The Fear—and Power—of Saying “No”

I have a very difficult time saying no. Many people have this problem. It’s the fear of losing a job or opportunity, disappointing someone, or both.Say-NO

For me, it’s both, but it’s particularly the former. I think it’s because I’m not 25 anymore and I’m just starting to figure things out, which means I have only just recently begun getting involved in the things that interest me. Why did it take this long for me to come to an understanding of myself? I don’t know. Some people know exactly what they want to do when they’re kids. Like this teenager, who, at 15 years old, cooks gourmet, restaurant-quality food. He’s passionate about what he does, and knows exactly what path he will be taking.

I envy that. I really do. If only I’d known at 15 what I wanted to do, I may have saved myself a lot of trouble. I knew I wanted to write, that goes without saying. But it was drilled in me that writing was not a profitable profession. I needed to do something that would earn me money. I thought about being a teacher, a psychologist, a veterinarian, a music producer—but for one reason or another, I didn’t pursue any of those. In the end, I went into the publishing business, and that is a saga unto itself.

But back to the subject.

So, here I am at XX age and am finally enjoying the things I’m doing. The problem is, I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do. And I don’t have the next 20+ years to network and “go places.” Well, at least not where my career is concerned. And so I say “yes” to everything.

My life lately has consisted of a 9-to-5 job, commuting 15 hours a week, freelance work (because I really need the money), 3 anthologies with which I am involved in various capacities, writing projects with actual, concrete deadlines, projects with non-concrete deadlines, events that I am participating in, preparing for panels at GCLS, a cat on medication, and numerous other things. Oh, yeah, and zumba class.

I’ve said yes to everything. Why? Because I have a lot of catching up to do. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret any of it. But there’s only so much a person can take physically. I don’t get enough sleep, and I haven’t rested in weeks. Well, I lay down and closed my eyes for about a half hour last week after spending the day with my mother, who had a medical procedure. Other than that, zilch on the resting.

But I think at some point, I’ll need to start saying no. That will be a very difficult thing for me, but if I’m going to live to see the next decade, I’m going to have to learn. By learning to say no, I will probably take control of my life, and feel like I have a say in what happens to me. I think that when I do say the word “no,” it will mean that I finally have the self-confidence to pick and choose what I do. Saying no says that you have the power.

For now, this is my life. And, hopefully, I will reap the rewards, and feel like my life has been enriched for all the experiences.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Do you believe in signs?

I don’t, and I’ll tell you why.

There were many times when I saw “signs,” which, by anyone’s definition would be something that appears in a person’s life that connects them to something specific. Right? Which, translated, would be some sort of coincidence.

Okay, so I’ve experienced many such coincidences and felt so sure that it meant X, Y, or Z. But they turned out to be no such thing. I couldn’t understand because coincidences can be so on point that it’s hard not to believe that there’s significance behind them.

For example, when I was job hunting years ago, I would read something about—let’s just say—strawberry jam and how good it is for you. And then, lo and behold, I would see a job posting at Strawberry Jam magazine.

Things like that.

Do you believe that everything happens for a reason? If so, then it’s easy to believe in signs. So then my question becomes, if everything happens for a reason, why then did these coincidences, or signs, occur with no corresponding results?

Obviously, this is a question that no one can answer as a fact, but I’m sure that many of you have opinions on the matter, and I’d be curious to hear them.

What’s up with these coincidences, and why do these carrots get dangled in front of me?

 

The Road Not Taken

Many things have changed for me in the last few years, in all aspects of my life—my work life, my love life, and my writing life. And in all those areas, I’m meeting many new people and doing many new things. All of which have led me to a lot of thinking about roads taken and not taken.

It all starts off with realizing that such-and-such event happened as a result of X, Y, and Z, and had I not done X, Y, and Z, such-and-such wouldn’t have happened.

