OK, I’m changing gears from a plan I had several days ago. Sometime soon, I’ll get to the cool list of things to write about, but not today.
I had a neat discussion with a friend this week about the frustrations that come with this whole grieving thing. He asked “What exactly do you expect of yourself? What kind of expectations do you have?” The blank look I gave him seemed like a good hint to spend some time thinking about it, and where things actually are. I’m not putting everything here, because I don’t want to type all night. I have a cool book to read sitting next to me on my Kindle, and I expect to do that tonight. But, here we go with the heavier hitters:
1. I expect to be productive. I fully expect that I set down a goal, then go get it done, and I normally expect to overachieve at it. I expect to see other people struggling to get stuff done and wonder what it’s like to be them. In a proud way, I miss that. I’m so much more productive than I was a couple of months ago, but it’s not the same. The one struggling to get stuff done is me, and it’s a lot less amusing when it’s me.
2. Along with that, I expect to be tirelessly and relentlessly focused towards getting things done. I expect that studying and preparing 12-16 hours a day feels like a blur, and for a full day of reading to seem as fast as a lunch break. Now, I’m really happy to be back to 8-10 productive hours a day, and that’s not exactly every day. But when it happens, I’m almost as giddy as can be.
3. I expect to be the guy with answers. I expect to know what needs done and how to do it. “Oh, this is how you do it.” “How did that happen? What if you tried this?” I love being able to show people answers or help people find the answers. That’s my greatest joy in the world. In teaching, that’s never left, and I’m amazingly glad for that. But when it comes to my own stuff, the answers aren’t as assured, and they take longer to come up with. What used to be the snap of a finger can be a 25 day ordeal, and may still end up where it began. It’s incredibly frustrating to be on the other side and find out what it’s like not to know. To say the least, I dislike it. To be really honest, I really hate that.
4. I love to have a full-fledged optimism that things will turn out OK, no matter what they look like right now. That one is growing again, and it’s nice. I make future plans again like they will actually happen. They don’t always, but they do more than they did for a while, and it’s nice. It gets reliable. Obviously, heading into exams this next year and baby #2, I really want to expect that things will go well. I don’t want to be adding a name to the title here.
I have to say that this is an incredible learning process. It’s not the kind I want, but it has to happen now. One thing I know, and knew before, is that I’m fully capable of being full of myself. I kid with my students and others sometimes, “I know I’m good. Just ask me,” and they get it, even though it’s only half a joke.
What else I’ve learned is that living through stillbirth completely destroys the idea that things will turn out OK. All of the skills I’d obsessively developed prior to Doria’s death were shaken back to a remedial level, and I’m relearning everything that I used to race through. I hear people talk about things like grad students do, and I have to go back and look up what any of that means and then put together a process to make it work. That was a frustrating discovery, but it ought to lead to good things.
I’ve learned that the first time I do something again after Doria’s death brings a crushing panic that can explode for weeks. I’ve just recently learned how to settle that down and do productive things, but that didn’t happen anywhere near overnight. Just understanding that it can happen helped to put some steps in place to get that more under control. For someone that wants and needs to be productive, I can’t overestimate the importance of that.
Instead of seeing what seemed like constant failure at anything that wasn’t teaching, it’s good to see some sort of success developing. It is so far from a finished product, but I can say things like “I’m going to read a book” and know that I actually will. Words and paragraphs will make sense, and it won’t take me 12-20 hours to finish a book (which is deadly for grad students). I can wait in between Doppler appointments because my wife feels #2 kicking. We looked at names today and started talking about the suitcase, because we can reasonably expect that things will turn out well. (Yes, I know they didn’t last time. If you remind me of that, the results are on you.) With my colleagues for the fall semester, I’ve started planning procedures to cover whatever week it is that #2 is born. I’m looking ahead to September 8th without dread (which has mostly been the case all along), and that’s nice.
Basically, what I learned by doing this is right here: I expect to be back to normal, but different. That’s not exactly realistic. I am seeing a whole lot of improvement in dealing with the new reality. That’s realistic. I see a lot of good prospects for the future, even knowing that there’s some sort of pain waiting out there anyway, because that’s how this whole life things works.
So I don’t meet my expectations just yet. I get that. UCLA basketball doesn’t meet their’s, either, because they aren’t realistic. I suppose one of the next steps is figuring out exactly what reasonable expectations really are, and then go exceed them. Or meet them. Or something 🙂