Friday, September 19, 2008

Dancing Queen(s)

I took a break today and joined a friend at the movie 'Mamma Mia'. I was ready to hear the goofy ABBA soundtrack and lose myself in utter frivolity. As the movie began, I was immediately entranced with the gorgeous Greek scenery and the blythe spirit of the lead actress who is preparing for her wedding to be held the next day. (It put me in mind of myself when I lived down in the Caribbean, though, thankfully, I didn't have to sing and I was a long way from getting married, lol.)

The story began to unfold and we eventually meet Meryl Streep in the form of free-spirited Donna. Well, actually, when we meet Donna she's at the point in her life when she's discovered that nothing is free, not even your spirit. She loves her daughter and the ecclectic life they've created for themselves at the top of the mountain in Hotel Donna. But, she also sees the cracks, broken (or breaking) parts and knows that she's gotta hold it all together with limited resources. Her friends arrive for the big event and, in an effort to lighten her mood, humorously remind her of their shared identities from the past: Donna and the Dynamos. At first she resists, but then that infectious ABBA song "Dancing Queen" draws her out from under the covers and into a joyous romp through the countryside with her friends close behind and, eventually, all the local women who follow them down to the dock. Her spirit is released from the fears of work done, undone and yet to be done. As she dances down the mountain, women feel her joyous energy and it draws out their own inner Dancing Queen who rarely gets to come out and revel all that is the best of the world.

As I watched this scene, I felt my eyes welling up and I brushed away a few tears. I remembered my own days of dancing with joyful abandon, sometimes in the great outdoors, more often at home in front of the mirror sneaking peeks at myself but mostly keeping my eyes closed and feeling the music. I really related to the Donna character in the movie and I know many women who are in a similar place. Caregivers for the world to the detriment of themselves. There's no anger or resentment for that role, however, like me (and Donna) they get misty-eyed and wistful when the music starts and remember what it felt like to just follow it without worry. This is becoming a more common theme in the lives of women I know. We're at that point of the road where the caregiving responsibilities are building up, but the expectations of worldly production are still expanding. There is no neutral zone, very few moments to follow music or let that blythe spirit loose.

Let me give you a recent example of this. Last week my father came up from Rockport for refuge from Hurricane Ike. He's a great guy, well-read, traveled and interested in the world. He's also 77 and has lived alone for a very long time. As such, he needs a fair amount of attention, especially in an unfamiliar environment. I found myself immensely frustrated with the added responsibility and equally disappointed in myself for that feeling. After a couple of days we all got into a balanced rhythm, but it required me to let go of my wish that Dad was more self-sufficient and him being more proactive in having an enjoyable visit. As Dad was leaving on Monday, Keith and I were on the phone trying to locate an attendant who was late (he finally showed up an hour late). I think it was good for Dad to spend time on the front line observing all that I'm juggling, however, it made me realize that he's aging in ways beyond the physical and that concerns me greatly. My sisters and I have encouraged him to move closer but he's well-rooted in Rockport, which is about 4 hours away by car and inaccessible by airplane. Naturally, my primary focus is Keith and all we have in play, but Dad is always an underlying thought.

Those responsibilities could either pull me under or drive me upward towards a stronger, more focused (her)self. I have experienced the former, and conciously chosen the latter. Since making this choice, every action I take is about strengthening mind, body and spirit in readiness for whatever transpires. It is in conscious communication, daily body work at the gym, it is reinvigorating abundance energy with books like Money and the Law of Attraction and personal activism on all levels. It is all these things and one heretofore quiet Dancing Queen who's ready to dance again and activate (her)self.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Shift Work

Today marks the 3-1/2 month mark since Keith returned from the hospital. His healing is going even better than anticipated and we've finally worked out the attendant schedule so that I can leave for the gym every day and at least lunch with friends once a week. In fact, just this morning I was thinking that now that everything was in balance, it was time for me to get a regular job. You know, the kind that comes with a desk, computer, maybe my own little cubicle. Something with regular hours and a steady paycheck. Not that I've had (or sought) that kind of job for over 15 years, but with all the chaos we've experienced this year, a little job comfort sounded good. But then the phone rang.

