(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

from if only to it's only ...

coming up on five years since I chucked caution to the wind to embark upon my mid-life adventure.

it is interesting to look back and see how it has changed me.

I spent a lot of years in If-Only mode.

If Only I my husband hadn't died.  If Only my mother had watched out for me.  If Only I had more money.  If Only I could meet 'the one'.  If Only I wasn't unwillingly raised in a cult. If Only I could speak French.  If Only I were thinner.  If Only I felt more secure.

I wasted a lot of time reflecting on these If-Onlies and more, and then trying to solve them.  Starts and stops, always starts and stops.  Some of them were solved by putting them in a box, locking up and throwing away the key.  Others were solved by striving for more, working more and yet, really doing nothing.  And still others I would start a plan, do a plan, discard a plan.  And get back to the easiest thing in my life, working.  The main part of my present was that.  The work.  Sure I was pretty good at it.  But it also afforded me a hiding place from which to practice my religion of If-Only.

Somehow, who really knows exactly how ... I started thinking about regrets.  I started thinking about how when my husband was killed and I was just a girl, really, five months pregnant ... I was so angry at the world and told everyone, 'that's it, fuck you ... it is all about me and this baby now.  I have learned a valuable and ugly lesson very early in life.  Lucky me!  It can all end in a blink.  Nothing is promised.  The hell with you all, I don't care what you think.  Going to live my life my way...

And then life began to happen as it can when you just sit in the canoe vs. take hold of the oars.  Life went this way and that ... my goal at first was really just to stay afloat.  don't go under Kim, you've got this baby girl counting on you.  So we floated.  Somehow we didn't sink.  But I didn't chart my course, I let the currents take me... away.

Away from my dreams, away from my pre-death self (young careless writer girl), away from my post-death self (young angry fighter girl) and slowly lulled into survivor-self (exhausted and numb working mom womanchild).

Sure, I had some highlights.  Take a look at the two kids that turned into amazing adults in spite of their broken mother with the growing case of If-Onlies.

well.  somehow I allowed, well maybe forced, myself to start to look back at those girls I once was.  and how I had turned into practically everything those girls did not want to become.  I took stock of where I was and how much time I might have left.  The dawning realization that I didn't want the rest to be like what had already transpired.  I had too many regrets and could take no more.  I plotted and planned and really, with a stroke of luck found the courage on that   one particular day to take a step in a different direction.  Through a long imagined and dreamed-after door that I could never find the key for.

Great.  I wish I could say and so she lived happilyeverafter.  Grab your dream and all your remaining life will be cake and ice cream and frosty cocktails and handsome lovers.  unicorns and fairy dust.

The funny thing about life is wherever you go, there you are.  So sure.  I discovered many of my If-Onlies. Read the blog... lol.

I changed.  I changed for the good and, hopefully temporarily, for the worse.  I came here on a high.   high of an amazingly successful career for a nobody like me.  I came here with a portfolio of security achieved through those days and months and years of work.  I came here with an American whirl of high-velocity drive to accomplish .... who knows what.

The ensuing years have chipped away at all that.  I arrived with an identity that no one cared about.  My high-faluting portfolio of security disappeared in the American housing crisis like a sugary fairy cake left in the rain.  My newfound compatriates regarded that high-velocity drive with a well-curated laissez-faire sneer of contempt for the ways of an étranger.

As my idea of what life would be has evolved to what my life is... I have learned to adjust.  Anyone who really knows me know that my sole claim to fame, the quality above all else that has allowed me to survive is .... my adaptability... it is a hallmark of the abused child.  I have earned an advanced degree.

I have been shaken to my core in the past few years.  A couple of those years, I have earned less in the entire year than I did in a month, old life.  I have eaten and choked on more humble pie than I care to admit.  I have had moments of such self-doubt and loathing ...experienced moments of abject futility and failure.  And yet, I am here.  Living my dream.  Fighting to preserve what's left.  Aiming high to rebuild anew.  Drawing inspiration from those I used to inspire.