I’m not talking about the results of deliberate efforts, of working toward those particular goals. If you work really hard at your job with the intention of moving up the ladder and you become a VP,  that’s a result of intentional steps taken.

I’m talking about decisions that we make and roads that we take without really knowing what the consequences will be, or that there will even be consequences. Who knew that picking up a particular book in a bookstore would lead me to do certain things that in turn led me to meet certain people and become active in the lesfic community?Road-Free-Wallpaper-520x325

One of my biggest regrets in life is taking the job I took right after I graduated from college. It was not the job I wanted, but I took it because I was insecure and felt that if I didn’t take what was offered to me, I would never get a job. So instead of continuing the search for the kind of job I wanted, I settled for that one, and that set me a path that I wouldn’t be able to diverge from for many years. I’m so far away from where I thought I’d be now professionally. In fact, I’m not even in the neighborhood. Maybe if I’d held out for a different job, I’d be happy in that respect. Maybe I’d be in a great position making great money and doing great things.

But then I start to wonder if all the good things that are happening in my life now would be happening anyway had I made different decisions.  The reason I picked up that book that day was because I had a few minutes to kill before meeting with my writer’s group and stepped into Border’s to browse. If I hadn’t taken the job I took right after college, I wouldn’t have met the people who would become my writer’s group; I wouldn’t have been meeting them for a session; I wouldn’t have gone into Border’s and found that book; and I wouldn’t have joined the lesfic community and be doing the things that I’m doing now as a lesfic writer.

Or would I? I mean, was becoming a lesfic community part of my destiny? If I had held out for the job of my choosing after college, would Destiny have found a different way for me to get here?

Of course, I’ll never know the answer to that. Some people say that there are no coincidences, that everything in life happens for a reason. I don’t know if that’s true, but it really opens up so many questions and possibilities.

Everything that I’m doing right now as a writer can all be traced back to that moment that I picked up that book in Border’s, and the state of my working life is the direct result of that choice I made after graduation. It ultimately doesn’t mean anything because things are what they are, and I can’t go back and unmake any of the choices I made.

I wish there was a crystal ball I could look into to see how my life would have turned out had I made different decisions. Or maybe we’re all better off not having that ability. I could see many unhappy results of that. And many happy ones, too. But who knows?

All we can really hope for is that we made the right choices, even if we don’t know it. That, in the long run, the paths we choose take us where we need to be. And if mistakes are made, that they were meant to be made so that we could learn something, either about ourselves or about making choices.

Robert Frost wrote the poem “The Road Not Taken” and his philosophy was that you should make the choice that’s right for you, and not just the one that everyone chooses. Go with your gut and heart, not with the popular choice. Frost’s last stanza:

I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference.

 

The Tiger Behind the Tree

All my life, I have fought my gut. What I mean is, I’ve gone against my instincts. Just like a gazelle can sense a tiger nearby (let’s just assume that they co-exist in the same habitat), we all have an innate sense of danger, that thing inside of us that tells us that bad things are lurking somewhere around us. Of course, danger comes in many different guises.

I’ve often regretted not listening to my instincts because they were usually right. And I discovered that to be true yet again this past month. Only this time, I did listen to my instincts and I was glad that I did.Gazelle

So, I’ll briefly tell you a metaphorical story. I was invited to a party out on the savanna. I got a little hungry on the way there, so I spotted a fruit tree and started to make my way over to it. (Don’t tell me that fruit trees don’t grow on savannas—it doesn’t matter.) But my gut told me that there was something wrong. At first, I ignored my gut and started to move toward the tree, but after every step I took, I stopped and hesitated. Then I heard a scary noise. That did it—I turned and ran. Turned out, there was a tiger lurking behind the tree, ready to jump out and pounce on me. But it’s okay. I didn’t get hungry. I found another tree where there was no tiger lurking.

I will admit that part of the reason that I followed my gut was because I had a lot to do at the party and I told myself that I didn’t have time to stop for that fruit. But, ultimately, it was my gut telling me to run.