At approximately 1:23p Keith's afternoon attendant called in sick. He covers the 2-8p weekday shift. The morning attendant was still here, but it wasn't feasible for her to stay. So, that made me the designated attendant for today. It's not a difficult job, and I am happy to help Keith, but, damn, it's not my job. And I don't get to go to the gym or sleep (Keith was very congested last night which meant I had to suction his chest a few times). Additionally, we had a business meeting at 6p today so I played the dual role of personal care attendant and serious business person. His evening attendant arrived at 8pm which is helpful, but doesn't make up for the 6 hours missed today.

So, needless to say, the thought of a 'real job' is rather laughable in the current context. I never know when I'll be called upon to take a shift. If the attendants are new, I have to be here to supervise and, to an extent, train. And even the well-trained reliable ones get sick and have lives. A job outside the house? I've got at least 5 here: managing our home, the attendants, Keith's business life, my business life and, oh yeah, my identity beyond all that. What the hell was I thinking?

What I'm thinking is that I need to be financially productive, which, to me, means more than the unpaid backup attendant. The cost of healing is rising and I know I have valuable skills with which I can easily churn cash to not only lessen the burden but also put us ahead of the game. Before February 18, 2008 I had major projects in play and I thought they were going to be my work for many years to come. They are still there all of them big, impactful, full of personality, but not particularly personal. Now my work is nothing but personal. So, I’ll keep living the story and sharing it here. Without a doubt my job is caregiver, I am still discovering how to put the ‘h’ in that word.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

It's a girl thing

I have to admit that I am disappointed that Hillary is no longer the designated Presidential candidate for the express reason that I truly believe she would have the empathy and the power to create an equitable healthcare solution. Women are uniquely qualified to address healthcare for the core reason that no matter how we try to 'equalize' roles, women are the designated nurterers and caregivers in a relationship. When Hillary's mother needs assistance, her daughter Hillary will be expected to answer the call. When Hillary needs help, it will be Chelsea. Healthcare, for the most part, is a 'girl' thing.

When I talk about healthcare, I'm not talking about just creating new institutional plans. Or developing new drugs, designing new machines or other gadgets to extend life. What I'm talking about is the person who makes using those plans, drugs and machines worthwhile. Activating the value is most often women's work, as it has been since the first caveman grunted "ouch".

This all used to be theory to me. However, since February 18, 2008, I have been experiencing this truth on every level possible. That was the day that my husband, Keith Hogan, entered the hospital and my role changed forever.

About me. I've always worked. I began babysitting at the age of 12 and my first 'real' job at a florist at age 15. My jobs have ranged from crewing day sails in the Caribbean to working at a major accounting firm to my own entrepreneurial ventures. The unifying factor in all of them was that I was only truly responsible for myself and could follow my work chi anywhere it drew me.

Once Keith was intubated and put on a ventilator, the underlying theme to all my work became his recovery. I still kept the fires burning on my own ventures and kept his in balance as best I could, but his health was (and is) the engine driving everything.

As his health has improved, I have found myself ruminating about what my work really is these days and what role I have in life. I'm primarily seen as the caregiver, life manager and agent-in-the-world for Keith by people who have mostly known me through him. They don't know about iCREATE, my work in branding and developing commercial products, books awaiting publishing and other global ideas that I've been nurturing for years. However, my friends who have known me for years do know and are easing back into my life to remind me that that world is awaiting my return.

So, I'm betwixt and between. I have an immediate identity of caregiver that makes others comfortable and, in many ways, simplifies my life. But it denies the complexity of who I am and what I want to do in the world. I love my husband and am committed to our life together. However, I am not out to simply be the 'wind beneath his wings' and he neither wants nor expects me to be. But, when do I do this? When does any woman leave the nest to feel the wind under her own wings?