Life is funny that way.  At one of my lowest moments, I was in the U.S. for a few months, taking any and all work that I could find in order to stay afloat.  Because of the kindness of friends who allowed me to sleep in their spare rooms, drive their extra car, recommend me for an odd job here or a nice project there ... I was able to make it through another winter.

But it was this next little moment that led me to a sunnier spot inside my dark and musty persona.  And it was given to me by someone who I inspired for many years.  I nurtured and fretted over and fought with and tried to give the best example to in spite of my pain.  My beautiful daughter.

In America, I worked in her shop.  Painting furniture.  Something I love and yet even that left me intimidated and doubting ... I had reached a point of feeling so worthless and stupid.  What the hell was I doing? Had I destroyed my life? all those doubting voices that many of us are familiar with were now shouting at a feverish pitch.  I had in mind that everything I had done was just. well. wack. lol.

And so I am painting some piece of furniture.  And I messed it up. And I was so upset about it.  Somehow, all of my fears and insecurities and anger and disappointment were now summed up by this fucking piece of furniture and the shitty mess I made of it.  Johnelle was there, looking at it and looking at me.  I was nearly crying (well, probably crying).  And she looked at me and said, Mom, don't worry about it.  It's only paint. really, who cares? It's only paint.

I don't even know if she realizes what those 3 little words did.  I felt released and reprieved.  It was like...everything else was okay too.  Because It's Only.  It's only things.  It's only money.  It's only stuff.  It's only.

Really guys, It's Only has become my new rule of thumb.  Because life is too goddamn short and complicated and hard.  When something breaks. When something goes wrong. When something falls short, I use the It's Only litmus test.

Like, you probably wouldn't say It's Only Stage4 terminal cancer.  But you would say It's Only a crystal vase (that broke).

You would avoid saying It's Only a dog when your friend's 16 year-old pet/companion got run over. But you would say It's Only a stupid job interview, there will be others.

You probably wouldn't go with It's Only rape.  But It's Only my umpteenth break-up. le sigh. but ... meh not so awful, really.

See what I mean?  There is a much shorter list of things than we think that really matters.  I have gotten caught up and released and recaptured so many times in the tangled net of what other people, societies, media lies have told me that are important.

thank you Johnelle for inspiring me with your beautiful life lesson.  

Now that I realize that pretty much It's Only bullshit, I am finding myself back on track.  Charting a new course that pleases me.  But more than that, thankful that nearly all of my problems and worries are not If Onlies and mostly It's Onlies.


Rosie said...

I'm glad you're surviving. I'm having a 'why are we doing this' day of frustration with all things french. Sometimes it is just so f'ing hard. But then someone does phone back, the piece of paper does arrive and on we go.

Bon courage.

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

Rosie, yep still going strong. And hey, just remind yourself ... It's Only paperwork... xx

Rigsby said...

Mais au moins on est toujours la et déjà cela n'est pas mauvais. Bonne chance pour ton 6e année.

onehundredfires said...

The piece honestly made me emotional Kim. It's only... I'm going to take that on board. Us starting this journey as well has been harder than I would have thought. It has brought up a lot of truth and cut to the heart of a lot of bullshit. So thank you for doing it first. You are a bad bitch and I mean that in the most profoundly positive way possible :)

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

thanks Dom, hope you guys are managing ok and having plenty of adventure! xx

The Pliers said...

What a wonderful, sturdy post, Kim!

And perfect Valentine's Day reading for me--I'm a day late, if not a dollar short.

I love your "If Only" vs "It's Only." They are powerful and inspiring. It is so nice that you could here your daughter say, "It's only paint, Mama." What a gift.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Kim. Your perspective was well-received today as I am also struggling with the If-Onlies. I need to remember the It's Only...

Danielle said...

I'm reading this several months later... and the message fits perfectly into my now! Thank you :-)

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Anonymous said...

What an enchanting read, Kim. I'm glad to hear your journey has taken you to your home. Keep going. Keep smiling. Very inspiring! Estelle. X