In the real-life situation, I was supposed to act on something, but kept putting it off. Every time it entered my head to do it, something kept telling me to hold off. I realized that my gut had stopped me from doing it.Tijger

The human instinct is a fascinating thing. It reminds us that we really still are part of the animal kingdom, except that we fight it. Why do we fight it? Is being in tune with the world beneath us? I think the opposite is true. We should be humbled by the world around us and be honored when the world tries to help us in some way.

The world helps gazelles by whispering “danger” in their ears. The gazelles listen. Why don’t we?

Hope Springs Eternal

For the past 2 weeks, I’ve been holding my breath. A co-worker told me that she’d heard on the news (and from another person in our facility) that the flu season would be done in two weeks. Of course, I took this with a grain of salt. There was no guarantee that that would be the case. Yet, a spark of hope was there, and I’ve been praying that it would come to pass. (For those of you who don’t know, I declined the flu vaccine and have to wear a mask all the time. My boss is being a big prick about it.)

Well, it’s Friday, the end of the second week, and we haven’t heard anything. It’s rather disappointing, but the good news is that if there were predications being made this early on, then the end must be soon.

At least, I hope.

Throughout my time at this facility, which in April will be four years, my boss has treated me unfairly and with a degree of viciousness. The kind that comes under the guise of “joking.”

Believe me when I tell you that I’m not being paranoid. All of my immediate co-workers have said to me at one time or another, “He only ever seems to pick on you. Why does he always pick on you?”

I could write an entire blog about all the nastiness he’s dealt out to me over the years, but it would be terribly long. My biggest issue is the inequality with which I am treated. He holds me to a different standard.

Before you say anything, he’s gay and the entire office staff is female at this point. So I can’t use the sexist/sexual attraction/woman-hating reasonings because then he’d be treating everyone that way. He and I are like water and oil—we just don’t mix, and it’s been that way since day one. And he is in a position to put me through the ringer.

I have a very busy life and many things to think about all the time. The last thing I want to pile on is filing a case with HR over this. The only thing I want at this point is to get the hell out of there. I’ve applied to many, many, many, many jobs and nothing has come through. I’m trying to hold it together long enough to hand in my resignation and tell my boss to lick my ass (which, being a gay man would probably horrify him more than anything else).

I have a few resumes that went out recently, so I’m asking everyone to send good thoughts, vibes, juju, mojo, prayers, whatever you want to call it, my way. I’m not a religious person but I will not turn away any positive intentions.

So, bring it on, and thanks in advance. :-)

To Fight or Not to Fight

BigPinkHeartFirst, as this post falls on Valentine’s Day, I want to wish all the love birds out there a happy, romantic day and an even better evening. Cherish the one you love and treat her the way she deserves to be treated, the way you want to be treated. A little compassion, some respect, and a pinch of patience make for a great relationship.

Now, onto other things.

In a recent therapy session, my therapist told me that I always seem to be looking for a fight, that I’m in constant fight mode.

I didn’t disagree. In fact, I knew that already. I don’t know if it’s because I live in New York City and have to practically get into knock-down drag-outs for parking spots. Or because I was bullied as a child and always had to defend myself. Or because I’ve had to fight for everything I’ve ever wanted, including respect and recognition.

So, do I keep fighting or not? There are two factions in this debate.

  1. Those who say to keep fighting will say that it’s the only way to get what you want. No one will hand you anything in life. If you don’t fight, people will walk all over you. For every scrap of food, there are many, many hungry people who want it and you need to show your strength and dominance. Survival of the fittest. Life is too short to squander it. Do not go gently into that good night. Go down fighting.
  1. Those who say to stop fighting, will say that life is too short to spend it fighting. After all that fighting, you still might not get what you want, and all you’ll end up with is wounds and scars. And even if you do get what you want, you might be too tired from the fight to enjoy it. It’s better to enjoy and appreciate what you have rather than claw and struggle for what you may never get. Quality of life and all that.

