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Thursday, October 13, 2011

As I watch the "Occupy" movement I wonder where we are all going? Does this mean we might get back what we've lost - like our jobs, our houses, our retirement funds, health insurance, and …an identifiable place in society? If you're crusading hard to get back to where you were, I'm suggesting that you take a deep breath and read this anyway. And, if you've decided to rethink your old life, then fantasize along with me.

What would happen if all of us did what made us happy, what fulfilled us? Lots of us weren't contented even before the financial meltdown. Unhappy people will do whatever distracts them from the disturbing suspicion that their life style is costing them too much. There's no way to list all those stress relievers - every time you and I think we've heard it all, something weird (to us) or just outright ugly and harmful is exposed - usually on the evening news. Some, however, are innocent, proper, and even necessary. But, judgments aside, that isn't really the issue. Distractions are symptoms, not the cause.

Assume, please, that for whatever reason your imagination can conjure, the way you'd been living your life before today is no longer possible. And it's true for everyone else in America. I ask only that your explanation doesn't involve annihilation of the earth. Leave the earth intact; otherwise, be inventive.

Here's my personal 180 degree turn - not very imaginative, but true. One morning in early 2009 I couldn't get out of bed. I'd been feeling wonky for a couple of days, but to wake up so drained of energy that I could barely move, breathe, or think…. I was too sick to be frightened. Diagnosis: fibromyalgia. Immediate changes: quit my part-time job, quit my volunteer work, quit my social activities, and quit going to church. Other surprising things I had to quit: listening to music (it sounded like unpleasant noise), going to stores, doing housework, eating my usual food, watching T.V., and talking on the phone. My old life was gone.

Two and a half years later I haven't resumed most of my old life. At first I was afraid to since fibromyalgia symptoms return easily. Lately, however, I realize that I don't want to go back. But, if I don't work, volunteer, go to church, see friends, talk on the phone, listen to music, shop, eat what I want, clean my own house, and watch a lot of T.V., then Who Am I, What Am I Doing Here, and What Will I Do Instead? These are the three questions for all who agree to imagine that whatever they were doing before, they will not be doing today - or ever again. Who are you if you don't do these things? Why are you here? What will you do instead?

At first I just needed something to do (I'd recovered enough to be bored), but it would have to be done in bed or on the couch. I'd always enjoyed color and making things, so for months I did the least messy creative activity I could think of: I drew shapes with metallic ink on black paper. Mostly I cared for my own needs and slept, but those drawings and ink creations occupied a lot of my time. A year later, I was still drawing and able to contribute to the household chores. But then the worst of the crisis emerged: if I'm not a teacher, singer, volunteer, church-goer, and ever-available, then who am I.

By 2011 my identity emergency is manageable. Not that I haven't tried to develop a new one, but since I'm doing exactly what I've wanted to do since I was young, I no longer feel in emotional crisis. That is the point of all these thoughts. My socially sanctioned if out-of-control life cost me everything. Instead of being busy about too many things, stressed about it all and chain-shopping to recover a sense of power, I'm mostly content with my life. All I want to do is create, which has taken me out the American marketplace, a life restoring decision I can afford now that I'm retired. Who am I: myself. What am I doing here: being. What will I do instead: be attentive.

Your sudden "go-no-further" can come from anywhere. It might be health like me, or from financial upheavals. If you decide not to go back to your old life, you're can re-invent yourself. What would that look like? Take yourself on some solitary walks, talk with people who know you well, write what you're feeling, finish the sentence "If I had the money, I'd …." Give yourself some hope.

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