times on the computer screen and read off what's showing at the theater for which we have some gift certificates. She comes back into the room and whispers into my ear saying, "Why don't you go to (the nearby bookstore) for about 45 minutes while I get something ready for your birthday present?"

I smile, and I complied. I knew what she was up to, and I was appreciative. After about 30 minutes of browsing in the store, I got a call from my wife on my cell phone. She asked me if it was hard concentrating and wanted to know if I was excited. Then she kicked into the unrealistic promise mode, saying that she wanted to have five orgasms and asked me if I was up to that. In reality, I knew she couldn't make it much past two, but that's how she is.

She then told me to head down to an adult gift shop (the kind that's caters more to the feminine demographic) to pick up some things. I asked her what she had in mind; she said that I should pick something out that turns me on, like edible undies. So I headed over to the store. I picked out the undies, but still had some money left over for . I was feeling orally playful, so I picked up a couple of packets of fruit flavored lubricant and some of that pop rock candy. The package advertised a list of suggestions for games that one could play with the candy. While I was shopping, she called me on the cell phone again to see if I was almost done.

I got home with supplies in tow. She was waiting on the coffee table, dressed up in some new lingerie. To the disappointment of the vicarious thrill seekers, I'll pan the camera away from the scene and fade out of focus.

Rather than spell out everything in detail, I'll give a cursory summary. She did get to two orgasms, one self induced with the toy, and the other wrought in the bedroom with a blend of oral and the toy.

We did use a few squirts of the canned whipped cream she had bought, but didn't use any of the stuff that I bought from the gift shop. She seemed to be in a hurry to get to intercourse after her second orgasm. Afterwards, she was pretty wiped out, apologizing that she couldn't do more. She said, "You know me, I talk big."

She told me that for future reference, she found it much more comfortable to fondle me because I was wearing pajama pants to bed. She said that it helped her to get around her "sensory issues" with touching my nether regions.

After an hour of rest from the first round, I tried to press my luck with a quickie. I knew that she wouldn't be there for a full blown effort. She agreed, but it was mostly her just lying there, so I wasn't able to really get anywhere, so I gave up.

On Sunday morning, I tried initiating wake up sex. It was the first time I had done that in almost seven years. That was responded with a "What are you doing?" That didn't get me anywhere, so I just gave myself a solo raincheck for the shower later on that morning.

I hear the voice of Michele Weiner-Davis in my mind, wagging her finger at me saying that I should "accept the gift of love." It certainly is more than what some other bloggers are getting. But on the other hand, I can't help but feel disappointed when there is overpromising involved. If I were to do something like this in any other area of our lives, I know she would feel let down.

At the heart of the ambivalence is what this portends. Is it an infrequent, unpredictable blip, or is it the sign of slow improvement? If it is the former, then I am just setting myself up for future frustration, but if it's the latter, then my disappointment seems awfully petty. With a huge deadline looming, I need to keep a level head, not too quick to invalidate my feelings of non-fulfillment, yet not willing to totally discount what may be a good faith effort on her part.

At this point, I'm inclined to think that I need to make my dissatisfaction known to my wife. It needs to be a serious, yet respectful discussion. I also have to be prepared for the possibility that she is not ready to receive that message, that she may respond emotionally and try to make me feel guilty for having those feelings. Holding onto myself means that I am willing to risk invalidation to disclose.

And so we come full circle, because my dilemma is complicated by the presence of two small children in my life, who deserve my love and my fullest consideration. I doubt myself, wondering if these thoughts of giving up on my marriage are just narcissism in disguise. The lyrics of the song that opened this post haunt me, reminding me that I am "a small part of a hope of a love that exists in the eyes of a child."

Since my life isn't directed by Frank Capra, I don't have the luxury of a divinely dispatched guardian to help me elucidate the cosmic truth from my confusion. Instead, I plan to talk about all of this further with my therapist tomorrow. Hopefully getting this down on pixels tonight will allow me to sleep more soundly than I have the past few days.
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