These are the 2 arguments people have made to me.

Okay, I lied. This is the battle going on in my own head. To make things worse, I’m a Libra. The scales. Two sides constantly going up and down.  I don’t make decisions easily. But at the same time, I’m extremely stubborn. When I do set my mind on something, I hang on to it like a dog hangs on to his favorite bone.

My dilemma is this: I’m tired of fighting. But there are still things I want in life that I must compete for. Both sides have points and I’m not sure which one will bring me the most peace.

Inner peace. That’s the journey I’ve embarked on, and damn if it’s not a long, long, long road to nirvana. I’ve already fallen along the way. Big ol’ rocks seem to fall at my feet, tripping me. But that’s life. The trick is to get back up again and have the courage to keep walking. No one knows what’s up ahead, and that’s the scariest part.

But I need to keep moving. I’ve stood paralyzed by the side of the road for way too long and I have lost time to make up for.

So, here’s to having good, sturdy shoes! Keep walking, my friends.

Farewell to Fatboy

I toasted and cheered when January came to an end. It was a terrible month for me (as I’ve been bitching about in blogs and on Facebook). But I wasn’t too cheery because this past weekend, I lost my cat Fatboy. He, as the expression goes, crossed the Rainbow Bridge.DSCF0104   233756850693_0_0

It’s a devastating decision to make—to put a beloved pet who has been such a part of your life and a part of your family to sleep. They become our kids, and we love them just as fiercely as we do our own human children. The pain of losing them is intense and heart-wrenching.

I was beside myself on Sunday when it was time to do the deed, and the devastation was tempered only a little by my conviction that it was the right decision. The vet didn’t try to talk me out of it or even offer to try other things. As soon as she saw him, almost immediately she said, “You’re making the right decision.”

He had been sick for quite some time, suffering for years with intestinal disorders. But over the last few months, his health declined sharply, and he was ready. I’d been putting off the decision because we always question it, don’t we? Is it really time? Is there anything else that can be done? But I was starting to suspect that he was getting some dementia as well. He seemed to no longer know what he was doing. He was pooping wherever he happened to be, which was very unlike him. And when he pooped twice by the food bowls and then peed in his favorite little spot to sleep in, I knew it was time.100MEDIA$IMAG0681-1

Now that a few days have passed since his death, I’ve had space to breathe. While I miss him terribly, the anticipation of his death was stressing me out, and that particular stress has been lifted. And I’m thinking that everything that’s been happening at work was made worse by that underlying emotional anxiety. It’s not like I was thinking about it all day long, but you can’t completely get away from an emotionally charged situation. I suppose it was a vicious circle, one situation feeding into the other. Now that I’ve had to make that difficult decision and carry it out, it’s over and I feel a little freer. I’m hoping that from this point forward, it will be a good year.

I miss my sweet little boy very much. He was always friendly toward DSCF0027people and loved other cats. Especially kittens. When stray cats came up to my front or back door (both clear-glass storm doors), Fatboy would flop over, wanting to play. One of my fondest memories of him, though, was with kittens. When we (me and my partner at the time) rescued a cat from a nearby alley, she turned out to be pregnant. She had 4 kittens—one died the next day, one we gave to a friend’s father, and we got stuck with the other 2. We had intended on keeping only one, but we just couldn’t find a home for the fourth. Anyway, when they were old enough to let around the other 2 adult cats that we already had, Fatboy decided that the kittens were his. He sat on them—protectively, not to hurt them—and simply claimed them. They were his babies.

The morning after, I couldn’t look at his breakfast area (I had been feeding him separately from the others because he got different food). It was the equivalent of an empty chair at the dinner table. I still cry, but it will get better, and knowing that he’s no longer suffering is helping that.Full page photo

I hope that on the other side of the Bridge, he has found my other 2 cats that I lost and lots of kittens to love. And I’ll always have photos of him couch surfing.