Living your values…is the cost too much?

Lately I find myself feeling quite alone as I am reaching that stage in life when many of my peers are starting to hit their stride professionally and financially. Yet here I am a year and some change shy of 40 and basically starting over, yet again. Some years ago my father in law and I had a discussion when I found myself needing to ask him for a rather large sum of money (since he’s not my Dad I did the asking since it felt less personal) and while in the end he gave us the much needed cash it didn’t come without the lecture that parental types like to give when giving you money.

It’s never been a secret that many of the choices I have made professionally have had a negative impact on us financially. No one really minded when a year after getting married I made the decision to go back to college and get my BA, it seemed like a pretty good idea. But my decision to get a master’s degree that at times feels pretty damn useless combined with my tendency to work at small and struggling agencies that do amazing work yet have very little in the way of financial rewards is a source of tension. Oh, the Spousal Unit will never say anything directly but my father in law gave me a loving talk about the matter since when I decided to move to Maine, it meant his son aka my husband gave up a financially solid position to become a freelancer. What that meant was his son who had never asked for help found himself asking dear old dad for help multiple times especially in the early days of getting established as a freelancer.

The exact details of that discussion are irrelevant though the focal point was that as an adult one must make adult decisions and that personal bliss is not always an option. I admit it was a hard talk yet his words continue to ring in my ears.

Often when people talk of personal bliss as it relates to work many have the belief that money will follow yet my own experience is that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes following our values and beliefs can cost us a great deal. Despite the cost though I continue to live according to my values, just yesterday I was lamenting to the Spousal Unit why is it that our monthly budget is always is blown? He lovingly pointed out that if I stopped shopping at the local farmers market and instead shopped at Wally World I would stay within the budget. You know what? He’s right, except that buying local and eating local is something I feel strongly about. I suspect my stomach’s inability to deal with grocery store meat and dairy has something to do with that but also the strong belief that if we all stopped supporting our local businesses what does that mean in a larger context? Yet the price for living this belief is that my budget gets busted though I am willing to see what things I might be able to downsize on.
In thinking about all of this today, I found myself thinking how easy it is to live our values when there is not a cost to us. In other words you earn plenty of cash so it’s no big deal to buy organic or local. While I have worked at larger agencies in my career, I prefer working at smaller ones where on any day I can see the difference my work makes in the lives of others. That fills me with joy, the downside though is I work at an agency so small there is never time for me to take my vacation time. Granted I don’t exactly earn enough to go on a vacation and a staycation would be equally disastrous to my budget…ask me how I know?

Oh, I bitch and moan but ultimately I enjoy what I do and while I am hoping at some point to transition to some form of writing as a career I know if that does not happen I will be fine where I am. However there is that little nagging feeling that maybe I am just fool for the choices I make, I mean how many of my friends have to do mental calculations before they head out lest they spend too much and really blow the budget? Even now with things slowly starting to stabilize financially I still have thousands of dollars in dental work that I have no idea how or when will happen. I keep thinking by the time I finally save up enough to get all the work done I will be told my teeth are too far gone instead I will be using that cash for some snazzy fake teeth.

So I sit here on a gray, rainy day wondering maybe the cost of living my values is too high…I wish I had an answer!

Cha..cha…cha…changes

Due to a hectic work schedule, over the next few weeks I will have some fine bloggers helping me out since reality smacked me in the head yesterday and I realized, something has to give. Today’s post is by my partner, also known legally as my husband or as I fondly call him the Spousal Unit. Cha…cha…cha…changes by Deacon Blue

Being the “spousal unit” to Black Girl in Maine for going on our 14th year soon, and having a couple years of dating BGIM before that, it has been a pleasure and honor (and sometimes harrowing experience, too) to watch her develop over the years.

Ever since we first met, she’s been a fully actualized adult, complete with a kid nearly four years old when we started dating. She’s never been a fainting flower or helpless damsel in distress. But still, there has been a lot of growth and change over the years, most of it for the positive.

Watching that, and being awed by it at times…and being a catalyst for some changes…is a fascinating thing.

Fascinating enough, it turns out, to be near-oblivious to my own changes and growth.

I was a really awkward nerd when I first asked BGIM out. She’s mentioned before, as have I, that the only reason I got that first date was because her mother said, “The worst that can happen is you get a free dinner.” The rest, as they say, is history, as I was apparently engaging enough to warrant a second date just a few days later and then a steady dating gig thereafter.

Over the years, I haven’t stopped being a nerd and a geek at times (OK, often), but BGIM has helped mold me and guide me toward being a guy with, as she puts it, “an aging skate punk style.” I’ve played with my facial hair styles, I’ve removed my hair once receding hairline and bald spot became too intense, and I’ve become more assertive over the years (granted, that last item has led to some arguments at times, but mostly, BGIM seems happy I stand up for myself more readily with her).

To me, though, I’ve never thought of myself as anything all that special. Oh, I know I’m a good guy and I know I have intelligence and gobs of writing talent. But I don’t think of myself as an outstanding personality.

So, it takes me aback at times when I find out I have a major impact on others.

To know that my stepson sees me as a role model along with his mom and his dad.

To know that my presence and encouragement has helped my wife become a writer herself, a holder of two degrees, and more.

To find out that apparently I can be sexy to someone other than my wife (though I usually don’t realize women are checking me out or flirting with me…from grocery clerks to women eating near us or whomever…until BGIM or my stepson tell me afterward).

