pressing on

I’ve long felt that, for those of us who are fortunate enough not to suffer debilitating medical conditions or from really intense forms of abuse or neglect, it’s the petty indignities and minor headaches of life that add up and make it tough, rather than the major tragedies. The tragedies are, well, tragic, and often hard to bear, but their tragic nature also strangely gives you the strength to endure them. When you shoulder some of the great mental and emotional challenges of life, you draw from deep reserves in yourself that exist precisely to meet those challenges. You are wounded, frequently confused, and often feel powerfully lonely, but you’re also aware that you’re engaged in the intense foundations of human life, that you’re enduring something that it takes real courage to endure. That helps, a little.

But to my mind, it’s the steady drip of minor hassles, low-key insults, and avoidable screw ups that build up and collude to leave us feeling, at times, like life is impossible. And in those cases, you don’t have the silver lining of self-belief that comes with tragedy. On the contrary: you have the opposite, the knowledge that the problems currently confronting you are silly, trivial in the grand scheme of things. So you feel kind of trapped. They add up and they seem to slowly weigh you down, bit by bit, like water slowly filling a canoe, and your sense of perspective about how ultimately minor they are just makes them a little harder to confront. It can be tough to ask for help in these times because you’re so afraid of seeming like you aren’t aware of your own advantages. You’d like for your life to be some intense drama but it’s really just your own personal episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. 

Let me tell you a story about a doof, named me, and his doof travails.

I am still unemployed, as of this writing. Early last month I attended a campus visit for an academic job. As is typical of these things, I had to upfront my travel costs and apply for a reimbursement. I filled out a form while there and didn’t think much more of it. A plane ticket and hotel costs a lot for me, so I was eager to get the check, but it was late in coming. Finally I emailed the school. They told me a check had been sent out almost a month prior. I checked the details. To my horror I found that I had messed up writing my own address – I had combined my current number with my old street. I have no idea why this happened; my only excuse is the stress and confusion of the campus visit process. I told them about it, and they said no problem, they would fix it, but it would take them canceling the check at the state level and starting a new process up. Which will potentially take months.

To make this entirely self-inflicted wound worse, I had been holding out on getting that check before I paid the state of Indiana the taxes I owed them for all of my freelance income last year. I stretched it a bit, thinking there would be something of a grace period, but nope. I got an alert on my credit report – I now have a tax lien on my credit report, which has made a big ding on my score. That’s after years of gradually fixing my credit. I dunno if the mark will come off my score after I pay the taxes or if it’ll stay there for two years or what. Meanwhile, to get to the next stage of my life, I’ll need to put a lot of debt onto my credit cards, which will further hurt my score. And this is when I need my credit to be good so that I can get an apartment lease through a credit check.

None of this is a very big problem in the grand scheme of things. It’s just the coming together of little problems in a way that seems especially wearying, the way so many aspects of human life frequently seem wearying out of proportion with their relative difficulty. And the fact that I have no one at all to blame for these problems makes it seem so much worse. I’m not a tragic figure; I’m a just a doof. I’ve been wrestling with this doofiness my whole life. You’d think I had it at least somewhat together. I have three degrees. Last week I finally had a good research rationale to use quantile regression, which I’ve wanted to for forever, and I got somebody’s R code and figured out how to run it, and I did, and the results made sense. I just had another piece in the LA Times. None of this is meant to brag or to show that I’m a big deal. (Trust me, my daily routine right now is a lesson in humility.) The point is that there are signs I’m a functional grownup. And yet though I can do some pretty sophisticated statistical analysis and publish in big newspapers and maintain an active and fun social life, I am felled by the task of accurately filling in my address on a form, even when the stakes are such that my financial health really depends on it. Or just this past week when I got a vet appointment for my dog, rented a car to get him to the vet, put him in the car, got the car covered in dog hair that I would then have to clean out, and drove to the vet to find it closed because I had gotten the day wrong. Or the time I traveled to a conference only to discover that I had bought a return ticket a month after when I intended to fly home, and had to spend three days on a bus. Stuff like that.

I often feel like I have some missing gene that makes utterly banal and simple elements of life seem impossibly complex, a kind of mental clumsiness that perfectly matches my significant physical clumsiness. I am at the point where I’ve come to understand that I’m not just going to wake up one day and find that I’ve grasped the secret key to, like, doing normal life things without messing them up. I find that stuff, the preventable, silly, and ultimately minor hassles aggregate together to make me feel worn out, and I suspect I’m not alone. I confess too that my mood disorder has been more difficult lately than it has been in a long time. Part of that is the lack of structure in my life; without the daily routine of a regular job or school, it’s hard to have the kind of stability that I need to deal with my bipolar disorder, and that contributes to inflating the difficulty of my minor problems in my mind. I know cognitively how lucky I am. But my neurology sometimes conspires to keep that perspective from me.

I’m not just writing to commiserate, though!

I’m writing to let you know that after five years, I’m leaving Indiana next week. Packing up and heading home to Connecticut, where I’ve got a short term lease in my hometown, before I go to wherever it is I’ll be going. I’m going to miss Indiana, even while I know that it’s time to move on. I’ve been here for longer than I’ve stayed in any one place since high school. There’s a lot more to recommend about this area than a lot of its temporary academic residents give it credit for. And I’ll miss Purdue terribly. For my laundry list of complaints, Purdue has been my home, and I love many aspects of the school dearly. But it’s time! It’s time to go.

I hope to have good professional news to share with you all soon. I know good things are coming. I just have to hold on a little bit longer.