But now that I’ve become more aware, albeit slowly, of my own growth and change—much of it major—and of my own impact on the world, I’m not getting full of myself. I’m not cocky. I’m not egocentric. But I am taking control of my life. I’m claiming my life for myself. I still live it in part for my wife, my daughter and my stepson. Friends and other family members are still important to me. But it’s become clear that I need more ownership of myself to do things FOR myself. To declare that I am not simply a creation of the world but also a creator.

And so it is that I have taken ownership of my life by staking a claim on my flesh. By making myself art. By making an overt and conscious change.

By getting a tattoo.

OK, laugh if you will that I’m just another Gen X wanna-be hipster who’s seen too many episodes of “L.A. Ink” (truth be told, I haven’t seen any, though I did see a couple of the tattoo reality show based in New York, whatever the hell IT’S called). Tell me that I’ll regret this a few years or decades from now (if I’m still alive decades from now). But it’s not some chasing after a trend. This is a statement. Like all statements, it might not be received well by everyone. Hell, my dad will likely give me some grief when he realizes my forearm is largely covered in a colorful tattoo now.

The thing is, the tune to which I dance as I enter middle age isn’t everyone’s tune. And mine included a dance with a needle gun for nearly two hours at the hands of a seasoned tattoo artist.

My mid-life isn’t a crisis (though at times, there are crises to be had). It’s a transition. I could have gotten the red sports car and trophy girlfriend with whom to connect so hotly that I leave my family. But I didn’t. Instead, I’ve decided to explore some whole new territories, another interesting twist in my life in that regard being my erotica writing.

My midlife, far from being a crisis, is a a redesign. And just like a magazine that goes through the process, my underlying mission, content and character remain mostly the same. It’s the appearance and approach that are changing, to make me a better me (or so I hope).

No, no crisis here. Just realizing at around the middle (if all goes well) of my life, more or less, that this is MY life. There are others who occupy it as well, and I take them into account, but less and less do I give a rat’s ass what the world expects of me. I’m not a product. I’m a human.

The tattoo, of Quetzalcoatl, an Aztec god, is just one overt representation of that. I don’t care if the average person says, “Cool dragon” while totally missing the fact it isn’t a dragon at all. It’s not about them, though I’m happy to give them some eye candy.

No, this is a god of arts, crafts, knowledge, learning and priesthood that adorns me. It defines most of the things that define me at my core, and honors a culture long gone as well as the aspirations and directions that my Jesus-based spiritual journey entail.

More changes to come, I’m sure. But in the end, I’m still Deacon Blue. Still Jeff Bouley. Still a husband, lover, father, friend, guide and counselor. And sometimes idiot, fool and jester.

Oh, and here’s that new tattoo:

Got Milk? PMS and Red Tents

Nothing like the use of a stereotype to get folks riled up. In the case of the Milk Board and the Got Milk campaign, a series of shall we say interesting ads claiming that milk can lessen the symptoms of PMS and that women who are suffering from PMS are emotional whack jobs pissed off a great deal of people, men and women alike. So much so that the ads were pulled, but not before the blogosphere and twitterverse were filled mostly with women proclaiming that aside from some mild discomfort that PMS hardly keeps them down. To that I say, good for you!

See, I am officially what my health care provider calls perimenopausal, basically I am starting that long waltz to the altar of menopause. Apparently this dance could last as little as 3-4 years or as long as ten years. Contrary to what many think, menopause as the end of your menstruating years doesn’t just happen. Oh no! It’s a process and as I have learned over the past 18 months, it’s a real uncomfortable process. In fact at the ripe old age of 38 and a half (yep, I am adding that half) what used to be some bad cramps and a day or two of discomfort has grown into a beast. The beast is now so big that the Spousal Unit claims he can see it coming a good 10 days before Aunt Flo starts. The beast is now so big that at times I feel like that girl from the Exorcist with my head spinning, I enter what I call the I hate you phase. I spend a good 5 days of each month pretty much not liking anyone and wishing that the inhabitants of my house, my bosses, my staff and pretty much all humans would leave me be. I often joke about having a red tent to go hide in until the real me returns. So you might be thinking well it sounds like you have issues

Funny thing is pretty much every single woman I know who is 37 or older has some of these same experiences. A dear friend recently confided that initially she thought I was making a mountain out of a molehill until the monthly emotional tsunami hit her and her household. Oh this perimenopausal broad is a tricky one! Little by little she enters your world, one month you are fine with regular size tampon, next month you are buying Super Plus tampons , as well as a maxi pad and hoping and praying when you go into that meeting with the beige chairs that you leave no gifts behind. All the while you are sitting in the meeting, putting on that happy face meanwhile inside you are raging out of control dreaming about how good some Sour Cream and Cheddar chips would be at that moment.

So while I am the last person as a woman of color to think the use of a stereotype is a good thing, the reality is some stereotypes are steeped in real truths. For millions of women even if they aren’t perimenopausal, PMS isn’t just a mild discomfort; it’s a monthly abuse ritual. Hell, the body is abusing itself! That said, it does not give anyone the right to use a real and rather uncomfortable situation as an advertising tactic. But at the same time, in our attempt to make it known that as women we are equal; let’s not pretend either that PMS is a walk in the park for every woman.

As for me, I got my eyes peeled for the Red Tent and as soon as I find it I will let you know, that baby is gonna be fully stocked with all the Lifetime TV, carbs and cheesy novels we can handle! Oh and gorgeous humans will wait on us hand and foot for when you are a visitor to the Red Tent, it’s all about you!